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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Meet me at Del's

There ne'er was seen so fair a sight
As at Delmonico's last night;
When feathers, flowers, gems and lace
Adorned each lovely form and face;
A garden of all thorns bereft,
The outside world behind them left,
They sat in order, as if "Burke"
Had sent a message by his clerk.
And by whose magic wand is this
All conjured up? the height of bliss.
'Tis he who now before you looms-
The Autocrat of Drawing Rooms.

I first nibbled at Delmonico's when I was 13. Yes, it was my thirteenth birthday that I was "formally introduced" to Delmonico's. I even remember where I was. I was having cheesecake at Junior's in Brooklyn. My very best favorite aunt in the whole wide world took me to Junior's right after we went shopping on 86th street. She bought me the most unforgetable leopard jacket. It was so furry and soft and I looked like a million dollars! ( I was 13:)

She chatted about Delmonico's like best friends speak confided secrets. She memorialized the fabled restaurant beginning with the stream of taxis arriving at the door. She detailed the sparkling costumes of the elaborately dressed women and the stiffness of the men darned in their irreproachable waistcoats. It was like hearing a fairy-tale for the first time. The wonderment, the excitement, the elegance. Cinderella at the ball. In the morning, one could feast on an omelette of parsley overlooking Fifth Avenue. In the evening one could dine on the most expensive of luxuries and brush shoulders with the highbrows of the world in the grand ballroom...

"Americans are just beginning to regard food the way the French always have. Dinner is not what you do in the evening before something else. Dinner is the evening." Art Buchwald

On December 13, 1827, Giovanni ("John") and Pietro ("Peter") Delmonico opened their first cafe, where they sold coffee, wine and pastries. The pastry shop was so successful, the Delmonico brothers enlisted the help of their brother Lorenzo to supervise and hand pick the necessities needed to embellish the business. The family set up a 20 acre farm in Brooklyn, to insure the harvest of the most freshest fruits and vegetables. Delmonico's was first listed as a restaurant in 1830 and under the constant detailed attention of Lorenzo, Delmonico's became synonymous with the highest standards of food and service.

Delmonico's Restaurant is one of the first continuously run restaurants in the United States. And, while the Delmonico brothers can hardly be called the first to open a full-service restaurant in the United States, Delmonico's is considered to be the first in "fine dining." Delmonico’s offered luxury, the availability of private dining rooms, an extensive wine cellar, and innovative cuisine. Unlike the inns that existed at the time, restaurants like Delmonico's would permit guests to order from a menu, rather than requiring its patrons to dine on meals at fixed prices. The dining experience was only limited by the imagination. Above all, warm, personal service was a chef-d'oeuvre!

Once let Delmonico have your order, and you are safe. You may repose in peace up to the very moment when you sit down with your guests. No nobleman of England, no Marquis of the ancienne nobles, was ever better served or waited on in greater style that you will be in a private room at Delmonico's. The lights will be brilliant, the waiters will be curled and perfumed and gloved, the dishes will be strictly en règle and the wines will come with precision of clock-work that has been duly wound up. If you "pay your money like a gentleman," you will be fed like a gentleman, and no mistake... The cookery, however, will be superb, and the attendance will be good. If you make the ordinary mistakes of a untraveled man, and call for dishes in unusual progression, the waiter will perhaps sneer almost imperceptibly, but he will go no further, if you don't try his feelings too harshly, or put your knife into your mouth. source

The original pastry shop burned down in 1835, the Delmonico brothers reopened a new restaurant with a three story cafe, complete with a grand ballroom. There was also a private dining room and patrons selected their viands from a seven page menu. The wine menu listed 62 different imported wines. Diners were intrigued by this menu which was also offered in French and English. Delmonico's became a must visit for foreign as well as the native elite of the era. In May, 1862, Lorenzo Delmonico hired Charles Ranhofer.  It was there that Ranhofer made his real fame, though others say that he made the fame of the restaurant as well. He was the chef at Delmonico's until his retirement in 1896. (Except for a short hiatus from 1876 and 1879 when he owned the "Hotel American" near Paris at Enghen-les-Bains.) By 1876 there were four Delmonico Restaurants enhancing New York's culture.

Delmonico's hosted some of the highest occasions that occurred in nineteenth century New York, and Ranhofer personally planned them all. Some of the most influential personalities in American history regularly brushed shoulders at Delmonico's. Charles Ranhofer had a talent for naming dishes after many of these famous and prominent people. It's been said, every president from 1832 to the turn of the century dined there. (President Lincoln would visit town quietly during the war for unpublicized meetings and stayed at rooms above the restaurant gratis at Lorenzo Delmonico's insistence.) source

Fifth Avenue's greeting to Charles Dickens, on the occasion of his second visit, was in the form of the dinner that was tendered to him at Delmonico's, on the evening of April 18, 1868. The hosts were two hundred men of the New York press. Covers were laid for a hundred and eighty-seven guests.

As with most recipes, there are often quite a few variations to the originals but in his book The Epicurean Chef Ranhofer reveals his recipe for Veal Tart or Pie à La Dickenson. The recipe is as follows:

VEAL TART OR PIE à LA DICKINSON (Tarte de Veau à la Dickinson).
Suppress all the fat and sinews from a kernel of veal; cut it up into thin slices, having them an inch and a half in diameter. Butter a pie dish that can go into the oven; set slices of bacon and ham on the bottom, and over these the sliced veal, alternated; season with salt, pepper and parsley; add finely cut-up potatoes, chopped shallots or onions, then continue to fill with the same until the dish is quite full and well rounded on top; pour some clear gravy  into the bottom, lay a small band made of puff paste parings on the edge of the dish, and a flat of the same paste on top; cut away the surplus paste around the dish, decorate and egg the pie over twice; bake it in a medium oven for one hour and a half for a dish containing a quart. source

Other fashionable personalities included; William Astor, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Charles Louis Napoleon, Oscar Wilde, Walter Scott, and Queen Victoria and her eldest son, the Prince of Wales. A dinner for the Grand Duke Alexis Alexandrovitch, who was entertained by the New York Yacht Club, featured Lobster Duke Alexis December 2, 1871 and was kept on the menu by chef Charles Ranhofer. Jenny Lind ate there every night after her show. A millionaire of the time, August Belmont, whose wine bill alone was estimated at $20,000 dollars a month, badgered Lorenzo into a bet with three of his friends to serve the best dinner in New York no matter what the expense. Lorenzo was in a bind because he would have to have one chef create all three meals for each man. The bet ended in a draw but truffled ice cream which later became a must at every posh restaurant in New York was born at one of those dinners. Another frequent visitor to Delmonico's was Diamond Jim Brady usually escorted by Lillian Russell. It was because of Ms. Russell's overcoming beauty that Oscar Tschirky applied for a job at Delmonico's. He wanted to serve Ms. Russell. Of course, his ambition excelled from Delmonico's to becoming chef at The Waldorf.

In his book entitled "Society as I Have Found it," Samuel Ward McAllister, describes a banquet at Delmonico's at which seventy-two of the famous "Four Hundred" sat down, and which cost $10,000. He states:

"The table, covered with flowers, seemed like the abode of fairies." "The wines were perfect. Blue Seal Johannisberg flowed like water; incomparable 1848 claret, superb Burgundies, and amber-colored Madeira added to the intoxicating effect of the scene." "Lovely women's eyes sparkled with delight at the beauty of their surroundings, and I felt that the fair being who sat next me would have graced Alexander's feast."

Author Arthur Bartlett Maurice from the book Fifth Avenue published in 1918:

"There have been many Delmonicos. But for the purposes of fiction there has never been one just like the establishment that occupied a corner at the junction of the Avenue and Fourteenth Street. It was a more limited town in those days. The novelist wishing to depict his hero doing the right thing in the right way by his heroine did not have the variety of choice he has now. Two squares away, the Academy of Music was, theatrically and operatically, the social centre, so to carry on the narrative with a proper regard for the conventions, the preceding dinner or the following supper was necessarily at the old Delmonico's. They were good trenchermen and trencherwomen, those heroes and heroines of yesterday! Many oyster-beds were depleted, and bins of rare vintage emptied to satisfy the healthy appetites of the inked pages. Somehow the mouth waters with the memory. When Delmonico's moved on to Twenty-sixth Street, and from its terraced tables its patrons could look up at graceful Diana, there were many famous dinners of fiction, such as the one, for example, consumed by the otherwise faultless Walters, for a brief period in the service of Mr. Van Bibber--the menu selected: "Little Neck clams first, with chablis, and pea-soup, and caviare on toast, before the oyster crabs, with Johannisberger Cabinet; then an _entree_ of calves' brains and rice; then no roast, but a bird, cold asparagus with French dressing, Camembert cheese, and Turkish coffee," may be accepted as indicating the gastronomical taste of the author in the days when youth meant good digestion--but with the departure from the old Fourteenth Street corner something of the flavour of the name passed forever...But to that generation of New Yorkers of which only a few remain, there has been only one great Delmonico's, the one which in 1861 opened its doors at the northeast corner of Fourteenth Street and Fifth Avenue. It was the centre of the town in the sixties and early seventies. Two blocks away was the Academy of Music, the Metropolitan Opera House of the time, and Fourteenth Street was burgeoning out as the new Rialto. Society set its seal upon the establishment. The clubs of the immediate neighborhood, of which there were several, did not think it necessary to install cuisines when Delmonico's was so close at hand."

There is also a legend about “pie à la mode“ at the Cambridge Hotel in Cambridge, New York.

Professor Charles Watson Townsend, dined regularly at the Cambridge Hotel during the mid 1890's. He often ordered ice cream with his apple pie. Mrs. Berry Hall, a diner seated next to him, asked what it was called. He said it didn’t have a name, and she promptly dubbed it Pie a la mode. Townsend liked the name so much he asked for it each day by that name. When Townsend visited the famous Delmonico Restaurant in New York City, he asked for pie a la mode. When the waiter proclaimed he never heard of it, Townsend chastised him and the manager, and was quoted as saying; "Do you mean to tell me that so famous an eating place as Delmonico's has never heard of Pie a la Mode, when the Hotel Cambridge, up in the village of Cambridge, NY serves it every day? Call the manager at once, I demand as good serve here as I get in Cambridge."  The following day it became a regular at Delmonico and a resulting story in the New York Sun (a reporter was listening to the whole conversation) made it a country favorite with the publicity that ensued. source

Culinary Parlance

Sprinkling the menu is a culinary bouquet of pungent aroma that enlivens us like a scented welcome. The hospitality pot, in the shape of a pineapple is filled with nostalgic and alluring flavors. It is as vigourous as a soup, with the virtue of herbs, the value of sauces, a suspicious hint of nutmeg, and a dusting of cinnamon. The captivating taste and aroma, tang us like the peel of an orange skin as the air fills with redolent odors. Atlas, culinary parlance.

Lobster a la Newburg
June 1957, The Epicurean Monthly June 1957 pg. 24

In spite of the "a la" connotation this is not a French dish. It is strictly of American origin. The story goes that around the turn of the century when Delmonico's was one of the few top restaurants in New York City where gourmets, connoisseurs of fine food, made their headquarters, this dish saw light of day.

One of the discriminating patrons was a physician whose wealthy clients enabled him to dine there regularly. The menus in Delmonico's were in French as was customary in metropolitan cities all over the civilized world in that era. The good doctor was very fond of lobster and instructed his waiter one day how he would like his favourite crustacean prepared and served, previously cooked, lobster tail cut in slices, sauteed in butter and served in a sauce similar to Terrapin Maryland sauce.

This request was duly passed on to the chef who instructed the fish cook accordingly. The order was made with meticulous care and the lobster tail chunks were served in a rich sauce consisting of sweet cream, thickened with egg yolks and finished with a dash of dry sherry.

The chef promptly added the new concotion on the menu as "Homard a la Neuberg" because that was the doctor's name. However, Doctor Neuberg strenuously objected to having his name identified on the menu in connection with a dish. Therefore it was changed to Newburg. There is a town by the name of Newburgh in New York state so no objections could be made. Now we find Lobster Newburg, which should be served in a chafing dish all over the country. Of course some unavoidable changes have been made, the cut up lobster claws are also used and cream sauce is used to prevent curdling, particularly when made in advance as a du jour dish, or for parties. A sprinkling of paprika is used to effect a pinkish colour and hot toast is always served with this dish. We also find Shrimps a la Newburg and other seafood served Newburg style.

Delmonico's closed May 21, 1923.

Resources

  • 1. wikipedia
  • 2. History of Delmonico's Restaurant
  • 3. John Delmonico
  • 4. Delmonico's @ American Heritage
  • 5. Delmonico's Menu 1862
  • 6.Delmonico's in Tuxedo history
  • 7.Incredible New York

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Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise