Rao’s to the Rescue

Magnificent Meatballs and Luscious Lemon Chicken Deliver Brief Respite from a Cruel World  

7/2/2020 – – Our number was called!

Early one morning last week my daughter received the Instagram message from Rao’s restaurant we’d been waiting for. Our take-out order placed more than two weeks earlier of salad, meatballs, pasta, and lemon chicken for two (the only menu choice offered) would be ready for pick up after 4:00. She immediately confirmed our order (hesitate and you go to the back of the waiting list) and we set our plan in motion. Cash in hand (no credit cards accepted), my wife, daughter and I headed for East 114th Street in Manhattan to complete our culinary crusade.

When we arrived, two large men were standing outside the surprisingly small corner restaurant. “First name?” they asked without the pomp or circumstance one might expect at such a hope-filled occasion. “Megan,” I answered, composed enough to remember that my daughter, who was getting out of the car to make the exchange, had placed the order. She handed the cash to one of the men and the other stepped inside, returning seconds later with two plastic bags (we had doubled our order). Quick thanks and we were on our way.  

Those nondescript bags contained a lot more than dinner (the aroma of which was amazing). Inside was adventure and diversion from a world made uncertain and depressing by an unprecedented convergence of public health, economic and societal crises. No, we hadn’t accomplished the herculean task of securing a table at Rao’s. But the coronavirus shutdown had made it possible for us to take some of the legendary restaurant’s magic home.

And magic it was. I’m pleased to report that Rao’s signature dishes exceeded my wife’s, daughter’s, sister in law’s (who joined us for dinner) and my expectations. The lightest, tastiest Italian meatballs ever. Perfectly cooked chicken made special by an unforgettable lemon sauce. Super fresh crisp salad brought to life by the perfect blend of oil, vinegar, garlic and Parmesan cheese (which Rao’s packaged separately to add just before serving).

Rao’s had come to the rescue. For one brief shining moment our taste buds were delighted and our thoughts unburdened by the realities of the day.

But for me, the respite was interrupted by an announcement from across the pond: Next week Ringo Starr will be celebrating his 80th birthday.

That’s right. Ringo Starr, aka Sir Richard Starkey, will be 80 years old. Fellow Beatle Paul McCartney, a spry 78 years old, and other rock stars will join Ringo on July 7 for a virtual concert on Ringo’s YouTube channel. The special broadcast will benefit Black Lives Matter Global Network, David Lynch Foundation, MusiCares, and WaterAid.

Don’t get me wrong. I couldn’t be happier that Ringo is still healthy and relevant. But that doesn’t soften the blow of hearing the name Ringo Starr and the number 80 in the same sentence. How can The Beatles’ drummer, the guy who made hits out of such lyrics as “we all live in a yellow submarine” and “you’re sixteen, you’re beautiful, and you’re mine” be 80? I’m sorry, that’s just too much for this baby boomer to digest along with all the turmoil of the day.

There is hope, however. With the reopening of indoor dining delayed again in New York City, Rao’s is continuing to offer takeout. They’re even making their entire menu available. Maybe we can get back on the list for the 7th. That would make Ringo’s birthday a whole lot easier to swallow.      


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