What a lucky Fork! Invited to dinner at Rao’s by Demitasse Spoon. Very exciting! Along with Fork and Demitasse Spoon came Shish Kabob Stick and Butter Pick.
Going to Rao’s, no matter what you eat, is just an exciting dining experience. The owners, Ron Straci and Frank Pellegrino are there nearly every night and make regulars and first time visitors feel welcome and like family. Some of you may have seen Frank Pellegrino on the Sopranos or in the movie Goodfellas – Frank’s being there alone made Demitasse Spoon’s night perfect.
Because there were four of us, we were shown to a booth in the main part of the dining room – which was very cool. Don’t get Fork wrong, the family table for two by the kitchen is great – you get to watch all the goings on in the kitchen! The ambiance in the whole joint is great – and yes, this would definitely be a joint. The staff is super friendly. The house wine is good. The food is out of this world. But the entire experience for a true foodie is surreal, and Fork was in foodie heaven.
The fellow who drags a chair over to your table to discuss the menu and take your oder has worked there for over 10 years. Before that he was a loyal customer. So he pulled up next to our table and started talking about the menu. Fork watched as Demitasse Spoon, Butter Pick, and Shish Kabob Stick’s eyes started to glaze over. There are just so many choices. Fork – being an old hand at Rao’s (haha) – took over and did the ordering.
We started with Mozzarella and Carrozza. What arrived were four pillows of golden crusted mozzarella. Ooey-gooey mozzarella, between slices of bread, dipped in egg and bread crumbs and deep fried. What could possibly be bad about that! The four little pillows sat in a pool of rich tomato sauce. There was one for each of us. You had to eat quickly at this meal, if you rested your fork for a moment, you never knew who would be eyeing your plate!
Our second dish was Fried Calamari. Fork isn’t quite sure what they dredge the calamari in, but it is quite tasty. Sadly, very salty, but quite tasty. The coating was crisp and nicely seasoned. The portion plentiful. Mostly rings, and not rubbery at all. The calamari is served with a side of marinara sauce. Fork is very happy with just a squeeze of lemon and to just dig in, so I sadly cannot comment on the sauce itself.
Next, Roasted Peppers. You can never go wrong with the roasted peppers at Rao’s. They are fabulous. Beautifully roasted red peppers, toasted pignoli nuts, golden raisins, garlic and olive oil. So simple and yet so perfect. Fork still contends it could use the slightest hit of vinegar for just a touch of acidity.
Let me tell you, if you come to Rao’s, come with your appetite – starters, pasta, mains, sides, dessert.
Following our starters we had pasta. First was Rigatoni Bolognese. The pasta was overwhelmingly salty. This definitely wasn’t the sauce, but the pasta itself – probably way over salted water. The bolognese sauce was very thick and very meaty, nicely seasoned. You could tell that the bolognese sauce was cooked low and slow just by the taste. It’s a shame, though, that the dish was ruined my the salitness of the pasta.
The next pasta we tried was linguine with pink clam sauce. The clams were fresh, there was a hint of garlic and white wine. It wasn’t overly fishy, which was a worry. Fortunately, it wasn’t as salty as the rigatoni from the bolognese. Now, Fork could swear when the list of sauces was being gone through that it was said that linguine with clam sauce is an amatriciana sauce – Fork hopes there was silver polish in the ears, pink clam sauce is definitely not amatriciana. Fork was pleasantly surprised how good this sauce was. Clam sauce is one of those dishes that Fork usually prefers at home, but this was very good and instantly gobbled up for the four hungry pieces of cutlery sitting in our booth.
Just as an aside, the bread that is served on the table is incredible, especially the seeded, braided one.
Along came the meatballs, and the meatballs are divine. If you try nothing else at Rao’s, you have to try the meatballs. They are tennis ball sized. So tender and moist. Such a great flavor. The meatballs sit in and are smothered in their marinara sauce. I know the Rao’s recipe in their cookbook says that these beauties are fried, but really, they have to be partially – if not completely – simmered in the sauce to retain that tender consistency.The only disappointing thing about the meatballs was only having two of them to share between four people. The close friendship amongst us could have been thrown aside for a larger share of meatballs!
During our last trip to Rao’s I was told by one of the owners that to come to Rao’s and to not try the Fried Chicken, at some point, would be criminal. Well, a criminal Fork ain’t no more and this fried chicken is terrific! Cut into manageable sized pieces, lightly dusted in nicely seasoned flour and perfectly fried, this fried chicken is really delicious. There isn’t a thick coating on the chicken, but the coating that is there is crisp and very flavorful. The chicken was very moist and tender. This was definitely worth waiting for!
Fork loves any sort of chop with sweet vinegar peppers. Demitasse Spoon loves veal chops. This was a dish made in the cutlery drawer just for us. A beautifully grilled, thick veal chop, cut from the bone, smothered in peppers. The veal was rich, perfectly cooked, only slightly pink on the inside. The peppers were sweet and vinegary, so perfect to cut through some of the richness of the veal.
Even something as simple as the house salad is amazing! If you are an Italian American, this salad will remind you so much of your grandmother salad that it might bring tears to your eyes. Iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, endive, and radicchio. The dressing was the simplest of oil and red wine vinegar. The ingredients were fresh and cold, just the right amount of dressing, and the perfect ending to a fabulous meal!
There was SO much food left over! One of the waiters came over and asked if we’d like to take it home. Oh, YES, please!
For dessert – Tartuffo and espresso for Demitasse Spoon; the most incredible house made Coffee Ice Cream and Limoncello for Fork. As if there wasn’t enough coffee flavor in the ice cream already, Fork poured a tiny bit of Demitasse Spoon’s espresso over the ice cream.
Thank you, everyone at Rao’s for another fabulous dinner!
Rao’s is located 455 East 114th Street in Manhattan AND now in Ceasar’s Palace in Las Vegas.