Travel Back in Time with Vintage Menus
While the pyrotechnics of Alinea’s molecular gastronomy and the tweezer-armed chefs at Noma fussing over strands of seaweed may garner all the accolades in the food world these days, other chefs are turning back the clock. They’re going back decades, even hundreds, of years.
Vintage-inspired menus—think Champagne-glazed Virginia hams, Waldorf pudding studded with nuggets of foie gras, poached salmon bathed in creamy French sauces—took off this year when restaurants across the country commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s demise.
At Prime Meats in Brooklyn, diners paid $150 in April to taste the last meal served on the British ship, supposedly crafted under the consultation of Georges-Auguste Escoffier and Cesar Ritz. A Hindenburg dinner may follow.
More recently, Muse restaurant (pictured) at the Vanderbilt Grace in Newport, Rhode Island, launched a menu inspired by its connection with one of the most famous American families. Chef Jonathan Cartwright developed a menu based on a meal served in 1912 after one of his colleagues discovered an original copy at a nearby Vanderbilt mansion. Select items from a five-course meal, which featured dishes like lobster bisque and meringues with clotted cream, are still on the menu today.
But some of the ingredients on these vintage menus are difficult to find.
“We tried to follow it as much as we could,” says Cartwright. “Lark was on the menu, but we’ll do quail.”
At the Fairmont Château Laurier in Ottawa, Canada, which also offered a Titanic-themed dinner earlier this year, the kitchen is turning out meals inspired by different eras. A special centennial tea menu is available to celebrate the hotel’s original opening (when rooms cost $2 per night in 1912).
Following this trend but with a more international flair, El Puerto Restaurant at the Fairmont Mayakoba in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, a Mayan tasting menu, inspired by local ingredients and cooking methods, can be ordered with two days’ notice. Maybe the supposed 2012 Mayan apocalypse menu is up next? That would truly be a last supper.
Bao Ong is a food writer who contributes to The New York Times. Follow him on Twitter: @baohaus