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October 31, 2014

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When you’re at Rao’s for Vegas Uncork’d, you’re family

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Rao’s roasted red peppers

I remember my first Vegas Uncork’d food festival a few years ago—the epic quantities of food, the free-flowing wine, the constant confusion over where the hell I’d parked.

My weekend began that year with a Master Series dinner at Rao’s at Caesars Palace. Sitting at long tables in front of the restaurant’s patio, we dined on Italian classics in the company of Frank Pellegrino, Sr., Frankie Pellegrino, Jr. and chef Cat Cora. It was a lovely, delicious evening, and when we finished dinner, a few of us went outside to sip on after-dinner cocktails and chat in the warm evening air. I had just met the family that night, but they were welcoming and kind, swapping stories, laughing and enjoying each other and the beautiful evening.

It was a feeling I was reminded of last night at the Rao’s Master Series dinner as I nibbled on roast garlic with sundried tomato and eggplant tapenades, creamy mushroom ravioli, homemade pasta in a tomato pancetta sauce and addictively good fork-tender meatballs (with paired wines, of course). Squeezed into the cozy side room at Rao’s (it’s the same size as their 116-year-old Harlem original), 50 or so Uncork’d diners absorbed the food and the family—complete with a heartfelt speech from Senior, dashing in a gray suit and vest.

“Ronnie [Straci], Frankie [Pellegrino Jr.] and me, if we didn’t have you, we’d have to go get jobs as busboys somewhere,” the elder Pellegrino said to laughs from the packed dining room.

We didn’t retire to the patio this year, but the familial warmth and passion of Rao’s were the same. And the meatballs—still epically delicious.

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