While you’re reveling in airy
chocolate sponge cake, creamy
rich custard and chocolate glaze
topped with sliced almonds, it’s
easy to forget that this dessert
did get its name from a gritty
city. It was created at the Parker
House hotel, the same kitchen
that invented the famed Parker
House rolls. (Must have been
a busy chef!) Like most classic dishes, however, it’s hard to
pinpoint its exact origins. Some
sort of chocolate-pudding cake
had been around since early in
American history, according to
John Mariani’s Encyclopedia of
American Food and Drink, but
it was at the Parker House that
the almonds were added and the
name was given, in 1855.
Today, the hotel is called the Omni
Parker House ( omnihotels.com),
and you can still enjoy the dessert
at its restaurant, surrounded by
opulence: chandeliers, mirrors,
gold leaf, cushioned armchairs.
Another fine version can be found
at the Oak Room at Copley Plaza
( theoakroom.com), which has a
similarly luxurious feel with its
mahogany wood panels, red and
white drapery, white tablecloths
and banquettes so comfortable
you’ll want to curl up for a nap.
After your pie, of course.
Best of 2009
and New Jersey. But I also recommend
Claymont Steak Shop (claymontsteak
shop.com) in Wilmington, Del. Those
metal spatulas scraping the griddle. The
bread that’s got just a little crust but is
squishy inside. The steak—it’s chopped,
not sliced—is just the right texture and
the onions are just the right sweetness.
I get mine with mushrooms and (
horrors!) a side of ranch dressing.
Best of 2009
Beef Wellington—tenderloin layered
with mushroom duxelles and foie gras
and baked in puff pastry—is said to be of
Irish or British descent, and that makes
sense: It’s basically a fancy meat pie.
But its popularity in the 1960s is purely
American. According to David Leite’s
article “Dining through the Decades,”
found on his Leite’s Culinaria website,
dinner parties at the time were becoming competitive, and the cook who could
one-up his friends by presenting such a
complicated feast won. Not only did you
have to make puff pastry by hand but also
you had to procure foie gras and truffles
and prepare the dish using the most expensive cut of beef, filet mignon. How’s
that for capitalism in the kitchen?
The dish has since fallen out of favor,
but I’ve had a great version at Restaurant
X and Bully Boy Bar ( xaviars.com) in
Congers, N. Y., just north of Manhattan.
It’s so popular that customers revolt
whenever chef Peter X. Kelly tries to take
it off the menu. Hey, come to think of it,
that’s awfully American of them, too.
There is no closely guarded recipe
brought from a grandmother’s kitchen in
the old country, though pasta with spring
vegetables probably has been around
Italy as long as noodles and spring. This
particular version started out as a fad.
Sirio Maccioni, owner of Le Cirque
( lecirque.com) restaurant in Manhattan,
threw together some pasta with peas,
vegetables and cream one night in the
mid-1970s, and Craig Claiborne, the very
influential food editor of The New York
Times, raved about it. The dish wasn’t
even on the menu, because the chef
hadn’t created it, but everyone was clamoring for it. Though Le Cirque has moved
several times since then, you can still ask
to order pasta primavera off-menu.