I don’t think I could write anything about Delmonico’s that hasn’t been written by someone else, including restaurant critics, politicians and any of the hundreds of thousands–perhaps millions–of past patrons of this gastronomic institution.
Located at 56 Beaver Street in the Financial District of New York City, a stone’s throw from Wall Street, Delmonico’s is one of New York’s Grande Dames of fine dining.
Old school? This is old, OLD school.
Opened in 1827, America’s Delmonico’s offered unheard of luxury, including private dining rooms and the largest private wine cellar in the city, holding an impressive 1,000 bottles of the world’s finest wines. Their chefs created many famous dishes still on their menu today, including Baked Alaska, Eggs Benedict, Chicken ala Keene (a la King), Lobster Newburg, and perhaps most iconic of all, THE Delmonico Steak.
What’s the beef?
So, just what IS a Delmonico steak?
I think I’m safe in saying that a Delmonico steak comes from a steer, and from anywhere from the chuck to the sirloin, depending on which butcher you speak with and the part of the country he or she is from. That narrows down the Delmonico’s location to about eight possibilities over a length of about 3 feet. This is for an animal that’s maybe 7 feet in length, which is the equivalent of saying the city of Columbus (Ohio) could be anywhere from New Jersey to Nebraska, depending on which travel agency you ask.
Some serve a Delmonico with a bone in (like Chef Emeril Lagasse) and others adhere to the more usual boneless presentation. As far as preparation, I’ve seen them broiled, char-grilled, and pan seared. And I’m sure you can imagine that the seasonings and such are all over the board.
You’d think it would be easier.
The problem is that the original Delmonico steak was created at Delmonico’s over 165 years ago, well before the standardization of meat cuts by the meat industry in 1973. As the nation grew in the mid-1800s, so did both restaurants and butcher shops, each interpreting this steak’s origin to suit its customer’s taste (and budget).
By the time the National Live Stock and Meat Board met in 1973, American butchers had created several thousand names for all the cuts of beef (steaks among them).
None of these cuts were standardized as to exactly where on the animal they HAD to come from and how, EXACTLY, they were to be cut. You could be getting a cheaper chuck steak when you were thinking you were getting a rib steak, all because there were no real rules.
After 1973, all of that confusion was narrowed down to about 300 standard cuts of beef, from nose to tail, all with assigned numbers, pictures and standards.
Except the Delmonico steak wasn’t one of them.
After ALL of that editing, and likely for reason that no consensus could be reached by the board, the name Delmonico Steak remains an unstandardized cut of beef as far as the Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications (IMPS) and North American Meat Processors (NAMP) folks are concerned. Their combined publication, the Meat Buyer’s Guide, is THE meat bible in the industry and as official as it gets, but you’ll not see the Delmonico steak listed as a single, defined number and cut.
In reality, the Delmonico is more a steak nickname than a standardized one, so depending on what you want YOUR Delmonico to look and taste like, you can safely choose one of about 9 different numbers and make up your own story.
If you want to know something, you go RIGHT to the source, I say.
Last fall, I had the opportunity to spend some time in New York City and meet Delmonico’s current chef, Billy Oliva who, like me, is a Culinary Institute of America Graduate.
Chef Billy, as he likes to be called, gave me a wonderful, behind-the-scenes tour of this historic restaurant and helped me clear up this meat mystery. As it turns out (and I had one for dinner just to be sure), Delmonico’s Restaurant uses a boneless rib-eye steak cut from any part of the rib-eye. Since they are about 1 ½” thick, this gives you about 8 or so steaks from each full rib-eye.
That means, by the Delmonico Book, a Delmonico steak is technically (if you’re ordering one at Delmonico’s Restaurant anyway), an IMPS/NAMP 1112/1112A. In words, that means any Boneless Rib-eye Steak.
Having said that, the BEST steaks, Delmonico’s or otherwise, should be well marbled, well-trimmed and properly cooked.
At Delmonico’s, they’re seasoned and then broiled to order.
Want to know more about steaks? I’ve put together quite a bit of information over the years. Here are some of my BEST tips and information to help you all throughout this summer’s grilling season.