The history of Delmonico’s is one filled with firsts: first restaurant in America with a printed menu, first where guests got their own tables, first where those tables were covered with tablecloths, and its downtown Manhattan location was the first dining establishment in the U.S. to actually be called a restaurant. That’s pedigree.
Having taken over the former Savanna’s spot at 268 Elm this June, Delmonico’s of Southampton, Est. 1837, infuses this legacy with a chic Hamptons breeziness, one that escalates as you walk out back to dine al fresco. Still, serious carnivore-ism hangs in the air. Executive Chef Billy Oliva has created a menu to bring East End local to the fore, with playful choices (like a bite-size Crispy Pork Belly BLT), plenty of seafood-centric touches and, yes, steak. But we’ll get to that. You’re in the Hamptons, what’s your rush?
A bowlful of summertime arrives in the guise of a salad comprising Maple Brook Farms Burratta, La Quercia prosciutto, Wild Rocket and charred Long Island peaches; the cheese airy yet creamy, the ham a perfectly cured counter, the fruit a sweet aside. Crab Cake Eggs Benedict is an addictive nod toward Delmonico’s Eggs Benedict 1860s origins, offers a meaty crab cake with quail egg and a light, chili-dashed take on Hollandaise, plus a sliver of pork belly that makes you feel as if you’re in on the real porcine secret while bacon gets all the hype. The Aquerello Risotto comes with a tableside legend about how every grain of the fabled rice is hand-polished. Such stories are the stuff of foodie fantasies, but so is this night’s eloquent mix of shiitake mushrooms, truffles, corn and micro basil grown in the restaurant’s Chefs Garden, mere steps from the table.
Local is as local does, and the Gosman’s lobster does it right. Now, there is a time and place for working away at your own lobster with bibbed perseverance, but this is not that time nor place. Shelled and plated in simple style, the crustacean arrived naked as a William S. Burroughs lunch. A dip into sides of drawn butter or Newburg sauce (Lobster Newburg is another Delmonico’s invention) is a fine touch, but the subtle sea-saltiness of unadorned lobster meat is a treat to be savored.
Then there’s the steak. Oh, the steak. The Filet Mignon medium rare, as per the chef’s recommendation, is the kind of “cut it with a butter knife” tender you read about but may rarely find. The 40-Day Dry-Aged Bone-In Ribeye, ordered rare, is rich and textured, intensity evolving as you proceed from edge to bone, a cut so close to charred perfection as to make you seriously consider whether you’ve been ruined for all other steaks.
Of course, no self-respecting steak eater would dive in sans sides, and Delmonico’s wants you to respect yourself in the morning. A steakhouse staple is elevated with bacon-and-shallot-enhanced creamed spinach. Hand-cut fries are a fun, finger-food way to maintain the meat-and-potatoes protocol. The biggest surprise is the pitch-perfect mix of local corn, roasted shitake mushrooms and basil, which has become the restaurant’s most popular side dish.
At this point, anything short of a sweet finish is not an option. A carnival of blueberry ice cream, brown butter cake, meringue and macerated peaches is colorful and cool, while the decadent chocolate tart with peanut butter ice cream ends an argument as to whether pairing PB and cocoa is divinely inspired. And what would dessert be without Baked Alaska? After all, Delmonico’s gave the French classic its name back in the 1860s after the U.S. purchased the Alaska territory. A forkful is like biting into a cloud, if said cloud is an ethereal lemony-raspberry wisp.
An Altaneve Prosecco is raised in a toast to meals just finished and future. Yes, the history of Delmonico’s is one filled with firsts. Its first Hamptons outpost is poised to make history of its own.