Snagging a Dinner at Rao’s WSJ By MARSHALL HEYMAN
Love Rao’s — and Yes, it is that good. Below is a recent article from the Wall Street Journal.
Snagging a Dinner at Rao’s By MARSHALL HEYMAN
As everyone in this city knows, it’s impossible to get a reservation at Rao’s, the old-school Italian joint in East Harlem. So when an invitation comes for a dinner there sponsored by Bon Appetit, you take it, if only to be able to truthfully answer the question, “What did you do last night?” with “I had dinner at Rao’s.”
The magazine took over the small restaurant on Tuesday to celebrate Vegas Uncork’d, a food festival held each Mother’s Day weekend that crosses over several of the city’s major resorts. Why does Uncork’d have an apostrophe (usually symbolized by a popped cork) instead of an “e”?
“Trust me, it’s the bane of my existence,” said a spokeswoman for “the four-day epicurean extravaganza, “but it’s a wonderful event.”
Several chefs who are represented in Las Vegas, including Francois Payard and Jet Tila, came out for the dinner of pepperoni rrrostiti, frito misto, orecchiette with broccoli rappe and sausage, and, of course, Uncle Vincent’s famous lemon chicken.
Jean-Georges Vongerichten stopped by for cocktails—he had Donald Trump coming in for dinner that night so he couldn’t stay for the breaded little neck clams and shrimp scampi—but he’s been to Rao’s before.
“I love the meatballs,” Mr. Vongerichten said, as “That’s Amore” by Dean Martin played over the speakers. “The seafood salad is amazing. The roasted pepper, you have to have it. The pasta with the cabbage and the sausage and the lemon chicken? Unbelievable. My business partner has a table here every last Thursday of the month, and he brings me three or four times a year. Woody Allen is always here. No, I can’t come on my own. It’s impossible.”
Photo: Frank Pellegrino Jr., Frank Pellegrino Sr. and Ron Stosky
Did Mr. Vongerichten think that he could reproduce something like Rao’s? “It would take a long time. They have two seatings, 90 people a night, five days a week,” he said. “I don’t think it’s possible. The younger generation just isn’t as loyal.”
Adam Rapoport is the new editor of Bon Appetit. He’s eaten at Rao’s twice before but emphasized he had “no idea” how the magazine was able to secure the facilities. “They told me, ‘We’re having an event at Rao’s.’ I said, ‘I will be there,'” he said, eyeing the Santa and Mrs. Claus dolls hanging on the walls. “Here, you feel like you’re at someone’s house. It’s not like you come for the parmesan foam. It’s not a restaurant obsessed with food editors and bloggers. I respect that.”
Mr. Rapoport explained that since taking over the magazine a few months ago—his first issue will be the one dated for May—his stockbroker friends have come calling for last minute restaurant reservations. Not for Rao’s, however. “It’s in a different stratosphere. Most people wouldn’t even ask.”
And then it was time for the festival meal: the antipasti, the primi and the secondi, accompanied by a soundtrack featuring “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” by Frank Sinatra. There may have been a replay of “That’s Amore,” or it could have been the meatballs. Just before dessert—Rao’s famous New York Style cheesecake and Frutti Di Bosco—Frank Pellegrino Sr., one of the restaurant’s three owners, appeared with a microphone. It was time for a sing-along.
At this point, Mr. Pellegrino and the entire restaurant broke out into a rendition, a la “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” of “My Girl” by The Temptations. “We’re going to do ‘Hey, hey, hey,'” Mr. Pellegrino said, “I want to see how loud you get.” He then closed with, yes, “That’s Amore.” After the second “Tippi-tippi-tay,” he asked, “Has anyone ever seen a gay tarantella?” Then he introduced his kitchen staff, including Rosie the dishwasher, “who’s as important to this place as anybody else in the kitchen.”
Mr. Pellegrino said that giving his restaurant over to the magazine was “a great honor.” He started notifying Tuesday regulars a month and a half ago. “All of my customers were very gracious,” he explained. “They said, ‘Absolutely, Frankie.'”
He added that every table at Rao’s has been booked “for the last 34 years” and he booked the last standing reservation five or six years ago. Will another one come up soon? “No can never say never,” he said. “But the odds are it’ll be a long time.”
Ok, so Mr. Pellegrino’s food was great. The atmosphere was better. We loved the singing. When do we come back?
“You should stop by sometime in November,” Mr. Pellegrino said. “And hopefully then, I’ll be able to tell you if I’ll have a table for you in 2012.”
Write to Marshall Heyman at email@example.com