If ever there were an example that gave insight into my own character, this is likely it. Here I am, a week or so from heading to New York City, a city filled with world renown restaurants, and me with the resources to choose which one I could go to. My decision?
Why? Because for a history geek like myself, Delmonico’s is chock full of the ghosts of the past. I get giddy just thinking about it.
Delmonico’s, as a name, has been around for a long time. It is older than the city in which I currently reside – Seattle. It is older than the state of Washington, older than organized baseball, and older than the American Civil War.
Yes, yes, I know. The current incarnation is a mere recreation, trading off of the name. It is not the original, or even the second coming. If my math is right, the current version of Delmonico’s is actually the fourteenth version, if you count the initial pastry shop that the brothers Delmonico founded in 1827. But it’s the idea that’s grabbed me.
Why? Because Delmonico’s brought restaurant dining to New York, and later the rest of America. I talked before about the culinary landscape of New York City at the time Delmonico’s came into being, and it’s important to understand just what this new type of business added to the city. It was (supposedly) here that à la carte ordering made its debut in America, as well as the ability to eat your own table, unshared by strangers.
Think about that for a moment – a New York City without restaurants, without a place where you can sit down and be both separate from yet intrinsically part of the food scene of New York City. The restaurant scene of the Big Apple is a direct descendant of the legacy that Delmonico’s at least inspired, if not outright created.
It was a restaurant visited by the like of Charles Dickens, and the place where Mark Twain celebrated his 70th birthday. It was the place where (purportedly) the Lobster Newberg was invented, along with the Baked Alaska, Eggs Benedict, and, of course, the Delmonico Steak. Delmonico’s is a name weighted with the past, and carries with it the authority of tradition and quality. Why else would the name last through nearly two centuries, with the past 90 years being without an actual Delmonico on site?
I recognize that today’s restaurant is merely trading on the name. But for me, that is enough. It knows its past. And if I can have a meal that connects me to the New York City of 1837, even loosely, then I’m okay with that. I will be there with my friends and loved ones, and for a moment or two, I’ll get to think about what it must have been like to eat at Delmonico’s at its heyday.