New Year's Roarin' Eve

A menu from the 21 Club, 1933. French- leaning dishes were popular at the time.
A menu from the 21 Club, 1933. French- leaning dishes were popular at the time.

At a Twenties party, the New Year baby's a jazz baby: Fringe flutters, spirits flow, and you dine like a bootlegger on mountains of seafood.

Posted: December 29, 2011

Inside the leaded glass windows, behind the polished walnut bar, above the original fireplace in Atlantic City's Knife & Fork is a plaque listing the establishment's founding members. When it opened in 1912, this was a private men's club, and one name on the plaque, The Commodore, would make any Boardwalk Empire fan squeal with delight.

The Commodore was Louis Kuehnle, the early-20th-century powerhouse who pulled the strings of Atlantic City's shady political machine for years.

In fact, he would be great inspiration for your New Year's Eve getup. As the HBO series, which just wrapped its second season, gains popularity, it has replaced Mad Men's early-1960s appeal, making the 1920s the latest decade worth emulating. Come Dec. 31, Roaring Twenties parties will abound.

"There is an enduring appeal to the images of the Twenties, added to by Boardwalk Empire, of this boozy, frolicking sexual awakening that has value right now," says Bryant Simon, a professor of history at Temple University.

Who isn't ready to mix a strong drink, don some fringe, turn up the jazz, and flirt? "There is something about the formality, illicitness, and exclusiveness that are popular," says Simon.

In other words: It represents glamour and wanton fun, two things easily channeled into any New Year's soiree.

With local bartenders perfecting classic cocktails, chefs creating Twenties era-inspired menus, and actual nearby haunts, like Knife & Fork, New York's 21 Club, and Delaware's Green Room at Hotel du Pont, inspiration is everywhere.

Set the table

Borgata executive chef Ron Ross hit the Atlantic City archives, poring over menus from hotels of the era, to create his "Nosh Like Nucky" menu, which runs at the hotel's Metropolitan restaurant on Sundays when the show is on. (Enoch "Nucky" Johnson is the real-life-inspired character that Steve Buscemi plays on the HBO show.)

"Transportation was not big, so a lot of the food came from nearby farms," Ross says. "The food then was pretty basic. In some cases, it makes you realize how overdone food is these days."

It may have been basic by our standards, but party menus were elegant and upscale. Ross found Frenched lamb chops to be a staple on most menus. The Waldorf salad, created at the famed Manhattan hotel, was an often-requested dish. Other French-leaning dishes such as cream of celery soup and chicken à la reine were popular.

Shellfish were pulled right from the Atlantic. Impressive displays of shrimp, clams, and oysters on the half shell, or done up Rockefeller or casino style, decadent with cream, spinach, butter, and bread crumbs, were prevalent.

The opulent lobster thermidor, made with - wink, wink - brandy or cognac, is a founding dish that is still served at the Knife & Fork today.

The Twenties were also a time of cultural exposure, and as Chinese restaurants became en vogue, dishes like "Crab à l'Orientale" showed up on menus at the 21 Club. Italian flavors also became mainstream. Ross added spaghetti Bolognese to his menu, and "Minestrone Italienne" and "Ravioli Piedmontaise" were served.

For a grand finale, pineapple upside-down cake, rice pudding, and key lime pie were preferred sweets.

Set the bar

Katie Loeb, the newly appointed "spiritual adviser" for Belvedere Restaurant Group (they own Tapestry and Agiato), loved the Prohibition-era Halloween party she worked at this fall. "It's faaabbuulloouus," she says. "With the costumes and drinks, and throw in the added naughtiness, there are just too many appealing things about it."

The bar should be the focal point of the party, as we know the Volstead Act did little to squelch thirst.

Kip Wade, co-owner of Southwark in Queen Village, says stick with the classics: gin and rye whiskey.

"Canadian whiskey, with rye in it, was from the north where the Prohibition violations were active," Wade says.

In terms of mixed drinks, the gin martini is a must. To keep it authentic, says Wade, stick to a 2-to-1 gin-to-vermouth ratio. "The martinis then had way more vermouth than they do today." They should be stirred, not shaken, and served in a chilled glass. Make them in advance in a glass pitcher. Get creative with garnishes. Use a cocktail onion to create a Gibson.

The Scofflaw, says Loeb, would be an appropriate cocktail to serve. Created in Paris, as the rumor goes, as a homage to the American lawbreakers, it has Canadian whiskey, vermouth, lemon juice, grenadine, and bitters.

There are also manhattans, sidecars, gimlets, and the old-fashioned.

What you are serving in is as important as the drink itself.

"Everything tastes and looks better in a coupé glass," says Loeb, referring to the stemmed glasses that are also sold as Champagne saucers.

The real benefit of using vintage-inspired crystal just might be the size. "The 10-ounce fishbowls used today are very modern," Loeb says. "The old glasses held four ounces. That way your drink stays cold and you can have more of them."

Set the scene

"Have you ever seen pictures of a well-lit speakeasy?" asks Sara Fernandez, an event stylist and planner at Beautiful Blooms Events in Northern Liberties. Use lots of candlelight. "We've used everything from antique copper votive holders to vintage oversize glass ashtrays with tea lights."

Fernandez also suggests punctuating the scene with deep red roses. "They are classic, timeless, and will blend in with the mood you are creating."

While you're going for muted, costumes should stand out. "Everyone loves dressing up on New Year's Eve and this is no exception," Fernandez says. So, men, dust off the suits, and ladies, take out the fringe, pearls, sequins, and feathers. Or keep it simple with a black-and-white theme.

"And don't forget to throw up a large framed set of personalized 'House Rules' while you are at it," says Fernandez.


Waldorf Salad

Makes 4 servings

2 firm ripe green apples

2 firm ripe red apples

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cup sliced celery

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1/2 cup mayonnaise

11/2 teaspoons honey  (optional)

Iceberg or Bibb lettuce  leaves

   1. Core and quarter the apples (leave the skin on unless it is tough) and slice thin. Put in a bowl and toss with the lemon juice to coat. Add the celery and walnuts. Cover and chill.

   2. Mix the mayonnaise and honey (if you like a little sweetness in the dressing) together until smooth, add to the apple mixture, and toss. Serve on a bed of lettuce.

- From The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (Alfred A. Knopf, 1990)

Per serving: 327 calories, 5 grams protein, 39 grams carbohydrates, 25 grams sugar, 20 grams fat, 8 milligrams cholesterol, 241 milligrams sodium, 7 grams dietary fiber.


Lobster Thermidor

Makes 4 servings

4, 2-pound lobsters

2 tablespoons unsalted butter  

1 shallot, peeled and minced

1 leek, halved lengthwise and sliced

¼ bunch tarragon, chopped

1/4 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced

2 ounces sherry

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard      

½ cup heavy cream

Kosher salt and ground white pepper to taste

   1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Set up a bowl with ice water. Cook lobsters for 4 minutes and immediately submerge in prepared ice bath. When cool, remove claws and knuckles, then remove meat from claws and knuckles. Cut meat into large pieces. Split the body of the lobster lengthwise in half, through the backs. It is important to preserve the integrity of the shell for the presentation. (Kitchen shears are helpful here.) Remove tail meat and cut into large pieces. Rinse out the cavity of the lobster and set aside.

   2. Melt the butter in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Sweat the shallots and leeks until translucent. Add tarragon and mushrooms and cook until wilted and moisture is released. Add lobster meat and saute for 1 minute. Remove pan from flame, add sherry, then flambe. Stir in mustard and heavy cream, let cook to reduce and thicken slightly, and season to taste.

   3. Lay the cleaned lobster shells on a sheet pan. Spoon the lobster mixture into the shell, distributing evenly. Top with remaining sauce. Cook for 10 minutes and serve in shells to each person.

- From Knife & Fork restaurant

Per serving: 756 calories, 131 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram sugar, 17 grams fat, 1,028 milligrams cholesterol, 3,404 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.


Scofflaw

Makes 1 drink   

1 ounce whiskey (Canadian)

1 ounce dry vermouth

1/4 ounce lemon juice

1 dash grenadine

1 dash orange bitters

Lemon wedge for garnish

   1. Stir ingredients with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon wedge.

- From Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2009)


Lamb Chops With Mint Sauce

Makes 4 servings

For mint sauce:

1/2 cup cider vinegar

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves

2 tablespoons oil

For chops:

8 rib or loin lamb chops, trimmed of excess fat

Salt and freshly ground pepper

   1. To make the mint sauce, boil the vinegar and sugar together, remove from heat, add the mint, and let sit for 30 minutes. Remove 3 tablespoons of the mixture and combine it with the oil, to brush on the chops as they cook. Serve the remaining mint mixture at the table.

   2. Heat a grill or grill pan to high. Sprinkle the chops with salt and pepper to taste. Grill for about 8 minutes, turning three or four times and brushing occasionally with the oil-mint mixture. Serve immediately.

-Adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (Knopf, 1990)

Per serving: 542 calories, 64 grams protein, 14 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams sugar, 24 grams fat, 204 milligrams cholesterol, 177 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.


Oysters Rockefeller

Makes 4 servings

3 scallions, chopped

1/4 cup chopped celery

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1/2 cup chopped spinach

2 tablespoons freshly made bread crumbs

Dash of Tabasco

1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 pound butter, softened

Salt

24 large oysters on the half-shell

Rock salt (optional)

   1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine the scallions, celery, parsley, and spinach and mince them with a knife or chop in a food processor. Put the mixture into a bowl with the bread crumbs, Tabasco, and Worcestershire sauce. Add the butter and salt to taste, and cream all together into a smooth paste.

   2. Spread 1 inch of rock salt over a pan or baking dish large enough to hold the oyster shells, or use crumpled foil. Arrange the oysters on top. Put 1 tablespoon of butter mixture on each oyster and bake 10 minutes or until the mixture has melted. Serve.

- From The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (Knopf, 1990)

Per serving: 668 calories, 37 grams protein, 24 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram sugar, 47 grams fat, 359 milligrams cholesterol, 1350 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.


Contact staff writer Ashley Primis at 215-854-2244, aprimis@phillynews.com, or @ashleyprimis on Twitter.

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