It’s not easy to get the press to brave the traffic of midday Hollywood and show up for the launch of a bottled tomato sauce. But when Rao's Homemade introduced their latest flavor—Tomato Herb—they had a full house of food writers and bloggers. And everyone left happy.
So, what do they do right? For starters, they had a great venue at their disposal. Rao’s in Hollywood, the West Coast branch of the legendary Harlem restaurant where it’s famously impossible to get a reservation. Rao’s Hollywood isn’t normally open for lunch, so it made the gathering feel even more special, and the whole space could be devoted to the fête.
The planners let guests know in advance that their valet would be covered (a big issue in Los Angeles, where valet charges often run into double digits), or guests would be given an Uber code if they preferred to ride both ways on Rao’s. (With all of the controversy surrounding Uber, planners might want to start considering offering Lyft or other ridesharing apps as an option.)
When guests arrived, Bloody Mary’s were at the ready, along with a full bar of offerings. (That and the wine pairing that was available during the lunch itself made some of us regret passing on Uber.) There were a colorful cast of characters on hand, including Johnny Roastbeef, part of the Rao extended family and a character actor best known for his role in Goodfellas, and Frank Pellegrino Jr., Rao’s co-owner, who was a very engaging and hands-on host, bussing plates while we chatted about Rao’s history and how to choose a good tomato.
The four-course lunch was served family style; huge platters of red-sauced pasta, fusilli, meatballs, shrimp, lemon chicken, grilled vegetables and a caprese salad. While the pace wasn’t at all hurried, there weren’t lags between courses, which meant everyone lingered for the dessert plate of New York cheesecake, cannolis and berries. As promised we were out the door at 2 pm, most of us carrying leftovers, which had been thoughtfully packed up and waiting for us, and a swag bag that contained a bottle of sauce, an apron, a package of Rao’s rigatoni, a shortbread cookie embosses with the Rao’s logs, and a signed copy of Rao's Classics cookbook. All will be put to good use. (And, in case you’re wondering, the new Tomato Herb flavor is quite delicious and available exclusively at Whole Foods.)