6 p.m. "Thirty, 33 and 23," Bruell says, sotto voce — though the restaurant is nearly filled to capacity and growing louder. "Thirty, 33 and 23 heard," echoes back instantaneously. A salmon entree suddenly appears before him. Fluidly, like some kind of a mesmerizing dance, Bruell spritzes the fish with a small spray bottle, sprinkles a handful of herbs over the dish, slips a spoon behind the vegetables, spritzes again from another bottle then tucks a few sprigs of watercress onto the plate. The plate is gone just as quickly as it appeared as a server steps confidently and turns to deliver the meal.
6:03 p.m. Next come a plate of calamari and another fish entree. "You wanna thin your miso out?" he asks, without looking up.
6:04 p.m. Bruell reaches over his mis en place — the carefully arranged collection of finishing salts, oils, herbs, citrus wedges, Parmesan cheese and the like that he has claimed responsibility for this evening — to grasp a bottle of his own brand of olive oil. He silently taps one of the tickets in front of him. A quick dash over the top of the fish with the oil and the plates disappear. His food runner is back at his side in under a minute.
6:08 p.m. Though he's very clearly in work mode, Bruell seems at ease, joking with his staff in the rare seconds between dishes. Whenever a new ticket comes in or a server stops by to ask a question, he interrupts whatever gentle teasing or quiet comedy routine he's delivering to the 20- and early-30-somethings surrounding the seasoned chef.
6:09 p.m. A sprinkle of seeds over the top and a quick wipe of his hands on the front of his pristine apron and another dish leaves the back of the house.
There are no heat lamps in any of Bruell's many kitchens, requiring a keen attention to timing so that everything goes out together and at the correct temperature. A dishwasher makes the rounds delivering freshly cleaned plateware, stacking a pile of bowls unevenly. Without a word, Bruell's general manager sweeps by and removes the uneven ceramics. "I'm a little bit OCD," he laughs.
6:20 p.m. A customer approaches confidently from the crowd and grasps Bruell's shoulder with one hand and his palm with the other, pumping up and down. "This is the third Zack Bruell restaurant I've been to in five days," he beams. "My wife sent me up to ask what we should order. This is Zack Bruell, the chef," he continues, turning to a member of his staff and pointing as if to clear up any confusion on the matter. Bruell — the gracious host — grins, claps him on the back and fires off a few recommendations.
6:26 p.m. Bruell's cellphone rings, just once before the chef silences it, says "excuse me" and steps off the line. Seamlessly, the food runner who has been hovering at his right elbow all night steps into his spot and takes over, pulling new tickets, marking dark lines between courses and scrawling the table numbers in 20-point font to avoid mistakes in the dim dining room.
6:28 p.m. Bruell returns from his brief phone call and assumes his spot, picking up a damp towel to wipe a smudge from the rim of a plate with a bright red sauce. The dance is well-choreographed, and even the chorus line seems to be keeping up as the restaurant begins to reach a din. Finally, he raises his voice as he calls out the next few tickets beginning to pile up in front of him — the orders come as fast as he and his crew can put them out.