Rao's is an old, 10-table restaurant in an old, New York-Italian neighborhood in which old Italians still may or may not live (this was never made quite clear in Nicholas Pileggi's complete-history-of-Italian-immigrants-in-America introduction to the cookbook), but you can't go there to eat. Not unless you know someone who has a lock on one of the tables. These are shared occupancy tables, condominium tables. Every night (Monday through Friday) is already spoken for--has been spoken for, in fact, for quite some time. Mixed in with the names of the obvious rich and famous and powerful who get to eat at Rao's (and who have enthusiastic things to say about Rao's throughout the cookbook) are names of the not-so-obvious to anyone who hails from outside the Italian neighborhood that spawned them. Rao's sounds like a dream of what New York once may have been like--joints on every corner full of character and soul--or what everyone would like to think New York may have been like. It sounds a little like a Disneyland nostalgia experience that just about everyone will never have.
So bless Frank Pellegrino for putting Rao's kitchen between the covers of this book. If you want the excitement and charm and comfort food of Rao's, you can now cook it yourself and pretend that's Dick Schaap sitting over there, and Rob Reiner coming though the door with Woody Allen, Brenda Vaccaro, and John-John. Plan on eating lots of tomato sauce, for Rao's springs from the same roots that gave America Italian red sauce restaurants of the checkered tablecloth and Chianti bottle candle holder stripe. Rao's does it far, far better, and with soul. The late Vincent Pellegrino, who made Rao's what it seemingly continues to be, was particularly fond of grilled meats, and those sections of the book are exemplary: simple, straightforward, to the point. Even the tripe sounds like it might be worth trying.
If you want to cook Italian and not sweat the regional details, this book is the one to pull off the shelf. --Schuyler Ingle
From Library Journal
Rao's is a New York City institution, a tiny, family-owned Italian restaurant in East Harlem that has attracted national attention and a celebrity clientele. But most of its ten tables (they added two tables to the original eight after the restaurant had been in business for 99 years) are reserved, in perpetuity, for regulars, many of whom have been eating there once a week for decades-so a jar of Rao's Homemade Tomato Sauce is the closest most people will ever come to the restaurant's fare. But here are the simple, classic recipes that 80-year-old "Auntie" Annie and the other cooks make every weekday: Seafood Salad, Baked Clams Oreganate, Pappardelle with Hot Sausage Sauce. Scattered throughout are quotes from devoted fansAsome famous, some "from the neighborhood"Aand lots of photographs. For area libraries and other larger collections.
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