A taste of New York history
Delmonico’s restaurant opened for business in lower Manhattan in 1827—and forever changed the way we eat out in America. It was the first restaurant to introduce à la carte dining in the US. That was a major innovation at a time when most commercial eating establishments were inns or dining halls, where people ate whatever the house happened to be dishing up that day.
The Delmonico steak (a fancy cut from the short loin) was invented at the new restaurant. So too reportedly were Eggs Benedict, Baked Alaska, Lobster Newburg, and Chicken à la Keene (today known as Chicken à la King).
The Delmonico Cocktail was yet another of the restaurant’s inventions. Their house drink was a gin- and brandy-based concoction, livened up with both sweet and dry vermouth.
This sip of cocktail history still tastes great before dinner. Or as a nightcap after an evening at the theatre.
Recipe: The Delmonico Cocktail
The Delmonico Cocktail—sometimes called the Delmonico No. 1—is essentially a Manhattan Cocktail with gin and brandy replacing the whiskey typically used in a Manhattan. And because the drink contains equal quantities of sweet and dry vermouth, it’s actually a form of “perfect” Manhattan. In drinks lingo, a cocktail is “perfect” when it contains equal quantities of the two vermouths.
Our favorite recipe for the Delmonico (and the one we present here) comes from cocktail historian extraordinaire David Wondrich.
This drink takes about 5 minutes to prepare, and serves one.
- ¾ ounce gin (use “London” dry gin; see Notes)
- ½ ounce cognac or brandy
- ½ ounce dry vermouth (the “French” white stuff; see Notes)
- ½ ounce sweet vermouth (the “Italian” red stuff; see Notes)
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters (or substitute orange bitters if you prefer)
- orange or lemon peel, or orange wedge, for garnish (optional)
- Combine all ingredients (except garnish) in a mixing glass half-filled with ice. Stir until well chilled.
- Strain into a cocktail glass (or into an ice-filled rocks glass). Garnish, if desired, and serve.
- Some versions of this drink specify 1 ounce of gin. Feel free to try that if you like, though we prefer ¾ ounce.
- Why stir rather than shake this drink? Because when you shake, you introduce tiny air bubbles, which (until they dissipate) give the cocktail a somewhat cloudy appearance. This isn’t a problem with drinks that contain opaque ingredients like citrus juice (we always shake those). But in cocktails like the Delmonico, where all the ingredients are clear, stirring delivers a drink with more clarity.
- Although this drink is usually served in a cocktail glass, we think it works well when served over ice in a rocks glass, too.
- When a cocktail recipe specifies gin, it’s usually understood these days to mean London dry gin—which is also the type most commonly found in liquor stores. Any good name-brand dry gin will work well in this drink.
- In addition to London dry, you might see Dutch or Belgian gin (sometimes called jenever or genever), which is made from malt rather than grain. There’s also Old Tom Gin, which has a sweeter taste. Both of these varieties are less common than London dry.
- You can use cognac or brandy for this drink. Cognac is simply brandy that is produced in the Cognac region of France. (Brandy is what happens when you distill wine.)
- No need to use expensive brandy or cognac for this cocktail—something in the range of $15 (or a bit less) per bottle should work fine. We generally use a VSOP like St. Remy or Raynal. If in doubt, ask a sales person at your local liquor store—they’re usually very helpful.
- Vermouth is fortified wine that’s been flavored with botanicals. It was developed in Italy during the 18th century. The sweet red type is known as Italian vermouth, while the dry white version is known as French—although both countries in fact make both varieties. Martini & Rossi is a good-quality brand of vermouth that every liquor store stocks (although when it comes to dry vermouth, we like Noilly Prat quite a bit, too).
- BTW, even though vermouth is a fortified wine, its alcoholic content is relatively low. So once you open a bottle, the contents will begin to oxidize, eventually spoiling the flavor. We always store opened bottles of vermouth in the refrigerator to prolong their shelf life.
- Delmonico’s restaurant was started by Giovanni (John) and Pietro (Peter) Delmonico, a pair of brothers from Switzerland. Their first eatery was a pastry shop, which soon evolved into a full restaurant.
- It was actually their nephew, Lorenzo, who turned Delmonico’s into a high-quality restaurant. When Lorenzo joined the establishment in 1831, he was eager to imitate the fancy restaurants that had been popping up around Paris, and which were famous for their fine food and service.
- The extensive menu that Lorenzo developed was a novelty in the US at the time. Other eating establishments offered sandwiches or simple fixed menus. Delmonico’s menu was much larger, offering myriad choices for each of many courses.
- Because Delmonico’s introduced the à la carte menu to the US—thus creating what we think of today as a true “restaurant”—it is considered to be the first restaurant (in the modern sense) in the US.
- Delmonico’s also had the largest wine cellar in New York during the early 19th century, with over 1,000 bottles.
- At the time Delmonico’s opened, Americans had not yet developed the habit of lingering over a leisurely meal. In those days, eating was for fuel, not pleasure. Delmonico’s changed that; a meal at Delmonico’s could (and often did) last hours.
- Delmonico’s quickly became the place where New York society went to see and be seen. And with its great food and drink, it was a natural place to celebrate special occasions.
- Over the years, the Delmonico family opened and closed restaurants at several different locations. A New Orleans Delmonico’s was opened in 1895, and was purchased by Emeril Lagasse in 1997.
- The last New York City restaurant owned by the Delmonico family was located at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue. It closed in 1923.
- Since then, other owners have opened several restaurants that use the Delmonico’s name. Currently, there’s a Delmonico’s Restaurant on Beaver Street in lower Manhattan.
We Heart New York
“What a great drink,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “And what a great way to celebrate New York City.”
“It is,” I agreed. “Especially since we just had a wonderful time there on vacation.”
“Great museums and theatre,” said Mrs K R. “Not to mention many wonderful old friends from the days when we lived in New York.”
“Loads of great restaurants too,” I said.
“Too bad we never made it to Delmonico’s,” said Mrs K R.
“Maybe next time,” I replied. “So much to do and see. We need to get back there, and soon.”
“Speaking of soon,” said Mrs K R, draining her glass, “that’s when I’ll be needing another one of these.”
“Good thing they’re quick to make,” I said. “I can mix us another round in a New York minute.”
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