Welcome to The Gatekeepers, a monthly feature in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite tough-to-get tables.
Michael Ploetz [Photo: Chelsea McManus]
Michael Ploetz heads up one of the hottest tickets in Vegas right now, é by José Andrés inside Jaleo at Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. As general manager, Ploetz oversees both service teams for José Andrés at the newest resort in Sin City. Ploetz is no stranger to the Andrés team. He was part of the opening team at the acclaimed four star Bazaar by José Andrés at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills before opening Jaleo, based upon Andrés’ outpost of his Washington, D.C., restaurant of the same name. Here Ploetz talks about how to get a reservation at the eight-seat restaurant within a restaurant, what desperate diners have done to try to land a coveted reservation and where he dines when he’s not working.
So, what's the busiest time right now?
Every night is busy in some way. Leading the team at Jaleo, and é by José Andrés, is not so much about business level, as it is about focus. Our focus always needs to be intense so we can keep evolving service, and offering better experiences to our guests.
As one of the hottest restaurants in Las Vegas, you've surely been offered gifts or cash in exchange for reservations or a table. What have people tried?
With only eight seats inside é by José Andrés, we considered carefully how to craft our reservation process to ensure that it was fair and democratic. I feel we have reached this goal, however that does not lessen the great demand we have for so little chairs at the "show." The strangest thing I have seen is a guest who dined in Jaleo four nights in a row in order to try to secure a reservation at é, hoping for a "no show" or a last minute cancellation. I wished there was something I could do for them, but in the end we could not fit them in. Thankfully, they loved Jaleo. We made sure they enjoyed some of the more avant-garde dishes on Jaleo’s menu to get a sense of what the é experience is about. I am certain on their next trip to Vegas they will secure a reservation now that they know the process.
É Bar by José Andrés has two seatings Wednesday through Sunday, 5:30 and 8:30 p.m., and reservations accepted through email only to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tell us about your favorite customers.
My favorite guests are those that engage in dialog about the food and the restaurant. A portion of our guests that dine at é by José Andrés come in with a great deal of expectation. Often these guests have dined around the world, at the best of the best. When these guests depart and tell our team that this was the best meal they have ever had, it makes me feel that I am part of something very special. I love that.
How about celebrities?
Vegas is an interesting place. Most celebrities who visit Jaleo try to stay under the radar and are looking for a fantastic meal. My favorite celebrities are top chefs who I have followed over the years. Many of the greats have dined with us, and it is always such an honor to serve them.
How do you deal with VIPs when there are no tables to give?
Jaleo seating is very flexible, and most often we can find a solution within a short amount of time. For é, our reservation structure prohibits last-minute arrangements. This makes é one of the toughest reservations in town, and there is no real way to "squeeze" anyone in, unless we happen to have a last-minute cancellation.
So, what's the strangest request that you've accommodated at Jaleo and é Bar?
My lips are sealed.
Do you ever get any requests for vegetarian dishes here at Jaleo and é Bar? How do you accommodate them?
Very often. Jaleo in my opinion is one of the best dining options in Las Vegas for vegetarians, as many of our dishes are vegetable focused. José is very passionate about the importance of vegetables in our lives, and their versatility. At é by José Andrés, our vegetarian menu is as astonishing as our set menu. So much in fact, that a portion of our repeat guests opt to enjoy a vegetarian menu upon their return to é.
What's the most popular dish right now?
At Jaleo, our unique wood-fired paella oven in the center of the dining room garners quite a bit of excitement and attention from our guests. We make several paellas every evening, and on Sundays we roast a whole animal over the fire. Aside from the paella, our Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp sauteed with garlic and chili), as well as our traditional flan are the most popular.
É Bar by José Andrés on the other hand offers a set tasting menu, and each course builds to the next. Every guest finds their favorite dish and this is part of the fun. At the moment, one of the dishes most enjoyed is the Chickpea Stew with Iberico Ham. The flavor profile is comforting and traditional Spanish. The presentation and textures are modern and unexpected. When I speak to guests after their experience they often reference this course.
So, when you're not at Jaleo, where are you eating these days?
For the most part I enjoy cooking at home and experimenting with different techniques and ingredients borrowed from Jaleo as well as other places I have dined. My wife and I continue to try to create the perfect polenta, perfect short rib, etc. When dining out, I have many favorites. If I could go anywhere tonight it would be Raku.
What's the must-order dish at Jaleo?
Secreto de Iberico — the fresh acorn-fed Iberico pork shoulder steak cooked over the wood fire. This has to be heaven.
Were there any reviews that led to significant bump in service, or a change to the type of clientele?
É Bar by José Andrés opened very quietly under the radar to the public. The reviews came quickly in the form of blogs online. Then later in several of Las Vegas’ outlets we had unbelievable compliments from the likes of Ruth Reichl, stating that ”? I had one of the best meals of my life at é ?" and Robin Leach claiming “?Absolutely no question “e” is the most unique restaurant in the world.” Quickly people began to take notice of what we are doing, and sought us out as a dining destination. From the beginning we wanted to be the best in all areas of what we do as a restaurant. Reviews have not changed that, and have only served to drive us to do better.
At the end of the day, what's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to get the job done?
We are very lucky to have a dedicated team of excellent service professionals who share José's passion for food and the stories that go with it. These story tellers are the key to our success.