This week we continue our tour of the New York restaurants that generously donated prizes for our “Dine Like a Mad Man” Sweepstakes, which you can enter from our Facebook page by clicking “Dine Like a Mad Man!”
When Don Draper begins dating the lovely Bethany Van Nuys in Season 4, we first see them at a Benihana Steakhouse, one of many restaurant chains that surfed the wave of American interest in Polynesian and Japanese foods that accompanied Hawaii statehood in 1959. They’re seated around a teppanyaki table with other guests, hardly the intimate dinner Bethany had in mind. Perhaps to atone, Don and Bethany’s next date is at the very elegant Barbetta on West 46th Street, founded in 1906 and operated to this day by the founder’s daughter Laura Maioglio. Specializing in northern Italian cuisine from the Piemonte region, Barbetta is the oldest Italian restaurant in New York still run by the founding family.
Like Executive Chef Bill Rodgers of Keens Steakhouse, Maiolglio had no advance notice Barbetta would be depicted in Mad Men. She learned about it when diners who had seen the episode mentioned it to her. “I have looked at the show often since its inception because of the excitement and buzz that it immediately caused and because it deals with the very years in which I recreated and relaunched Barbetta,” Laura wrote us.
Since viewers never see or hear what Don and Bethany order at Barbetta, when writing The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook we asked Maioglio to imagine what they might have ordered in 1964. As luck would have it, in the 1990s she began putting the date each dish first appeared on the menu on the menu and she suggested the roasted fresh peppers alla bagna cauda, which first appeared in 1962, and for dessert pears baked in red wine alla piemontese, which also debuted that year at Barbetta. Many other dishes served at Barbetta today first appeared on the menu in the early 1960s including fonduta with fresh white truffles.
When Don and Bethany dine at Barbetta they cross paths with Betty and her new husband Henry Francis, an aide to New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. It’s an awkward moment. But Henry wasn’t the only politically connected New Yorker or politician to savor Barbetta’s charms in the early 1960s and ever since. Guests have included Governor and Mrs. Rockefeller themselves, many members of the Kennedy family and, recently, former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Barbetta was also popular among giants of the fashion industry such as Oleg Cassini, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta and Ralph Lauren, Hollywood stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Rita Hayworth, Woody Allen and Dudley Moore and musical leading lights such as Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein, James Levine and Yehudi Menuhin.
If you’d like to experience the very finest in Italian dining in New York, enter the sweepstakes. You could win a dinner valued at $500 at Barbetta and Maioglio will help you pick just the right wine.