Thursday, July 19, 2007

Inside Rao's

There are lots of "exclusive" joints in this town but there's one place that's so exclusive you can't get in unless you know someone. That place is Rao's, the legendary Italian restaurant in East Harlem (114th street and Pleasant Avenue). There are only about 12 tables that a few - very few - people "own" one night a week or a month. And if these people and their guests don't show, no one is seated there. You can't make a reservation and you certainly can't just walk in. You gotta know someone who owns a table and that person's gotta like you. Otherwise, tough. As Dick Standen wrote on City Search, "you can't really say you've arrived in this town until you've scored a table here." (An example of a person who owns a table: Ron Pearlman. It's also a celebrity hangout.)

Needless to say, the food is great. Rao's is famed for it's great sauces and lemon chicken and meatballs. Plus they have great cheesecake. And how do I know this? 'Cause Mr NYC has eaten there!

A friend of a friend of a friend was my source and we went several months ago. It was glorious. There's no menu. The owner and proprietor, Frank Pelligrino, sits at each table, tells you what they're serving, and takes your order. The meal is basically "customized" for each table. My table had the pleasure of being served wine by the legendary Nicky the Vest who regaled us with this stories about serving celebrities like James Caan (Nicky got his nickname since every night he wears a different vest jacket with a distinct insignia). The bread was served with a delicious oil and garlic and we had the great lemon chicken and meatballs (best meatballs I've ever had). The restaurant is covered with photos of the famous clientele and the atmosphere is raucous. We also had the pleasure of seeing Rao's most famous regular, legendary detective Bo Dietl, holding court at his big table. (I overhead him say that back in the day, on hot summer nights, they would open the front doors and people would eat by the stairs.) The nice thing about Rao's is that whether you're rich or famous or not, they treat you like a star. Because at Rao's, the biggest star is the food and fun.

PS. Check out the following link about how to get in:

So You Wanna get into Rao's?

PPS. If you can't be one of the 0.000001% of the population that scores a table at Rao's, you can find the restaurant's sauces and pasta in your friendly neighborhood grocery store.

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