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
Rao''s, the hundred-year-old restaurant with a mere ten tables tucked in a corner of East Harlem in what was once a legendary Italian neighborhood, is one of the most sought-after restaurants in all of Manhattan. Its tables are booked months in advance by regulars who go to enjoy what The New York Times calls its "exquisitely simple Italian cooking" from traditional recipes, many as old as Rao''s itself. You may not get a table at Rao''s, but now with this book you can prepare the best Italian home-style food in the world in your own kitchen. Here for the first time are recipes for all of Rao''s fabulous classics--its famous marinara sauce, seafood salad, roasted peppers with pine nuts and raisins, baked clams, lemon chicken, chicken scarpariello, and on and on. The recipes are accompanied by photographs that re-create Rao''s magic and testimonials from loyal Rao''s fans-- from Woody Allen to Beverly Sills. Here too is a brief history of the restaurant by Nicholas Pileggi and a Preface by Dick Schaap. Both will convince you that what you have in your hands is a national treasure, a piece of history, and a collection of the best Italian American recipes you will ever find.
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