|The original Rao’s in Harlem
For a very long time, I have wanted to dine at a restaurant called Rao’s located in Harlem. Frankly I’m not quite sure how I first learned of this establishment, but probably from reading where the glitterati go and where one must be an insider to have the experience.
The restaurant has been in business in some iteration for more than a century, and is currently operated by Frank Pelligreno – who had a recurring role as an FBI agent in the Sopranos — and Ron Straci, nephew of the founder. With just 10 tables, one seating per night Monday through Friday only, the chances of getting in are beyond slim. And those 10 tables are literally “owned” by the regulars. One is always welcome for a drink at the bar, but I want to sit there and savor the experience. While researching more about the place, I came upon this posting by photojournalist Nancy Ellison:
|Our booth was surrounded by familiar faces ..
And that brings us to the present dinner at the Rao’s now open in Hollywood. Not only did I get a return call from family member Angie (maybe my new best friend), but she kindly got us in on an otherwise sold-out evening after she had to change from our original booking. BTW, one must provide a credit card when reserving. The penalty for a no-show? That would be $50 per person charged to the card. That requirement is hardly surprising after restaurateurs we’ve spoken to told us of a rather unseemly yet common practice: People will make multiple reservations at different establishments in order to make a last-minute decision — and sometimes not even bother cancelling the other bookings. Therefore, I don’t blame Rao’s for their particular policy.
By the time we arrived at 7p.m., the place was pretty much full. Once seated I asked a ton of questions, including how many seatings per night? Usually 1; maybe 1-1/2 given that the hours are just 6-10:30. What I immediately noticed is that very few tables had just 2 persons .. there were far more with tables of at least 6. That makes sense because “family-style” ordering is encouraged and the portions are definitely on the ample side. I also asked how far in advance they take reservations and was told well into next year. Thursdays or Fridays? Fuggetabout it! Very tough already after only 5 weeks of being open. So just what is so good about this place?
|With the hubby and great friend/client Denise!
Well, the food is downright delicious. Not to be missed are the meatballs, enormous and covered with a fabulous sauce. Pasta e fagioli soup was another stand-out, but my favorite was a pasta dish of homemade “purses” stuffed with ricotta cheese in a clarified butter sauce and just a smattering of cranberries to cut the richness. Plus the penne with Vodka sauce was pretty good too. As for ambiance, well that probably isn’t their strong suit. It is very loud and there is a lot going on. But if you’re a people watcher, it doesn’t get much better. I definitely want to make several return trips with friends and family so they too can experience this iconic place.
|Those are a couple of LARGE meatballs!
|Salad with roasted beets, pistachios & goat cheese
|Wonderful pasta e fagioli soup
|The stuffed purses
|What was left of the NY cheesecake!