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Delmonico’s Adds a Storyteller to the Menu

Historian Kevin Draper of Delmonico’s. Credit Delmonico’s.

By Marian Betancourt

When it opened in 1837 in New York’s financial district, Delmonico’s was the nation’s first white tablecloth restaurant, the first to seat guests at their own separate tables and to provide printed menus. It is also the origin of now classic American dishes such as Lobster Newburg, Eggs Benedict, and, of course, the boneless rib eye steak that bears its name. Delmonico’s was the home of the power lunch or dinner before those terms were known.  Anyone important coming to New York was feted at Delmonico’s, from Mark Twain to Charles Dickens to Abraham Lincoln.  Another first, however, may be even more important. In 1868 Delmonico’s was the first restaurant to allow women to dine without a male escort. The Delmonico Brothers took a bold step when they agreed to host the first women only business luncheon and now the restaurant is celebrating this with their annual Women’s Power Lunch menu for ten days each April.

 

Table display of newspaper report of women’s first dinner. Credit Bridget McFall.

There are just so many stories here, nearly two centuries of them, that Delmonico’s has decided to add a storyteller to the menu. You may now order a one hour tableside session with in-house historian Kevin Draper along with your ribeye steak and Baked Alaska.  The nation’s first true restaurant, Delmonico’s is a national and a city landmark with legend and lore in every nook and cranny.  Draper will be available to talk with you at your table about the restaurant’s colorful history.

Classic and Contemporary

Delmonico’s is featured on the cover of the 2016 book, Ten Restaurants That Changed America by Paul Freedman, who described it as setting the standard for fine dining in America. More than a century before modern chefs coined the phrase farm-to-table, the Delmonico brothers had their own farm in Williamsburg Brooklyn to supply fresh produce for the restaurant.  Charles Ranhofer, the French chef who ran the kitchen from 1862 to the 1890’s created some of the famous recipes that are still on the menu today, such as Baked Alaska, a dome of baked meringue atop an almond cake created to honor the purchase of the Alaska territory. Ranhofer was the nation’s first celebrity chef and also wrote the first restaurant cookbook, The Epicurean published in 1894.

 

Mark Twain dining at Delmonico’s in 1905. Credit Museum of the City of New York.

While retaining its classic 19th century steakhouse décor with chandeliers, wainscoting and walls adorned with genre paintings, today’s kitchen, under the direction of Executive Chef Billy Oliva, has modernized the classics and added new dishes, also with locally sourced ingredients, changing the menu four or five times a year. Delmonico Steak, of course, is the most popular dish at dinner (fish wins at lunchtime). You can have your steak prepared au poivre, coated with coarsely ground black pepper or you may choose steak Oscar with sauce Bernaise.  Oliva, frequently sought out by TV food news programs, enthusiastically gives viewers lessons on the proper way to prepare steak—and many other dishes.

When Delmonico’s celebrated its 180th anniversary on September 13, 2017, New York City presented an official proclamation recognizing it as Delmonico’s Day and the New York Stock Exchange  lit up its facade to commemorate.  Delmonico’s is indeed a New York state of mind.

Now you can get some delicious history while you dine by advance booking a one hour session for before, during or following your meal. This landmark restaurant is going strong and there’s no reason to think it won’t thrive for another 180 years.

 

 

Marian Betancourt is a contributor to Everett Potter’s Travel Report and the author of Heroes of New York Harbor: Tales from the City’s Port (Globe Pequot Press).

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