You might never be able to get a table at Rao's, but Justin Timberlake is offering the next best thing — a table at his soon-to-open Italian restaurant Destino's, which boasts a defecting celebrity chef from the famed East Harlem eatery.
Timberlake won't own Destino's — he's just an investor — but his participation is definitely going to be one of the draws for the place when it opens its doors in Manhattan's Upper East Side on February 9. After all, part of Rao's appeal is its celebrity (and wiseguy) clientele, including regulars Woody Allen, Tony Bennett and Mariah Carey, among others. Rao's other trick to keep the demand high is to limit the supply — with only 10 tables, it's nearly impossible to get a reservation. Destino's won't be quite so exclusive, offering 100-plus seats and a warm rustic atmosphere. "This is not a club, this is not a bar, this isn't a nightclub," Destino's rep Lizzie Grubman said. "This is a real restaurant."
That means, ultimately, it's about the food, which is where former Rao's chef Mario Curko, who will head Destino's kitchen, comes in. "[Curko] wouldn't be leaving Rao's if it weren't to do something special," Grubman said.
The menu and wine list are still being worked out, but Curko was best known for his authentic and old-fashioned Italian dishes, such as spaghetti carbonara, veal gnocchi, chicken scarpariello, steak pizzaiola and baccala (recipes for which can be found in "Rao's Cookbook: Over 100 Italian Years of Italian Home Cooking"). His Southern Italian specials on Destino's menu so far include veal marsala, lobster fra diavolo and meatballs — Timberlake's favorite. Tastings for food critics and other press are scheduled to take place in the week or two prior to the grand opening.
Timberlake's partner in Destino's — the singer's second such restaurant venture, after his dim sum joint Chi in Los Angeles — is New York club king Eytan Sugarman, who previously opened Chelsea nightclub Suede and West Harlem dance palace Cherry Lounge, both with producer Timbaland.