Nelson Hernandez of Insieme Is Waiting Out the Broadway Strike, Liquor Board

Nelson Hernandez

Nelson Hernandez will upsell you a white truffle in a flash.Photo: Melissa Hom

Nelson Hernandez was a teacher for ten years before he decided hed rather make art than teach it. He now performs around town as a singer-songwriter and pays the rent by waiting tables at Marco Canoras joint Insieme. Since Insieme is located directly across from the darkened Winter Garden, we thought Hernandez might be just the person to tell us what the scene has been lately at a restaurant that caters both to theatergoing tourists and to homegrown aficionados of contemporary Italian cuisine.

Did you get to wait on reviewers when Insieme first opened?
I waited on Frank Bruni a couple times, Gael Greene, Ruth Reichl.

Did you have to pretend not to know them?
That whole New York restaurant-review dance is silly. Its unfortunate they have to stay in character so much lot of service comes down to the personality of the person thats dealing with you.

How many people who go there are tourists?
During the 5:30 seating Id say its 90 percent. The second seating at 8:30 p.m. is mostly foodies.

To what degree has business dropped off because of the Broadway strike?
The theater guests dropped in percentage maybe about 20 to 30 percent. People still come in for the first seating at 5:30 p.m., but a lot of times since they have so much time and nowhere to go, they just linger.

You must feel pressure to turn over tables in situations like that.
Yeah, we do, since we dont have a bar. The liquor license is pending, and I believe its about to come soon. If they come in twenty minutes earlier or later for their reservation, it could create a logjam.

Whats the main difference between serving tourists and foodies?
At the end of the day, be it tourist or foodie, youre coming to be entertained. Its like a sweet and savory cinema its a journey.

Sure, but your menu is divided into traditional and contemporary do the tourists tend to play it safe?
I always assume that theyre going to, and then they surprise me.

Whats good this season?
Weve been featuring a lot of white truffles. We immediately tell people how much it is because its not cheap. When they teeter, what I say is, When you want to order a high-end specialty item, you want to order it from someone you trust. If I chose someone to make a white-truffle dish that Im paying $140 for, that would be Marco Canora.