One of the most coveted things for any New York foodie is a reservation for dinner at New York’s famous Rao’s Restaurant. Fork was lucky enough to not only land a reservation for two, but a gift certificate for dinner as well! The natural thought was to take Spoon there for her birthday! The downside to all of this happiness was waiting 6 months for our reservation!
We found out while waiting to sit…that you cannot make reservations by phone, there simply aren’t any; the phenomenon of Rao’s began with Mimi Sheraton writing a review of the restaurant and their famous Lemon Chicken (they begged her not to); there really are only 10 tables; there is no menu; and they do make the best meatballs the Fork and Spoon have ever had!
It is quite a trek up to 114th Street and the East River! But, once you walk through the doors of family owned and operated Rao’s Restaurant you are transported to a restaurant that has not changed much from 1896 when Charles Rao first opened the doors, and you are part of the Rao’s family. Rao’s has been family owned and operated from that time.
We had a drink at the bar until they were ready to seat the 10 tables for the one and only seating at 7:00 – occasionally they have a 9:30 seating for a few select friends and family members. From where we were seated we were able to watch the diners come in and out and the dynamic of a place that really could never exist again – or anywhere else but Rao’s.
A casually dressed fellow grabbed a chair, pulled it up to our table and said “So, what do you want to eat tonight? Are you having a good time yet?’ He asked if we wanted appetizers, we said yes, and he told us what they had and told us to stop him when we heard something we liked. We went through the same routine for the pasta, main and dessert courses. Naturally, we wanted one of everything!
In order to try as many things as humanly possible on this once in a lifetime trip,Fork and Spoon ordered different things for our appetizers – we ordered mozzarella en corrozza and roasted peppers! MAN OH MAN are the roasted peppers good!! Smokey, pine nuts, raisins, melt in your mouth good. (Personally, I would add a little balsamic or a squeeze of lemon but the plate was empty!).
The mozzarella en corrozza was crispy fried, with creamy mozzarella oozing out. Grilled cheese brought to a new height. A squeeze of lemon a dip into luscious tomato sauce and you are on a wonderful culinary adventure!
We both had pasta bolognese. Their tomato sauce base is so good, slightly smokey, and very fresh tasting. Once you add in the bonuses of the beef and perfect seasonings and you think it can’t get better!!
And as we tucked into our wonderful pasta, there suddenly appeared two of the BIGGEST meatballs we had ever seen! So incredibly tender and soft, well seasoned and truly the size of tennis balls. Even with the cookbook, I could never hope to achieve anything this good! They are drenched in sauce. We sat next to the kitchen, trying to peer in to see how these beauties are made. They definitely are cooked in the sauce – at least partially – they are so moist that mere baking or frying could never retain that much tenderness and moistness. If you eat nothing else at Rao’s, EAT THE MEATBALLS! If stuck on a dessert island, a pot of Rao’s meatballs, a loaf of great bread – I would be a happy fork!
The first obvious choice for a main course was Rao’sLemon Chicken. The sauce is so tangy with a nice bite of garlic and the chicken so tender! The chicken broiled and then coated with the lemony, garlicy sauce and broiled again. Now, you can follow the recipe in Rao’s cookbook and make it yourself, or you can go to Rao’s website and order it by the bottle or the case if your local supermarket does not carry it. The bottled sauce is great. You actually stand there trying to figure out what else you can add it too!
As an aside about the website – order the canned tomatoes! They are fabulous! All the products are fantastic. Many that you have never seen in your local supermarket. As with the restaurant, Rao’s Specialty Foods is family run and operated. Go to the website, try their products, you won’t be sorry.
The other main dish that we ordered was a veal chop with sweet and hot vinegar peppers. Again a HUGE portion! Beautifully cooked veal chop smothered in sweet and hot vinegar peppers. No bite too hot and no bite too sweet. Such a gigantic portion, even Fred Flintstone would have trouble finishing this chop! The cutlery at Spoon’s drawer were very happy with the leftovers!
Sadly, our favorite part of the meal – dessert -was not as exciting as the rest of our meal. We ordered cheesecake. But by this point, it could have been us. The portions throughout dinner were so huge that there wasn’t much room, or desire, for dessert! A tea and a limoncello and sadly our grand adventure was over.
For those of us who can never hope for a reservation (or another reservation), there is a Rao’s Cookbook. Most of the recipes for the dishes served regularly in Rao’s are in the cookbook and it should be added to your collection. As we said earlier, the cookbook says the meatballs are fried and the Spoon and I agree those meatballs could never have touched oil and been that moist, they had to be cooked straight in the sauce! Tell us your secret!!
Spoon and I loved that the owners are ever present, going from table to table to say hello, welcome people, and truly make every guest whether a regular, a one time visitor, or newbie, feel like they have become a member of the Rao’s family.
Rao’s is located 455 East 114th Street in Manhattan AND now in Ceasar’s Palace in Las Vegas.
You can make reservations in Vegas. And while reservations in New York are scarcer than hen’s teeth, you are welcome any time to have a drink at the bar!