Thursday, April 19, 2012

Last Meal (and Drinks) on the Titanic

This story, written for the New York Times' Diner's Journal blog, isn't exactly a liquor story. Except that during this recreation of the final dinner ever feasted on by the first class passengers of the Titanic, we drunk a good amount of fine Champagne (Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top), Muscadet, Burgundy and Sherry. (Gotta love those pre-WWI toffs and their Sherry-love.) Plus, among the ten courses—drawn from the recipes of Escoffier) there was something called a Punch Romaine. Neither quite food nor drink, it was a rum-based, shaved-ice palate cleanser served in the middle of the meal. I ate it with a spoon. (Somebody should really revive the idea of the mid-meal palate cleanser.)

Titanic's Last Supper Is Served Again, Warm
By Robert Simonson
The red and white flags of the White Star Line flew again on Tuesday evening, fluttering above the entrance of the restaurant Prime Meats 100 years and two days after that British shipping company’s most famous vessel, the R.M.S. Titanic, sank to the bottom of the Atlantic.
Inside the restaurant in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, the owners, Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli, shook off the German influence that informs the restaurant’s regular bill of fare and adopted a French attitude, recreating the Titanic’s last supper — the first-class dinner menu for April 14, 1912.
The idea came from the Prime Meats chef, Antonio Mora, Mr. Castronovo said: “He wanted to do a dinner using the classic French techniques inspired by Georges-Auguste Escoffier. Coincidentally it was the Titanic centennial, and it was said that Escoffier and César Ritz, of the Hotel Ritz in Paris, both consulted on the ship’s menu and service for the Titanic.”
The upper crust’s final feed was a bountiful one, beginning with oysters, consommé and salmon, then making its way through chicken, lamb, duckling and beef. A rum-based, shaved-ice palate cleanser known as Punch Romaine cleared the path for cold squab and cress, chilled asparagus, foie gras and Waldorf pudding, a somewhat mysterious dessert that some think was specific to the Titanic, and may have included raisins and apples.
Wines began with Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top Champagne, which, it is believed, was served on the liner. Muscadet and Burgundy followed, with that old-world favorite, sherry, accompanying the foie gras and pudding.
The whole feast cost $115, a bargain when you consider that the organizers of a similar dinner in Houston charged $12,000 a head — apparently noting none of the lessons of hubris and excess that the Titanic story routinely evokes. “We toyed with doing the third-class menu and maybe even what the crew ate,” Mr. Castronovo said, “but it didn’t seem to have as much…” — yeah, we know.
John Jacob Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim, who went down with the ship, would have appreciated the string trio that played on a balcony above the heads of the 100 or so diners; the smooth rapidity with which forks were replaced and wine glasses refilled; and the white mitts on the hands of every staff member. (“They’re a bit slippery,” one waiter said.) The two magnates might, however, have found the ice sculpture — which depicted not only the Titanic but the iceberg as well — in questionable taste.
Despite the evening’s historical bent, the boisterous crowd skewed young. Men donned tuxedos, dinner jackets or dark suits. Women wore pearls, elbow-length gloves and sculpted hairstyles. Michael and Pamela Klein, a lawyer and physician who live near Downtown Brooklyn, signed on not out of any historical curiosity, but simply because they like the restaurateurs. Inveterate foodies, they are particularly devoted to Prime Meats’ sister restaurant, Frankies Spuntino. “She’s ordered the cavatelli with sausage at least 150 times,” Mr. Klein said.
Martha Ghio, however, was all about the Titanic. She has seen both James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster and Roy Ward Baker’s more modest 1958 film, “A Night to Remember,” in recent days. “I tried to get some friends to come with me,” said Ms. Ghio, who lives in Manhattan and is a competitive backgammon player, “but they didn’t want to come to Brooklyn. Who’d want to miss this?” Ms. Ghio is certain that they played backgammon on the Titanic.
The evening even boasted a bona-fide relative of a Titanic victim. Virginia Pittaluga, a native of Uruguay who was visiting New York for the first time, said a family member had sailed and died on the crossing. She couldn’t recall his name, but was fairly sure he had been in first class.
The ritual of upper-class eating a century ago could go on for hours, and, fittingly, the Prime Meats dinner, which began at 7 p.m, did not break up until after midnight.
Mr. Castronovo and Mr. Falcinelli regularly stage such special dinners. The next, billed as an culinary introduction to the chef of their new Spanish restaurant, Francesca, will take place on Monday. But the Titanic meal did so well — it sold out almost immediately — that they are considering continuing with the theme.
“It’s called the disaster dinner series,” Mr. Castronovo said. “The next one after this is going to be the Hindenburg dinner.”
Mr. Falcinelli’s eyes lighted up. “Barbecue!” he exclaimed.

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