I don’t know how you feel about this, but when I sit down to a slap-up meal in an American restaurant it is usually with a feeling of impending defeat, just hoping that I have starved myself sufficiently in the preceding twelve hours. The amount of meat that arrives is truly overwhelming. I remember asking once in a New York restaurant whether I could just have half the amount on the standard plate. The waiter looked at me in astonishment. I told him not to worry, that I would pay the full price but I just didn’t want to waste all that food. Anyway, the answer was still no. How about a doggy bag to take away what I couldn’t finish? Well, I can see how that would work if you lived there, but taking leftovers in a bag back to your hotel? I don’t think so. I read somewhere a staggering statistic that half of the food produced in the world is wasted. Well, that’s certainly American restaurants for you.
Delmonico’s in Lower Manhattan is a bit of an institution and you need to visit it if only for the experience. Tucked up behind our hotel near Wall Street, they claim existence dating back to the 1820s, so that makes it really quite old for America. It is truly a dining experience as the blurb says. The excellent and understated service starts from the moment you are greeted by the girls on reception to the careful attendance of your waiter. As I may have mentioned before, in America there is a healthy customer service ethic and it is rare to find staff in restaurants who are too good to be looking after you. Of course, you are expected to reflect this in the tip, but who cares when you’ve had a great time.
The dining room is quite something to see. A rich carpet, interesting mural-style pictures on the walls, starched white table cloths, lots of glass on the tables and plenty of candlelight. We were there in the evening and low lighting let the flame from the candles reflect on the glass giving the whole place an atmosphere of subdued elegance. I mention the carpet because for me this is key to a good restaurant. I am fed up with stripped floors and background music which occurs increasingly in even expensive places. It makes it impossible to conduct normal conversation as people compete at ever increasing volume with the echo and general background noise. There is none of that nonsense here. You can sit with your fellow diners and converse at normal volume without the risk of anything you are saying being heard at neighbouring tables. There is even a very clever strip of mirror that runs around the walls at seated head height so you don’t have to worry about where you are sitting. The most tedious of conversations can carry on around you while you people-watch the other tables.
Of course you really go to Delmonico’s for the steak. So while the menu has a couple of main fish options and the signature lobster dish, it majors on the meat. There is just about everything a carnivore needs in this department and as you would expect they can cook it just anyway you like. Going with my trusted system of selecting something from the starter list that will set the tone for the rest of the meal, we went for the foie gras, which the menu described as ‘chef’s preparation – changes daily’. I was vaguely expecting a run of the mill paté, but what arrived was probably the best goose liver I think I have tasted. A whole liver perfectly cooked with just the right amount of pink. And on the dessert menu we found an Oremus Tokaji Aszu 6 to pair it with, available by the glass. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is one of the best Tokaji and the 2000 that we drank is a good vintage year. Still reasonably priced it’s worth trying now but will get dearer as it still has another ten years to mature. I must admit that this was the highlight of the meal for me and I could quite happily have gone straight to the cheese from here. The steak that followed for my colleagues of course was good. They do a very strange thing with steak in America called ‘Pittsburgh’. Charred on the outside and virtually raw on the inside. I am told it is very well worth trying. Anyway, I had the lamb. Again, beautifully presented and most important of all, not too much of it – a trick I have learnt in order to avoid the great slab of beef you can be faced with.
The wine list in American restaurants always presents me with a problem. The trouble is that I do not have a any sense of what I am buying. I have to admit that this means if left to me I will end up with the imported wines which can be pricey. This was a very extensive list with useful comments and proper labelling. By that I mean type, vineyard and year, so that you can see what you are getting. One of the others at the table had mentioned that he liked Italian reds and so we ended up with a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino, San Filippo, 2004. A reasonably priced wine for an import, with lots of body that goes very well with any meat likely to be served running with blood. At over $100 a bottle it was not cheap but about right for the style of restaurant we were in. Unfortunately you cannot avoid the wine prices in New York and the cheapest US wine on the list was not much less. Anyway, it was much appreciated by all.
A highly recommended place to spend the evening. I noticed the normal tables of people who looked as though they were out for a business meal, but also quite a few that looked like New Yorker family outings, some couples too. This added to the formal but slightly intimate style of the place. You probably wouldn’t want to come here with a very loud party of guests in the main dining room as you might feel a bit out of place. And if you are at all worried about your expense claims, then this is definitely not for the faint-hearted!