Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Visit to Rao's Restaurant in NYC

I want to tell you a story about relationships.  The most wonderful things can happen when you build relationships!  And gifts can come to you in the most unexpected ways.  A chance meeting and I have a new, really wonderful, friend!
It was quite a few years ago. as I walked the aisles of the Kehe Specialty Food Show in Chicago, that I was introduced to Rao's Specialty Food Products.  As I talked with the Rao's rep,  I was certain this was a product I wanted at Harter House World Flavors.  At the end of the show, the Rao's representative gave me a Rao's Cookbook.  It has been one of my favorites.  I especially loved reading the history about the Restaurant, dating back to 1896, when Charles Rao bought a small saloon at the corner of 114 Street and Pleasant Avenue in upper Manhattan.

Located at the corner of 114th. Street & Pleasant Avenue
Harlem N.Y.
Open Monday through Friday...Dinner Only.
If you do not have a reservation, you can always have a drink at the bar.
Rao's is renowned for its jukebox, its quirky decor, its unmatched hospitality and most of all, the spectacular Neapolitan cuisine. It's also notorious for being one of the most difficult restaurants in New York in which to get a reservation.


Year-long waits for one of its ten tables are not uncommon. But what is it about this tiny, charming restaurant that makes it the most in-demand spot in the city night after night, year after year?
For decades Rao's Bar & Grill existed as a neighborhood restaurant. Its local customers would fill the tables with such regularity that eventually they were given standing reservations - bookings that persevere to this day. The Rao's phenomenon exploded in 1977, when New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton gave Rao's a gushing, half-page, three-star review, splashing the city's best-kept secret in front of millions of readers. Since Rao's NYC location only has ten tables, and only one seating per evening, the resulting demand would have been overwhelming even if the tables weren't already spoken for. That the tables were "owned" like a condominium translated to almost no empty seats in the house, night after night.

Fast forward to today.  After announcing my plans to go to New York this December, a friend called today to tell me that I had 2 reservations for dining at Rao's during my stay.  I don't know if I can explain my excitement.    The more I learned about the restaurant history, the more I wanted to experience the atmosphere. 
And I can't wait to share it with you! My reservations are for Friday night, Dec. 6, 2013.  Until then, I will have to suffice with Rao's products from the shelves of  Harter House