Saturday, 25 June 2011

Rao's part two

I feel spoiled.

I got a call two weeks ago today:

"Would you like _______'s table at Rao's next Wednesday?".

I said yes without checking my calendar, without calling my wife to see if we could get a babysitter. When asked that question, there's only one possible answer.

I knew I had four seats, so we had room for one other couple. Lots of contenders, but only one Obvious choice if he was in town. My brother and his wife. A treat like this has to shared first with family.

I didn't tell him where we were going until that morning. Awesome.

We got there promptly at 7, and sat down. A round of cocktails at the table from Nick the Vest, and then we started eating. The food, as you'll see from last review, was good to great the last time. I'd say almost the same this time, except more of it was truly great. The seafood salad and the mixed salad didn't disappoint. The mixed salad in particular was exactly how my grandmother's used to taste. We followed this with penne a la vodka, and lingune with white clam sauce. Now, I have to tell you that the ONLY kind of pasta I generally don't like is linguine -- the texture just doesn't work for me. But this linguine was stupendous. As I remembered From my last visit, their dried pasta dishes were perfectly al dente. The vodka sauce was the savory, tomatoey, vaguely cheesy way that vodka sauce is supposed to be. The clam sauce was garlicky with some pepperoncino, the perfect amount of heat, and a combination of whole and chopped clams. It was awesome. This course came with the requisite four meatballs. I ate two of them. Even better than last time. You can taste the percorino in them. They manage to be crusty on the outside and medium rare on the inside. They are divine.

For entrees we ended up randomly ordering the same two as my last visit. This time, I had the opposite reaction. The chicken scarpariello which was the most memorable part of my first visit, was good, but the chicken was a little bit dry and the peppers weren't hot enough. The shrimp oreganata, however, was superb. Large, moist shrimp in an intensely garlic and oregano sauce. Unbelievable. We also had a side on sauteed escarole, in honor of my Dad. He loved escarole, and used o always say that the Romans called it the "green of life." He might have made that up. The escarole was not very popular at our table, though I liked it.

This time we had dessert, the famous cheesecake and the coffee ice cream, both of which were unusually delicious for staple items. Three bottles of really excellnt chianti, and some after dinner drinks, and we rolled out full and happy, as the photo below documents.

I can't say enough about this place. The hype about the exclusivity aside, they do everything right. The service was great, as was the atmosphere. Less sceney this visit, it felt like every table were old time regulars, not celebrities. Maybe it's so good because with only a clientele of regulars, they can't ever let anything slip. I think it probably has more to do with the perfectionism of the hosts, who really make you feel at home.

What a special place.

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