ONE NIGHT ONLY: On Tuesday night, Frank Pellegrino turned to the jukebox in his famous East Harlem Italian eatery, Rao’s, and dialed up a familiar song. As Dean Martin sang, “As the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore,” Pellegrino led the room in a sing-along, stopping at each table to give a nudge to the men and a kiss for the ladies.
A dinner at Rao’s, with its family-style servings of lemon chicken, baseball-size meatballs and red peppers in olive oil, is a distinctly New York kind of fantasy. Like a rent-controlled penthouse or a full scholarship to Dalton, it’s something you hear about but don’t really expect to experience.
This story first appeared in the March 3, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
There are a few reasons for this. Mimi Sheraton’s three-star review, which ran in The New York Times in 1977, put Rao’s on the map and “the phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” said Frank Pellegrino 2nd. There is a single seating each evening at 10 tables and they are all booked for the remainder of 2011. According to general manager Joe Ciccone, the reservations for the following year are only accepted in person on a single day in November. Even so, Ciccone said he hasn’t been able to accommodate new reservations even then because his regular clientele of tycoons, celebrities and politicos, some of whom have been coming to Rao’s once a week for the past 20 or 30 years, rarely give up their tables. Ron Perelman, for example has the first booth reserved every single Monday of this year.
Fantasies do sometimes come true, however, and on Tuesday evening, the restaurant was closed to the public (a first for Rao’s) for a kick-off party hosted by Bon Appétit for the fifth anniversary of its Las Vegas Uncork’d event, which takes place May 5 to 8. Rao’s has done the event every year at Caesars Palace, where it has a second restaurant. Bon Appétit editor in chief Adam Rapoport schmoozed with editors and greeted chefs, who flew in expressly for the dinner, including Paul Bartolotta from the Wynn Hotel and Rick Moonen of Mandalay Bay, who mingled with François Payard, who has a patisserie in Caesars Palace. Jean-Georges Vongerichten stopped by for a drink but skipped supper, after receiving word that Donald Trump was headed to one of his restaurants.
No one worked the room like Pellegrino Sr., who circled it as if greeting old friends.“Bill Clinton was a lot of fun,” he recalled. “I was singing ‘My Girl’ and after I sang the line ‘mistakes I’ve made a few,’ he said, ‘me, too,’ and the place went wild. Unless you experience this place firsthand, you may never come to really know what Rao’s is.” But more people may soon be able to: Pellegrino Jr. revealed Rao’s plans to open a third restaurant but, this being Rao’s, he declined to say where.
— Amy Wicks
FULL DISCLOSURE: The New York Times Magazine published Jennifer Egan’s cover story for this weekend’s issue online on Wednesday and there were curious additions to her contributor’s biography: Her e-mail address (email@example.com) and the name and e-mail of her editor (Ilena Silverman).
This weekend marks the official launch of Hugo Lindgren’s redesigned and relaunched Times Magazine, and apparently, as a gesture toward transparency, there will be ways to now communicate with the people behind the stories.
“Our hope is that it results in thoughtful exchanges between readers and writers and editors,” e-mailed Lindgren. “Or it could be a blitz of hate mail and spam. Either way, as I’ve told a few of my reluctant colleagues, it’s only e-mail,” he said.
He called it an experiment. It certainly puts his editors in the spotlight, arguably more so than other weekly magazines, which normally do not tell their readers who edited a piece (this is especially true since more than one editor is usually involved and there’s a tradition at magazines for editors to help writers become stars, not the other way around).
And in a further attempt to open up the Times Magazine a little bit more, there is — for the first time — a printed masthead online (ever wonder who the Online Editor is? Miki Meek!). The magazine has also started a blog called The Sixth Floor — the floor the magazine is located on in the Times Building on Eighth Avenue — that Lindgren described in a blog post as “a place to let readers listen in on the conversations that happen in the office.”
— John Koblin
BURBERRY ROCKS BRIGHTON: Burberry has tapped two members of the rock aristocracy for the latest installment of its spring campaign. Tali Lennox, Annie Lennox’s daughter and Tara Ferry, Bryan Ferry’s son, both appear in the campaign, which was shot on Britain’s pebbly Brighton beach by Mario Testino. Lennox wears pieces from Burberry Prorsum’s exotic skins collection, such as a green python biker jacket, while Ferry wears a studded leather biker jacket. The images are the latest in Burberry’s evolving spring campaign, which features different models each month — models Cara Delevingne, Jacob Young, Jourdan Dunn and Sacha M’Baye have all already appeared in this season’s campaign. “We wanted to create a dynamic campaign that reflects the diversity of our broad global consumer, revealing new British cast members each month…embodying the different attitudes of the Burberry guy and girl,” said Christopher Bailey, chief creative officer at Burberry. The spring campaign includes pieces from Burberry Prorsum, Burberry London, Burberry Brit and Burberry accessories. The current installment of the campaign will appear online and in print through March, while the April campaign images will launch April 6.
— Nina Jones