Update: I have updated this post (originally posted January 2010) with some additional comments and photos from my second visit in January 2011.
This post is part III of the larger series: Celebrity Chef Dining in Las Vegas. Other posts in this series include Part I: Mario Batali's B&B Ristorante and Part II: Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill.
Is it worth the hype? Does it really have the same menu as the New York establishment? What’s the food like?
These were all questions running through my mind as I considered what our meal at Rao’s would be like.
Just a bit of background. The original Rao’s is a tiny Italian restaurant in New York City and has been there for decades. It is soooo popular at this point that it almost seems like you have to know someone to get a reservation. The tiny restaurant, which only has ten seats, only seats one reservation per evening. Worse yet, seven of the ten seats are already reserved for regulars, many who have been coming for decades. This leaves exactly three seats a night. No wonder it's virtually impossible to get a reservation.
Two years ago, Frank Pellegrino, co-owner of Rao's, decided to open a new outpost in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace. This second location is run by Frank Pellegrino Jr., the owner’s son and his wife Carla, who is the executive chef. Update: Carla Pellegrino left Rao's in November 2010 and will be starting her own new Naples themed Italian restaurant called Bratalian in Henderson, NV sometime in March.
Supposedly the menu is very similar, with many of the most popular dishes from the NYC establishment also available in Las Vegas.
We were seated in the back “patio” section, which was actually surprisingly pleasant. It really felt like we were sitting in the outside patio, oddly enough. You could see the brick outside of the “restaurant” and above us vines hung throughout.
We enjoyed a very good 2006 Tuscan Tignaloto (sp?) wine highly recommended by the sommelier ($195). It was a delicious (albeit expensive!) wine. No complaints there.
The service was a bit spotty in the beginning. It took us FOREVER to receive our drink menus and even longer for the waiter to come by. The timing of things was a bit weird. The bread came super early, and then the sommelier tried to serve the wine at the same time the waiter was describing dishes to us. A bit weird, but our waiter was so nice (after he eventually came) that we decided we could forgive the hiccupy service at the beginning of our meal.
We also ordered the deep fried mozzarella with tomato sauce, which was very good. Bryan thought the mozzarella was very high quality, and it was perfectly fried. Although it was solid, it was less of a “WOW” dish compared to the frutti di mare.
Fore our entrées, Bryan ordered the veal chop with cherry peppers, which was recommended by our waiter. He also got a side of the special, which was pasta with proscuitto and peas in a light cream sauce.
I ordered the marinara pasta because I really wanted to taste the quality of their tomato sauce. WOW. San Marzano tomatoes really do make a difference! I have had Rao’s jarred tomato sauce and their version of marinara is the best commercial jarred tomato sauce I have had.
This was many times better than the jarred version. Slightly spicy, this sauce had a deep rich tomato flavor that was sweet from the tomatoes themselves, not from the addition of sugar. I loved it - I felt like I could eat it forever. Unfortunately, the fresh pasta, again, was slightly overcooked. Still, the sauce was so incredibly beautiful that I didn’t care and ate the soft pasta regardless.
We tried the following two dishes on a return trip to Vegas in 2011
The smoked salmon with cream sauce tubular pasta that we ordered had much better texture than our previous pasta experiences at Rao's. This pasta was beautifully chewy, had a wonderful creamy flavor, and was overall quite enjoyable.
For dessert we split a ricotta cheesecake. I was curious how it would compare to the ricotta pies we have ordered at Mike’s Pastry in the North End.
Over all, it was an excellent meal. There’s something to be said about a restaurant when everything is either good or amazing. Really, except for the slightly spotty service and the overcooked pasta, everything else was great.
This post is part of a larger Las Vegas series. Posts in this series:
Note: originally published 1/27/10 at 2:04 AM
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