This week and the next are Restaurant Week in New York. Dozens of popular restaurants are offering 3-course dinners for $35 per person, and lunches for $20 or so. Last year we opted for the excellent One if by Land, Two if by Sea, and followed it up with a tasting with wines shortly after- that’s the “catch,” really; after your bargain dinner you’ll be back dropping $400 on a gastronomic gallivant through their menu.
Delmonico’s is a historic restaurant that opened in the Financial district in 1837; they claim to have invented Lobster Newberg, Chicken à la King, Baked Alaska, Eggs Benedict, and of course, the Delmonico cut of steak. All have faded into culinary history but are still quite tasty if on the rich side, unless you’re getting your Chicken à la King out of a can, which is possible these days. Their clientele included such luminaries as Mark Twain, “Diamond” Jim Brady and Lillian Russell, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Teddy Roosevelt and Nikola Tesla. Several dining rooms are named after them, and the place looks as it should- dark, elegant, with classic woods and papers, unassuming tables and white linen. Dining with history.
Nowadays it’s more of a power broker haven than one for the cognoscenti, stuck on the corner of Beaver Street between William and South William, in the jumbled tip of old Manhattan. The building resembles the Flatiron in ways, and speaks of old New York. They may not be inventing the dishes bound to become future classics anymore, but they still run a fine kitchen of American standards, and still have a few cards up their sleeve.
They give you a good tease with their Restaurant Week menu; the choices aren’t quite what you’d want, but we got a deal of a meal. We choose the tuna carpaccio and gazpacho appetizers. The soup was not cold, but rather lukewarm, tangy and given just a taste of lump crab and avocado cream. It had a rich tomato base flavor that didn’t overwhelm the crab. My tuna was a delicate pink sliver that resembled hamachi and had a similar sweet flavor, well paired with some bitter greens. The thin cut of Parmesan cheese was forgettable, but I’m a cheese snob and expect reggiano to punch me in the face with flavor. This was mild enough not to stomp over the delicate tuna.
Second course, I’m afraid we both opted for the 8 ounce tenderloin; mine rare, hers medium well, which was more like medium rare. Sometimes the kitchen knows what’s good for you. Firecracker ate her steak and enjoyed it anyway. Mine was a thicker baseball cut while hers was more of a standard tenderloin. Both had a decent crust and a rich beefy flavor, from good marbling. I would definitely try a full Delmonico sometime. It sat atop a rich slather of buttery garlic mashed potatoes, with nary a green in sight. Typical steakhouse- if you want to waste time on vegetables, get it à la carte.
Dessert is what really shined; the chocolate mousse and the caramel custard were both quite delicious. The caramel on my flan-like dessert had smooth buttery notes and great texture, though the custard was a bit eggy. Even after the tasty steak, it won over my tastebuds. Firecracker’s mousse cake was quite good, with the rich chocolate on top of layers of smooth raspberry cream and milder chocolate cake. It was a bit difficult to eat easily, collapsing when you tried for all the layers, but it was worth the trouble.
Add two strong tonics- one gin and one vodka- and our bill came to $120 with a 20% tip. Not a bad deal for two 8oz filets at a fine dining establishment these days. If you love steak, you’ve got another week to try Delmonico’s at a bargain price. Opentable will reserve seats for you free of charge, and around the corner on Pearl Street you can grab a brew at Ulysses, an Irish pub, if that’s more your speed. They’ve got a bargain of their own- $95 for 2 lobster tails, 12 shrimp cocktail, and 20 each of clams and oysters for their raw seafood tower. But that’s for next time. It’s too bad Delmonico’s couldn’t put a Lilliputian Lobster Newberg cup in the appetizer column and a bit of Baked Alaska for dessert; though I suppose that’s what they want you to come back for.