Ben Wenberg was a wealthy sea captain who sailed between Cuba and New York in the late 19th century engaged in the fruit trade. A gastronome, when ashore he often dined at New York’s Delmonico’s Restaurant.
One evening in 1876 he walked into the restaurant and announced that he had learned a new way to cook lobster. Summoning a chafing dish to his table he proceeded to concoct an extravagant preparation of lobster chunks, cream, eggs, butter, sherry, and a little cayenne pepper.
When the dish was ready, Wenburg called over the restaurant manager, his good friend Charles Delmonico, to have a taste. He pronounced it delicious and promptly put it on the menu as Lobster á la Wenberg.
Several months later Ben and Charles got into an argument and quit speaking to each other, so the name of the dish was changed to Lobster Newburg, to this day an immortal Delmonico’s classic.
This was not the only timeless dish Delmonico’s would contribute to the culinary canon. For example, Eggs Benedict is said to have been created at Delmonico’s at the suggestion of Mrs. LeGrand Benedict, a loyal patron who had become bored with the regular breakfast fare.
Then there’s Chicken a la King. It was inspired by another restaurant patron, Foxhall P. Keene, and was originally called Chicken á la Keene.
But Delmonico’s many firsts were not confined to the kitchen. It was the first American restaurant to have a printed menu, the first to offer a separate wine list, the first to have tablecloths, the first to offer a private dining room, the first to provide an orchestra for background music, and the first to claim a star chef, Charles Ranhofer. It also garnered the first restaurant review ever printed in the New York Times.
No wonder its name is still synonymous with fine dining.
This recipe, adapted from the allrecipes.com website, also works well with monkfish, sometimes called the poor man’s lobster. But stick with lobster and you’ll still save money making this delicacy yourself. It’s currently $49 on the Delmonico’s menu.
4 egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup butter
¼ cup dry sherry
1 teaspoon salt
generous pinch cayenne pepper
generous pinch ground nutmeg
24 ounces cooked lobster meat
Whisk together egg yolks and heavy cream. Melt butter. Whisk in yolk mixture. Add sherry. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens, but do not let come to a boil. Remove from heat and season with salt, cayenne, and nutmeg. Break lobster meat into chunks, add to sauce, and cook gently over low heat until heated through. Serve over rice, hot buttered toast, in crepes, or in puff pastry shells. Makes 4 servings.