Thursday, March 6, 2014

Café Society and Ever-So-Chic Steak Diane

Gary Cooper and soon-to-be–wife at NY Restaurant, 1933

I looked into the history of the expression ‘Café Society’ and discovered some rather contradictory information.

The Women with Paulette Goddard, Joan Crawford, Roz Russell and Norma Shearer

The first thing I read was that Clare Boothe Luce  (who wrote The Women) had minted 'Café Society'; then another source said that writer and early Gourmet contributor Lucius Beebe was the first to use it; yet another announced that Lucius Beebe had popularized it but that he had gotten it from society columnist Maury Paul (who also coined the expression 'The Old Guard').

Whoever was responsible for first using it, Café Society came to mean ‘beautiful people’ swilling money, status and cocktails as they gathered in NYC, Paris, London or Los Angeles.

Errol and sister Rosemary Flynn with Randolph Burke, La Conga, 1939

Members of the Café Society were rich, famous or both and they dazzled a dull gray world. By all accounts, they had a heck of a time drinking, dining and dancing the nights away at posh watering holes all around the world.

Clark Gable and Slim Keith at El Morocco

In New York, they circulated at places like El Morocco, 21 Club, the Colony and The Stork Club beginning during prohibition (I'll be writing more about the legendary Colony soon). Café Society really flourished after prohibition ended.

In Stork Club : America's Most Famous Nightspot and the Lost World of Cafe Society, author Ralph Blumenthal quoted Lucius Beebe about the Stork Club in NYC:

 “ To millions and millions of people all over the world, the Stork symbolizes and epitomizes the deluxe upholstery of quintessentially urban existence. It means fame; it means wealth; it means an elegant way of life among celebrated folk. The Stork is the dream of suburbia, a shrine of sophistication in the minds of countless thousands who have never seen it, the fabric and pattern of legend.”

Gary Cooper and his wife Rocky with Ernest Hemingway, 1950

The party went on from the 20’s to the 60’s as the term 'Jet Set' took over and the tone changed.

While it lasted, they drank well and ate well too.

One of the iconic dishes of 50's and 60's Cafe Society was Steak Diane.

Stork Club Radio Show, 1946 Dorothy Lamour (2nd left)

21 Club did then and still does make Steak Diane at table-side if you ask and they aren't too busy. The Stork Club made an interesting version with a slice of onion and tomato that was a favorite of Bob Hope's sarong-wearing gal-pal Dorothy Lamour.

Gary Merrill, Bette Davis, Celeste Holmes in All About Eve

Steak Diane at the Stork Club was popular with other stars; according to Walter Winchell, "The Gray Merrills (Bette-than-ever Davis) devouring 'Steak Diane' at Herman Billingsberg's” (The Stork Club was owned by Sherman Billingsley, Davis’ husband was Gary Merrill – Winchell liked playing with names).

Burgess Meredith, Paulette Goddard, Merle Oberon

Steak Diane had a long run. In his Vanity Fair article, Ladies who Lunched, Bob Colacello remembered being at the restaurant Quo Vadis in the 70’s “with Andy [Warhol] and Paulette Goddard, the movie actress who had been married to Charlie Chaplin, the actor Burgess Meredith, and the German novelist Erich Maria Remarque. Sitting on the opposite banquette was Goddard’s old friend Carroll de Portago, who was with the man who would soon be her fourth husband, retailing tycoon Milton Petrie. As she sliced the septuagenarian’s steak Diane and fed it to him in tiny pieces, Goddard whispered, “That’s the man Carroll’s going to marry. He makes $30 million a day just sitting there.” Andy asked, “How do you do that?” Paulette said, “Interest.”

Seems that Steak Diane was one of the “it” dishes of the Mad Men world of 50’s New York until the 70’s when the older crowd still ordered it. The version I remember was made with filet – little brown circlets of meat in a brown sauce. That’s not how it started. The original was made with a thin slice of sirloin –– trimmed, pounded thinner still and cooked at the table (sometimes a thick, 12-14 oz. steak was sliced in half and pounded providing 2 portions).

A great article in 1953 NYT gave the recipe from 3 famous restaurants of the day –– the Colony, the Sherry Netherland and the Drake Hotel. According to all accounts, the dish originated at The Drake with maître d’hotel Mr. Nino (the Drake was demolished in 2007, the Colony long gone –– only the Sherry-Netherland remains).

Dorothy Kilgallen

Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen said "Tops in town –– Steak Diane as whipped up by the peerless Nino at the Drake Room...." and,  'hostess-with-the-mostest' “Perle Mesta's banquets in Luxembourg feature Steak Diane as the piece de resistance. She wheedled the recipe from Nino of the Drake Hotel."

A 1967 NYT’s article celebrating Nino’s 25th anniversary at the Drake (1942-1967) revealed “ One of Mr. Nino’s best-known culinary achievements is “Steak Diane”, a dish named after a reigning lady of the European demimonde in the nineteen twenties. It is prepared at the diner’s table and its main ingredient is a sirloin steak, flattened, and dressed with a sauce of lemon, butter, Worcestershire sauce, chives and powdered mustard.” His NYT’s obituary said Nino created the dish with Luigi Quaglino at the Plage Restaurant in Ostend, Belgium.

NYT, 1953

There are similarities in the recipes in the NYT’s article on Steak Diane –– butter and chives are in all of the versions. The Colony’s version is the simplest with only butter and Worcestershire and the Sherry-Netherland the most complex. It has sherry and brandy–– that’s how I remember the dish. It was set on fire –– I remember seeing it as a nipper when my parents took me out to a classy joint in Chicago (why they bothered I’ll never know – but I did LOVE the fire, little pyro that I was/am). 21 Club adds cream, wine, brandy, beef broth and A-1 Sauce to the mix.

I used a great old 1910 Barbeito Sercial Madeira from Rare Wine Company for magnificent flavor and got a beautiful Strip Steak from D’Artagnan that’s pasture raised and beautifully marbled. It’s the perfect meat for doing this dish.  You take a great steak, trim it and pound it to a melting texture and cook it for just a moment. The result is gorgeous –– buttery steak with a flash of fire and a super sauce in 5 minutes, how can it fail? If you like more meat, you can do 2 slices each.  If you  don't want to be authentic, leave the steak whole –– the sauce is great and works on the full steak, just cook it a bit longer. My recipe is a combination of all the great versions of the 50's.

Steak Diane for 2

1-2 Strip Steak from D’Artagnan, about 12 oz each*
4 T butter
2 T madeira (I used a 1910 Barbeito Sercial from Rare Wine Company - but they have a great Charleston Sercial at a great price )
2 T cognac
2 T veal demi-glace from D'Artagnan
1 t dried mustard
1 t lemon juice
a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce
a few chives, whole and chopped

Trim the steak and slice in half.  Pound  each to thin them a bit - about 1/2 an inch.
Salt and pepper them.

Put 2 T of the butter in the pan and sauté the steaks quickly till just brown.  Remove and keep warm.
Deglaze the pan with the alcohol.  Add the demi-glace and mustard and stir.  Add the lemon and Worcestershire and stir. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter causing the sauce to emulsify.  Put back on the heat for a moment if necessary.   Plate the steaks and pour the sauce over the steaks, sprinkle with chives and serve.

*If you are doubling the meat you may want to make more sauce –– it's so good you want to make sure to have plenty.  Once you trim the steak you will have 8-10 oz of meat.

New York Times, 1953

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Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Deana,

What a glamorous picture you paint here of Cafe Society. So many beautiful people eating and drinking their way across New York, dazzling with their clothes, jewellery and smiles. Wonderful.

And, Steak Diane would slip so effortlessly and elegantly into the restaurant menus of those days as indeed it did. Time, perhaps for a revival in these rather duller days in which we find ourselves.

Interesting too that you have found the origin of Cafe Society, Old Guard and Ladies who Lunch. Phrases we still use often as they seem to capture the very essence of the types of people to whom they refer.

Amber said...

I love to visit you

La Table De Nana said...

Your post brought back memories..I have photos of my mom and her sisters in a resto called Ruby the 40's they must be and in a folder of the obviously..the resto had a photographer working the room:)

And Dorothy Kilgallen..What's My Line:)
My mom watched that show when I was little..:)

Barbara said...

I LOVE "The Women"...the original..have it on DVD. The clothes are to die for. The bias cut suits were marvelous. So rare to see now.
Those were the days...such fun. Movie magazines etc. And I'm old enough to remember a lot of it.
Great recipe choice, Deana! Such a fun read.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

My favorite time period and group to read about :-) Always heard of this dish but never really thought about what it really was but it sounds AMAZING -anything with butter and worcestershire! Love that your china matches the time period too. I'm going to try this dish this weekend since Bobs away (he likes his meat plain).

lindaraxa said...

I'm with you. The Sherry Netherland's version is the one I remember. The others sound kind of liquor!

I love cooking with Madeira and think it blends better with the cognac than the sherry. Bravo.

When you think about it, it's such a shame to pound a great piece of meat and reduce it to a 1/4 inch. But beef was not as expensive then (relatively) so it was not a big deal. How times have changed.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

When I was a waitress, Steak Diane was such a popular item. I loved reading about its history, particularly the tidbit about the septuagenarian. You draw a great scene Deana! :D

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I just read an article on Steak Diane, Lobster Newburg, Cobb Salad and other popular 'named' recipes in an article in the food section of our newspaper!

I love all of those old photos, Diana! Sad to see the cigarette stubs in their hands and ash trays on the tables but it was a different time without the knowledge we now have.

Beautifully presented, as always!

The Ancient said...

In the Seventies and the early Eighties, there was still one Washington restaurant that would do this, and they did it fairly well.

I don't eat such things anymore, but did I ever love it, back in the day.

I haven't seen it on a menu in more than 20 years.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

How FABULOUS! I love the pictures! I wish this kind of elegance still existed. Despite all the glam out there, it's just not the same. Guess that's why I'm so fond of the old black and white movies, too. I have never tried Steak Diane, but I must have some. And I'll probably wear my tux for dinner, too.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Ah, I'm finally here! I had a late night last night chatting with a dear friend for two lovely it is to be able to speak to blog friends!

Deana, you swing, always show the style and chic from BC times to the present, and all that is in between. This era will always present so stylish, and the names and reputations of this time are unforgettable. The 21 Club...what famous people jingled their pockets there? Oh the fun, and you dig it up and serve it hot.

Thank you so much for coming by; yes, I'm thrilled to finally be published and to go on and write and improve. Your comments are always lovely to see! Have a super day, and that steak Diane looks wonderful. Anita

Marjie said...

My grandmother made something flambe once - I forget what, and it doesn't matter - and the flame was spectacular!

Amazing how easy Steak Diane is, though.

Liz Rice-Sosne said...

I just love this post. You have a delightful blog, always such fun. Mummy used to speak of the Colony and all of the fun she had there. I have a photo of their wedding night at the Stork Club with the proverbial ash tray on the table. Thank you for making me think of my long gone parents!