Another feud over table reservations has reminded New York foodies that the price of Big Apple real estate doesn’t come cheap – even in the restaurant business. The kerfuffle involves banker Christopher Bond and television personality – and former detective – Bo Dietl. Bond paid US$6000 at a recent charity auction for Bo Dietl’s Thursday night table at Rao’s. He’s since tried to claim his prize – twice – only to be denied.

Rao's New York.

Rao’s New York. Image by H.I.L.T. / CC BY 2.0

As much a time-share resort as it is a restaurant, Rao’s has a reputation for being ‘the toughest reservation in town’. Securing a table at the 119 year-old Spanish Harlem institution is a social status symbol, a sign that you can ‘make it anywhere’, as the song goes. The food is standard red-sauce fare, but regular diners, who hold standing reservations on tables on a given night for decades, remain fiercely loyal. Dietl has held his table-for-eight since 1977. All the tables are spoken for, every night of the week, so dining at Rao’s means getting the nod from one of the regulars. Without a ‘connect’ you just don’t eat.

It’s not the first Dietl-related table-tussle: even billionaire investor Warren Buffet was rebuffed when he called Dietl hoping to book his table for a meal with talk-show host Charlie Rose. Dietl decided he couldn’t spare the whole table, even for one night.  All the same, if you like a challenge or you’re simply  a sucker for punishment, here’s a cheat sheet to scoring some Rao’s real estate. Otherwise, seats are easier to score at Rao’s restaurants in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

New York’s second-hardest reservation is at the other end of the spectrum in every way. In Earlton, a small upstate town closer to Albany than Manhattan, every single ingredient used is made by the chef himself, including the oil and flour. An autodidact, nature-lover and technophobe, chef Damon Baehrel doesn’t just cook the meal – he serves it and hosts it, all ten courses, over five hours, in his 16-seat basement. Afterwards he even washes the dishes himself. The waiting list at his eponymous restaurant is a mere decade. Here’s a review for sceptics and here are some tips on taking the short cut for enthusiasts.

Compared to these two, getting a seat at the three-star, four-night-a-week, 18-seat Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare should be a breeze, at least in theory. Just call at 10:30am Monday morning, six weeks in advance. If you’re very lucky, someone just might pick up the phone.

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