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Oct 12, 2013 10:30 AM


Sad and disappointed. When I heard that Rao's was opening in Hollywood, I was really excited. I have been lucky enough to dine at the original in Harlem once and thought it was the best New York/New Jersey style Italian food I have ever had.

So, when the new branch in Hollywood opened, I rushed to get a reservation. I suffered through busy signals for 2 days when I tried to ring up the restaurant. I guess they haven't heard of Open Table!

Anyway, when it finally got through, the person on the other end of the line told me that (i) they weren't open on the weekends like the NY original (at the time, I thought this isn't NY and good luck) and (ii) they didn't have a reservation between 7:30 and 8:30 for the rest of the year!. So I took what I could get and made a 6:30 reservation for Friday night.

My party arrived promptly at 6:30. The restaurant valet was very friendly and quite efficient. The exterior of the renovated Hollywood Canteen was well constructed and I liked the "Rao's since 1896" stenciled on the window. Nice touch.

The inside of the restaurant is reminiscent of the location in Harlem, but that's where the comparisons stop. What you experience next can only be characterized as the "LA Hostess." Frankly, not even the LA Hostess, because, just like an old carton of milk, this woman had reached her expiration and didn't realize it. Combination of arrogance and rudeness was a lethal combination.

She immediately attempted to seat our party in one of the two tables in the bar area which was unacceptable. When we asked for another table, she looked like she was exhausting all of her brain power to final a solution to the situation. I asked her why we couldn't sit in the other 5 (and I not kidding!) open tables in the front room and she she said they were reserved for reservations later in the evening in the sweet spot between 8:00 and 9:00. That was complete BS and made us feel the caste system that's just not going to work in LA! Was the table reserved for Woody or Leo? Who cares! That's not going to fly in LA! The food's just not that good! Anyway, she moved two tables together in the back patio which is their Siberia, a complete after thought and we dined out there.

The meal itself was good, not great and definitely not worth suffering through the attitude! We enjoyed the fried cheese panini and the baked clams appetizers. The frito misto and the seafood salad were ok. The pasta and the veal parm were good, but Dan Tana or Pepponi are better. We finished with the cheese cake which was good as well. Our waiter Jason was very attentive and quite good.

Notice I spent only four lines on the food and the remainder the attitude. If the way we were treated is any indication of how the treat others, Rao's is going to get as cold as that left over pizza next to the couch in the morning in no time. It reminded me of Red O when it first opened and we saw what happened with that restaurant. I have no idea who goes there now to fill a quarter of their tables each night.

No way i'm ever going back. The food is just not that good to suffer though the attitude! Sushi Zoe - certainly, Rao's NFW!

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  1. Thanks for the writeup. Sorry about your experience there.

    Did those empty tables eventually fill up?

    I found the food to be the same as the Las Vegas joint - Nothing noteworthy, really.

    It's a bit unnerving to see how many time the word "Siberia" has been used by people (myself included) to describe that patio.

    5 Replies
    1. re: J.L.

      I could have told you that.

      This is not a successful
      Franchising type place.

      1. re: kevin

        You're right. They can't recreate what they have in NY. But in NY. Everyone is treated like family. I LOVED the restaurant in NY! The family like charm and food were amazing! I was glad handed by a guy named Patrick right before we were ushered to the Back Patio! I'm not one of those people is like "don't you know I am?" But, this was ridiculous! Why bother?

      2. re: J.L.

        The place did fill up, but the tables they were holding filled up sooner than she had indicated they would. I guess our perceived stature didn't qualify for a better table.

        1. re: J.L.

          No one really should go to Rao's for the food. Harlem location included.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            My friend who went to Rao's Harlem was a legendary journalist He did not give a rats ass about the food. It was all about the "club ". The joint where he would hang out with the other icons of the ny literary and newspaper scene. Ironically, most were Irish Americans.

        2. Rao's has certainly shifted from the iconic Harlem restaurant of yesteryear to a big corporate business.
          It is all about the product and no longer about the experience.

          10 Replies
          1. re: maudies5

            Though I think if you still went to the original location on Pleasant and 114th in East Harlem and sat at one of the much prized 10 tables there as hobonobbed with the old school mafiosos, veteran city officials, and long-standing celebrities such as Woody or Scorscese it would still be fun.

            I wonder if they have a nice boutique hotel nearby so one can relax quite nicely postprandially.

            1. re: kevin

              It's a tough nut for an outsider to crack and enjoy. Perhaps not possible.

              1. re: Veggo

                Yep. They'd for sure never let me in.

                I think in the early 70s it might have been possible to become a regular without a Sisyphean effort on one's part.

                1. re: kevin

                  Today, I think Sisyphus wouldn't get a table in Siberia. Name doesn't end with a vowel.

                2. re: Veggo

                  Here's the thing. We're not talking about the restaurant in NYC. That's a whole different thing. I've eaten there and it IMPOSSIBLE to eat there unless you know someone who has a standing reservation or are a celeb. This is Hollywood for god's sake! Bottom line is the food's not good enough to get treated like this at a place that frankly has no regulars! I'm not sure who they thought our party was, but two of are senior studio execs and another is a top food blogger who will likely write a bad review.

                  1. re: Zunga

                    It's the same way Steve Rubell was so successful with Studio 54. If the in crowd can't get in and be fawned over, they want it even more.

                    1. re: Zunga

                      What may fly in red-sauce NY environs is already going to have a tough time in LA/CA. And attitude? Too much better food.

                      1. re: Zunga

                        I am a little confused about your plight here. I was at Rao's on Friday night as well, and while I also experienced the aging LA Hostess' attitude as well, it was an encounter of less than two minutes. Unless the aging lady came by your table every 10 minutes and stared you down, how did you let that singular brief experience ruin your entire evening? Overall, I expected more out of the Rao's experience, but was happy with our meal, the service, and the cocktails. The marinara sauce was one of the best I've ever had, the meatballs were everything everyone raved about, and the clams casino had a sweet and briny taste to them.

                3. Well I guess it's all relative.

                  I, for one, can't remember the last time I ate Italian food out at a restaurant where the appropriate adjectives to describe every part of the meal ranged from "good" to "ok."

                  To me, it sounds like a raging success.