nostalgia

How Different Did Manhattan’s Menus Look 30 Years Ago?

How Different Did Manhattan’s Menus Look 30 Years Ago?

We recently unearthed a fascinating artifact: A tome titled Manhattan Menus, which was perhaps the Menupages of the pre-Internet era (it was published in 1975). Gathering menus for restaurants that no longer exist (Lutèce, La Caravelle, Luchows, etc.) as well as some diehards (Old Homestead, the “21” Club, Le Périgord), it’s a warp back to a pre-Kobe, pre-locavore time when items were presented in French, appetizers like prosciutto with melons as well as herring in cream were standard, everyone served a vichyssoise, sole was a respectable fish, and entrées like beef Stroganoff and Wellington were served unironically. Veal was that time’s pork, and “milk-fed” was its “grass-fed.” Anyway, we dusted off the book and its menus and compared them to their present-day counterparts.

Broadway Joe’s Steakhouse
“ranks among the top steak houses in New York”
Evidence of Inflation: Jumbo-shrimp cocktail was $4.25 vs. $15.75 now.
Menu Changes: You’ll no longer find herring in cream, broiled sole, or spumoni.

Le Cirque
“offers bowing French manners, and ultra-polite atmosphere” vs. (New York mag listing) “a place designed less for glamorous celebration than a hushed business lunch”
Evidence of Inflation: Burgundy escargot was $3.95 vs. $19 now.
Menu changes: Gone are menu items like le kebab d’agneau orientale, le dindonneau au bacon (from the charcoal broiler), seviche (from the buffet froid), caviar de Beluga, oeufs Benedictine, entrecôte au poivre vert au vinaigre de Bourgogne

El Faro
“excellent Spanish cuisine” vs. “someone still cares about the food, which is comfortingly well prepared.”
Evidence of Infation: Paella Valenciana was $6 vs. $22.25 now.
Menu Changes: The old menu didn’t include tapas (as it does now), but it did include a barbecued fillet of pork with almond sauce. It’s amazing how little the entreées have changed, however, as dishes such as the Chicken Villaroy (a breast of chicken with béchamel cream) are still honored.

El Parador Café
“patrons will line up in platoons … probably the best Mexican food in the city” vs. “on an overlooked block … first-rate traditional Mexican”
Evidence of inflation: Mole poblano was $6.75 vs. $20 now; ropa vieja, $6.50 vs. $21.
Menu Changes: The old menu featured more English and many more basic, familiar dishes such as tacos, enchiladas, and tostadas.

Four Seasons Restaurant
“this posh, carriage-trade, spacious, and famous restaurant will make a lasting impression on you and your guests” vs. “there may be better places to eat in New York City, but this is the single greatest room”
Evidence of Inflation: Smoked salmon was $3.50 vs. $32 now.
Menu Changes: Dinner is now prix fixe, as opposed to à la carte. Bye-bye to dishes such as calf’s brain beurre noir, veal kidneys, frog’s legs Provençale, sweetbreads meunière, and seafood pancake.

Grotta Azzura
“attracts dedicated cognoscentes from all over town … reputation rests primarily on the excellence of its kitchen” vs. “like Little Italy itself, Grotta Azzurra’s best days are behind it”
Evidence of Inflation: Lasagna was $3.50 vs. $15 now.
Menu Changes: The old menu included no less than eleven varieties of spaghetti (with sauces such as mushroom, tomato, meat, marinara, and clam) and four varieties of calf’s liver.

Minetta Tavern
“the perfect example of a Greenwich Village saloon, virtually unaffected by the passage of half a century” vs. “a culinary destination”
Evidence of Inflation: Steak was $7.25 vs. $21 now.
Menu Changes: Of course the Minetta used to be a red-sauce joint serving fettuccine, linguine, spaghetti, manicotti, etc. The old and new joints used to share one menu item (frog’s legs), but now the dish is off.

Old Homestead
“because of its proximity to New York’s meat packing district, the Homestead is quite naturally renowned for its beef in steak, roast, or stew” vs. “has seen better days. But it still serves up some of the best steaks in town”
Evidence of inflation: Filet mignon was $10.25 vs. $41 now.
Menu Changes: Of course there were no Kobe burgers (or any burgers at all) on the old menu, but there was some exoticism: South African lobster tails, milk-fed Wiener schnitzel à la Holstein or with tomato sauce, and “whale-sized lobsters.” For dessert: Fruit Jell-O.

One if by Land, Two if by Sea
“the cuisine is excellent and most rewarding” vs. à;the famed beef Wellington is fine, as are the other French and American standards”
Evidence of inflation: N/A since the menu used to be à la carte and is now prix fixe. ThereÙs now an $8 supplement charge for the beef Wellington.
Menu Changes: No more pâté in lingonberry sauce, or melon and Westphalian ham. The curry of chicken and shrimp is also a distant memory.

Le Périgord
“has long been classed among the city’s better French restaurants” vs. “a Sutton Place landmark of old-world French cooking”
Evidence of inflation: N/A, since the menu used to be à la carte and is now prix fixe.
Menu Changes: The menu is pretty much the same, with a few tweaks. For instance, the turbot used to be poached in mousseline sauce; now it’s a champagne sauce. The roasted duck aux pêches is now “aux fruits de saison.” No longer served: Pigeon en cocotte aux olives.

Russian Tea Room
“a happy place which seems always to be celebrating a holiday” vs. “the power regulars who lost their lunchtime booths in the late Warner LeRoy’s 1999 $30 million rehab may never be happy here”
Evidence of Inflation: Beef à la Stroganoff was $11.50 vs. $39 now; Kulebiaka, $9.35 vs. $36.
Menu Changes: The menu used to be heavy on cutlets and incuded dishes like beef Duchesse with mushroom sauce. The Karsky Shashlik (fillet of lamb with kidneys) has been replaced by a “lamb tasting.”

Sardi’s
“you’ll dine well here, of course; but the theatrical gallery is by all odds the feature attraction” vs. “while the food won’t win any awards, you won’t be disappointed with traditional favorites like the famed special house antipasto”
Evidence of Inflation: Cannelloni au gratin was $6.35 vs. $25.75 now.
Menu Changes: There are some carryovers via the “Sardi’s traditions” menu, but the old menu was much larger, with more than twenty appetizers and 30 entrées. You’ll no longer find dishes like the clam cocktail, corned beef and cabbage, Welsh rarebit, or chicken à la King.

“21” Club
“a meeting place for stage, screen, radio, sports, and jet-set people, supplemented by relaxing tycoons” vs. “now mostly vintage crowd”
Evidence of Inflation: Cold Senegalese soup was $2.65 vs. $14 now; jumbo lump crabmeat, $8.50 vs. $21
Menu Changes: Again, there’s some carryover via a “Classics” menu that includes the jumbo-shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad, but appetizers like smoked whitefish have now been replaced by smoked Berkshire pork belly. Also, you won’t fined entrées like sautéed frog’s legs, sweetbreads, or grilled squab.

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