Many years ago, on a particular trip to New York City, I encountered an extraordinary culinary adventure that could only have occurred while traveling a kindred heart and wise friend, Dorothy, and one exuberant mixologist, Max.
Two nights into our New York experience, we were enjoying a leisurely cocktail at the bar in our hotel while discussing the upcoming evening dinner plans. At some point, the conversation turned to dining establishments in New York during the 1960’s. Those restaurants that became both icons and appeared in numerous movies. It became a challenge to see who could remember the most: Delmonico’s, 21 Club, Sarti’s, The Oak Room, Toots Shors, Lutece and Keen’s Steakhouse were names thrown into the mix.
Enter Max, the bartender, who overheard our discussion. Max soon became a part of our conversation imparting stories of the 1960’s Sardi’s clientele cast of characters. Located in the theater district it was a frequented by agents, press agents, producers, the staff of The New York Times and, of course, theater stars. The likes of David Merrick, Warren Beatty, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, June Allyson and Dorothy Fields walked through the doors to be seen but not necessarily dine.
There were stories of which “has been stars” became resident bar figures, and actresses who, upon arriving in a their black Rolls, refused to exit the car until a photographer was prepared to record an entrance. Tales of Broadway opening night after parties attended by men in black ties and women amazing in furs and jewels. Plus a particularly interesting story of a young man named, Chevy Chase, who briefly worked along side maître d’ Jimmy Molinski.
Given Max’s young age, I was a bit suspect of the validity of his tales. That is until he shared a bit of his heritage. His father bussed tables at Sardi’s during the 1960s while attempting to gain stardom on Broadway. Stardom did not happen but his father went on to become a bartender at several of the iconic restaurants and Max was determined to follow his footsteps.
Asking if we were up for a bit of adventure (I mean seriously), Max made one phone call and Dorothy and I were on our way to Saudi’s with seats at the bar to enjoy cocktails, appetizers and, well, and to be seen.
It was fabulous! Not quite the Sardi’s of the 1960’s, the restaurant still held a bit of its prior glory in the infamous entrance, caricatures of stars lining the walls and a few Broadway elite. It was an incredible evening attempting to see who would walk through the door, listening to Sardi’s bartender regale us in Broadway gossip and simply enjoying cocktails and flavorful small bites. We spent our time attempting to remember as many movies as possible where Sardi’s provided the backdrop. Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, Forever Female, and The Country Girl came to mind although I am sure we missed a few.
The evening could not end, though, without Dorothy imparting one of her memorable bits of wisdom.
Upon returning to our hotel, while waiting for an elevator, we spied a celebrity type figure standing nearby with an entire entourage including photographer. He noticed us whispering about his presence and approached, reaching out to shake my hand. After he introduced himself, I responded with “Nice to meet you.” As he turned to Dorothy, she thrust out her hand and forcefully shook his as she said, “Dorothy White. Nice to meet you” while the photographer was snapping photos.
As our elevator doors closed, we burst into hysterical laughter. With much difficulty, I was able to ask, “What possessed you to respond that way?” Dorothy answered matter of factly, “Tomorrow morning, The New York Times with run a photo of us and the byline will say ‘Dorothy White and friend meet’ the individual because you did not give your name. Never miss a chance to get your name out there. You never know where it may take you.”
I follow her wisdom to this day. It has served me well.
One of our appetizers that evening was caviar on toast points with bits of finely chopped eggs. The caviar was fresh and salty. The tiny beads burst flavorfully with every bite. They were the perfect balance to our cocktails.
In this recipe, the caviar is served atop Wine Shortbread with just a dab of crème fraîche flavored with lemon bitters. It provides the perfect flavor balance of salty to sweet to fresh.
For the caviar, purchase the highest quality within your price range. If your local market does not carry a quality you desire, there are online sources, such as Caviar Russe, that provide a great selection on line. Great care must be taken when topping the shortbread with the caviar to avoid breaking the small beads.
The Wine Shortbread is made less sweet than traditional shortbread through the use of cornmeal with the flour. This shortbread also makes a great addition to a cheese platter.
The addition of a few drops of lemon bitters provides the hint of fresh lemon without changing the consistency of the crème fraîche.
1/3 c cornmeal
3 T cabernet sauvignon such as Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Signature, 2015
2/3 c all purpose flour
1/3 c sugar
1/3 c butter, unsalted, room temperature
1 – 1.75 ounce jar caviar
2 T crème fraîche
2 dashes lemon bitters such as Dashfire Lemon Bitters
Place cornmeal and wine in a small bowl. Using a fork, mix until wine is absorbed.
Add the four and sugar to the bowl. Using a fork, mix until completely combined.
Add the butter. Mix with fork or fingers until butter is distributed and mixture begins to clump together.
Form dough into an oblong shape and place on a 10 inch sheet of plastic wrap. Enclose the dough with the wrap and roll back and forth until a 6 - 7 inch log is formed. Wrap in a new sheet of plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 375°. Remove dough from refrigerator. Cut into 1/4 inch slices. Place slices on parchment paper lined baking sheet. Place in freezer for 2 minutes.
Remove from freezer and place on middle rack in oven. Bake for 10 minutes until edges are browned. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheet. May be stored in a re-sealable plastic bag if not using immediately.
In a small bowl, combine crème fraîche and bitters in a small bowl.
Place 3 shortbread on each of 4 serving plates. Carefully add ½ teaspoon caviar. Top with ¼ teaspoon crème fraîche. Place remaining shortbread on a large serving plate. Top with remaining caviar and crème fraîche.