Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New York's Finest

(Originally posted on January 14th, 2008)

The holy grail of dining

If you've lived in or visited New York, you may have heard of a legendary Italian restaurant called Rao's, which has been around since 1896. I say heard of, because I'm almost certain you've never eaten there. Why? Because it's impossible to get in.

First, it's located in Harlem, a location that isn't on most visitor's maps. Second, they don't take reservations. Third, they're only open weekdays and only have one seating. Finally, the restaurant is very small, only 10 tables. To top it off, the food is supposedly so excellent that celebrities and regulars are the only people to ever eat there, and celebrities have been known to get turned away.

I want in!

After reading reviews and hearing stories, after awhile it becomes a pipe dream that you would ever get to taste the food there. Until now. Last year, January 26th, 2007 -- if I'm not mistaken, Rao's opened at Caesar's Palace. While I can't be labeled a "foodie," I do enjoy my food on a purely spectator level. Let me assure you, this is some of the best Italian food you will ever eat.

Once was good, twice was better

Let me warn you now, Rao's is addicting. Out of all cuisines, Italian is our favorite, and we're pretty tough critics. Las Vegas has some very good Italian restaurants, and I can't name them all here, but they don't elicit rave reviews or the desire to visit on a regular basis. Rao's is different. We first went two weeks ago and the food was outstanding. Then you leave, but the thought of returning seeps into your brain, and just gnaws at you. Scary, huh?

So we went back again this weekend, keeping our fingers crossed that the experience could be recreated. It was, and then some. The portions are perfect, if you don't fill up on bread early on. My wife was unable to finish the last bites of her entree, and has regretted (and talked about it) since we left the table.

Not a restaurant reviewer

As I said earlier, I'm not a foodie, so I couldn't tell you what spices were used in any of the dishes. What I can tell you is that the meatballs ($12 for 2 - a great appetizer to share) are pure meat with a tomato sauce that you will sop up every drop with their bread. They are famous for their Lemon Chicken, which is a 1/2 roasted chicken, on the bone, that is very lemony, incredibly moist and quickly gone.

My favorite is a pasta dish with sweet sausage and the best broccoli rabe I have ever eaten. Ever. Their meat and seafood dishes are excellent. My wife had a black linguine (the black is derived from the ink of a squid), with the freshest seafood you'll find in Vegas. Then there's dessert. It doesn't matter how I describe their lemon cheesecake or their Tiramisu, you have to try it for yourself.

You again?

While we may not be celebrities, we are certainly heading toward "regular" status. We already have our next reservation placed, and my wife is thinking up reasons to go sooner than that. There will be no argument from me.

Rao's is located in Caesar's Palace and you can make reservations directly at the restaurant after 5pm by calling 702-731-7267. Buon appetito!

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