February 2, 2014

Out for Dinner at Delmonico's in 1882: How About Something Light? [Updated]


It would seem, upon deeper research, that there was no such thing as a light repast in the long ago evenings at Delmonico's in New York. To translate the menu above:

Start with endless oysters with finger bowls brimming with Olives & Radishes along with other amusing tastes of this and that.... Then two "soups" which are:

Consomme Sevigne, made as follows:


And/ Or Fausse tortue or Mock turtle soup:

"Take a large calf's head. Scald off the hair. Boil it until the horn is tender, then cut it into slices about the size of your finger, with as little lean as possible. Have ready three pints of good mutton or veal broth, put in it half a pint of Madeira wine, half a teaspoonful of thyme, pepper, a large onion, and the peel of a lemon chop't very small. A ΒΌ of a pint of oysters chop't very small, and their liquor; a little salt, the juice of two large onions, some sweet herbs, and the brains chop't. Stand all these together for about an hour, and send it up to the table with the forcemeatballs made small and the yolks of hard eggs."

Then things really get rolling with Bass A La Rouennaise:

Dress the fish and put it into a fish kettle, moistening with a mirepoix (No. 419), and white wine, adding to it a few branches of parsley; when the fish is done, drain the stock, and reduce it; mingle it with a Normande sauce, finished with lobster butter (No. 580). Dish up the fish and garnish around with blanched oysters, mushroom heads, and pike quenelles (No. 90), molded with a teaspoon (No. 155), the whole arranged in clusters. Cover over with half of the sauce, and serve the remainder in a sauce-boat. Besides these garnishings an outside row of trussed crawfish should be added.
(I can't imagine anyone ever said, "Hold the crawfish!")

Or you can simply have Fried Smelts with tartar sauce... or both.

Then it's time for a nice slab of Boeuf Matignon. What was "matignon" you ask? A light concoction, a bed for the beef if you will:

To prepare the dish, a little butter is melted in a pan and the sliced vegetables, the ham or bacon and the herbs are fried in the butter on a medium flame until the onions have turned translucent and the ham has turned brown. The heat is then turned low and a little salt and some white wine are added to the pan to season the vegetables and the ham. The mixture is cooked, stirring occasionally, until the white wine has evaporated. The matignon is now ready and can be used for a variety of purposes. It may be eaten just as it is or it may be used in the preparation of roast chicken, beef, lamb or fish. In this case, the cooked vegetables and ham are placed in a layer at the bottom of a casserole, and the meat, which has been brushed with melted butter, is placed on top of the layer. The casserole is then roasted in the oven, and, as the meat roasts, it absorbs the flavor of the vegetables and ham.

Of course the physical effort of eating all this has probably left you famished. No problem, just tuck into Dindonneaux a la Viennoise aka Breaded turkey cutlet with mushroom sauce, followed by some Mignons de Chevreuil (Venison fillets) and perhaps a brace of Cailles Braisses Macedoine or stuffed quail. Then just step back and get busy with Roti Canvas-Back -- Roast duck. You'll have potatoes, beans, and salads to dabble in and then....

After multiple desserts and coffee, as the New York Times reported, "It was nearly 9 o'clock before the descendants of the Pilgrims concluded the frugal repast which Delmonico had provided for them, and when cigars were lighted, the President, Josiah M. Fiske, called the assembly to order...." And it was time for the speeches. Most notable of which was the toast "Woman--God Bless Her," assigned to "Mark Twain." And while not exactly politically correct by today's dumbfounding standards, he did not disappoint:

"For text let us take the dress of two antipodal types--the savage woman of Central Africa and the cultivated daughter of our high modern civilization. Among the Fans a great negro tribe, a woman, when dressed for home or to go to market or out calling, does not wear anything at all but just her complexion--(laughter)--that is all; that is her entire outfit. It is the lightest costume in the world, but is made of the darkest material. It has often been mistaken for mourning. It is the trimmest and neatest and gracefullest costume that is now in fashion. It wears well, is fast colors, does not show dirt. You don't have to send it down town to wash and have some of it come back scorched with the flat iron, and some of it with the buttons ironed off, and some of it petrified with starch, and some of it chewed by the calf, and some of it exchanged for other customers' things that haven't any virtue but holiness, and ten-twelfths of the pieces overcharged for the rest "mislaid." And it always fits. And it is the handiest dress in the whole realm of fashion. It is always ready "done up." When you call on a Fan lady and send up your card the hired girl never says, "Please take a seat; madame is dressing--she will be down in three-quarters of an hour." No, madame is always ready dressed--always ready to receive--and before you can get the door mat before your eyes she is in your midst. Then, again, the Fan ladies don't go to church to see what each other has got on and they don't go back home and describe it and slander it....." Full text HERE of Twain's 1882 Toast to Woman
All in all, a kinder, gentler, more forthright and much more well-fed time was had by all.


Posted by gerardvanderleun at February 2, 2014 3:05 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

You mean to tell me that all the folks that would dine at a joint like that would have to be able, speak French?

Posted by: chasmatic at February 3, 2014 6:41 AM

Restaurant French.

Posted by: vanderleun at February 3, 2014 7:29 AM

I found a recipe for Consomme Sevigne. It starts: Take half a breast of cooked fowl. Pound it to pulp.

Posted by: DHH at February 3, 2014 9:41 AM

I found it too as you can see and expanded the entire item.

Posted by: vanderleun at February 3, 2014 10:05 AM

Isn't that something! I can't help thinking that Consomme Sevigne must taste like the best baby food ever.

Posted by: DHH at February 3, 2014 10:43 AM

This is becoming racist. Or linguist. Something -ist. Foodist. Elitist. Wealthist. I got it ... I know ... er, gimme a sec ...

C'mon Peanut Gallery, I need some help here ...

Posted by: chasmatic at February 3, 2014 4:30 PM

So who knew that these staid WASP-y New Englanders were Gilded Age gluttons the equal of any Roman orgy? What can be the explanation?
1. The portions were all very small, or
2. Not everybody ate or tasted everything, and the proprietors of Delmonico's took that into account, or
3. Staid wasp-y New Englanders was always propaganda.

Posted by: John A. Fleming at February 3, 2014 8:53 PM

Not really surprising. We of the late modern age forget how little physical effort our lives entail, even compared to historic leisure classes.

The Edwardians were gigantic eaters as well.


Posted by: ThomasD at February 4, 2014 8:30 AM

It wasn't mere "cooking" and it wasn't mere "eating." It was a love affair -- as most really good dining still is. Anyone who has ever read (or seen) "Babette's Feast" knows this. The people of the austere village thought they would be committing sins of sensual pleasure just by partaking in a "real French dinner."

Posted by: AbigailAdams at February 4, 2014 10:52 AM

....and, Gerard, my mouth is now watering! Not a very good post for post-New Years' resolutions!!

Posted by: AbigailAdams at February 4, 2014 10:55 AM