A single New York City restaurant started it all

A single New York City restaurant started it all

We take going out to a restaurant for granted. There are places to eat scattered everywhere, all over the world. The way they handle our food and serve us is pretty standard, but it wasn’t always so.

There was a single New York City restaurant that started it all, and it’s still there today, at least using the same name and updated recipes until running aground on the COVID rocks.

The restaurant is Delmonico’s, and I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of it. It started as a Frenchy pastry shop on William Street in 1837, and we owe many firsts to the place.

Delmonico’s was the first such establishment in America to apply the French word “restaurant" in describing itself. It was the first to hand diners a printed menu from which they could make a selection.

Before Delmonico’s, people sat at long, shared tables. They were the first to offer private table seating. They introduced table cloths, the wine list, eggs Benedict and lobster Newburg.

They provided space for large galas, which were usually held in the ballrooms of the rich. They allowed women to gather in groups unsupervised by men and were the first to hire women as cashiers.

It was and is a fancy place and is mentioned in many novels, autobiographies, movies and television shows. Delmonico’s probably was the first restaurant in America at which eating there was a very special occasion.

Delmonico’s has not been open continuously since its founding. It passed from the family in the 1920s as Prohibition did its work of killing everything fun. After many changes of hands and reinventions, the place closed “temporarily” in 2020 due to the pandemic and has not reopened. Wikipedia says the landlord has been trying to boot them out.

Perhaps the most famous dish to come out of this famous location is the Delmonico steak, served with equally famous baked potatoes stuffed with, well, other baked potatoes.

There have been so many iterations of the steak dish that even the most recent owners aren’t sure what was used in the beginning. Today, it’s a 1.5-pound ribeye, meaning you should double date with another sensible couple and get it to share for four.

Delmonico steak is on the menu of many unrelated restaurants in the world, and you’ll likely just be served whatever steak they have in the walk-in, prepared however their cook does it.

Now that we are solidly into the holiday season, this may be the special occasion menu you’re looking for. I claim authenticity, as the recipes come from the book, "Dining at Delmonico’s," which is part cookbook, part history, and put out by the people who operated it at the time of publication in 2008. Choose your own size of steak; you don’t need the over 20-ounce monster the recipe calls for.

2 boneless, aged ribeye steaks. Delmonico’s specifies 6 weeks aging or longer.

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.

Herbed butter:

3 fresh bay leaves

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

2 tablespoons sea salt

4 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

Make the butter ahead of time. Place the bay leaves, thyme and salt in a spice grinder and grind to a powder. Add this mixture to the butter and mix with a handheld mixer. When combined, place the butter in the center of a sheet of plastic wrap. Bring the nearest side up over the butter and form it into a log with your hands. Wrap it tightly and refrigerate. It will keep as long as butter would.

Preheat a grill, grill pan or cast iron skillet. Pat the steaks dry and season with the salt and pepper on both sides. When the cooking surface is hot, sear the steaks carefully on both sides for a few minutes each. Remove from the heat and brush with the olive oil. Return the steaks to the grill and cook until the desired internal temperature is reached, about 135 F for medium rare. Serve each steak with a knob of the herbed butter.