It was a whale of a tale on last night’s Mad Men episode (“At the Cod Fish Ball”). It began with Megan’s Dover Sole and ended with poor Sally facing two very unpleasant
sights, one of which was a whole cooked fish and the other…well, let’s just say Roger is up to his old tricks. “At the Cod Fish Ball” was a song made famous by Shirley Temple, so we weren’t surprised to see Sally served a cocktail by that name with her dinner.
Megan didn’t scrimp on dinner for her visiting parents and Don. Dover Sole, imported from Europe, “is considered by many food lovers to be the best-tasting fish in the world,” according to an article in the November 1964 issue of Life Magazine. “If you by chance have a fish market elegant enough to carry it, filets may cost $3 or $4 a pound.” Julia Child called Dover Sole “a dream fish” with a “texture firm enough to hold yet delicate to the tooth.”
Given Megan’s French heritage and Julia Child’s overwhelming popularity in the mid-1960s, Sole meunière would have been a natural choice. To make this French classic the sole, whole or fillet, is dredged in flour, pan fried in butter and served with the resulting
brown butter. Simple and elegant it was one of Julia’s personal favorites. As she wrote in her Memoir, My Life in France, her first meal in Rouen was Sole meunière: it was “perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley… I closed my eyes and inhaled the rising perfume. Then I lifted a forkful of fish to my mouth… The flesh of the sole was delicate, with a light but distinct taste of the ocean that blended marvelously with the browned butter… It was a morsel of perfection… It was the most exciting meal of my life.”
Two New York restaurants got shout-outs last night, too. When Don and Megan save the Heinz account, they’re at the Tower Suite, the evening incarnation of the Hemisphere Club, a private luncheon dining room for Time/Life executives on the 48th Floor of the Time and Life Building on Sixth Avenue. “Although New York viewed from a great height is one of the visually exciting places on earth, there are astonishingly few restaurants that take advantage of the fact,” wrote New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne shortly after the Tower Suite opened in late 1960. The Hemisphere Club was one of a series of private clubs for businessmen that opened in New York City in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Pinnacle Club and The Harbor View Club were two others. “One thing all of these clubs have in common, of course” said The New York Times on August 25, 1960, “is their altitude, a factor that seems to fulfill some inner need of the executive ego.”
The sky-high cakes (one appeared to be German Chocolate) we see on the table were part of the Tower Suite’s six-course meals served over two to three hours. The club was a creation of Restaurant Associates, the outfit behind the over-the-top Forum of the Twelve Caesars featured in Mad Men Season 4, Episode 7 (“The Suitcase”).
Further south, the cozy Minetta Tavern where Peggy expects a marriage proposal from Abe but gets only a consolation prize – an invitation to “live in sin,” as her mother puts it – is still going strong on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village. (It was bought and revamped in 2009 by Keith McNally.) “A neat and frequently crowded restaurant…[i]t has a loyal, genteel clientele and the quality of the food, which is Italian, ranges from the ordinary to the excellent,” said The New York Times on March 20, 1964. The steak, which Abe says is supposed to be excellent, cost $4.25 back then; it’s $26.00 today with Pommes Frites.
Baked Alaska, that classic dessert that enjoyed immense popularity in the 1960s finally makes an appearance in Mad Men at the smoke-filled fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Baked Alaska is a dessert made by placing ice cream in a pie dish lined with slices of sponge cake or Christmas pudding and topped with meringue and placed in an extremely hot oven for just long enough to firm the meringue. The meringue insulates the ice cream during the short cooking time. The name ‘Baked Alaska,’ also known as a Norwegian omelette, dates to 1876 when Delmonico’s Restaurant named it such to honor the new American territory of Alaska. It didn’t look like Sally was enjoying that either but maybe Roger ruined her appetite.
This recipe for Minetta Tavern Zabaglione comes from the Greenwich Village Cookbook (Fairchild, 1969) In Mad Men, Season 5, Episode 7 (“At the Cod Fish Ball”), when Peggy and her beau, Abe, have a date at the cozy Minetta Tavern in Greenwich Village, Peggy expects a marriage proposal, but gets only a consolation prize – an invitation to “live in sin,” as her mother, Katherine, puts it. Minetta Tavern is still going strong on MacDougal Street: it was bought and revamped in 2009 by Keith McNally.
Back in 1966 when Peggy and Abe ate there, Minetta Tavern was an Italian restaurant and The perfect dessert for the couple would have been the house specialty, Zabaglione, a custard made with wine that can be served warm or cold.
- 6 egg yolks
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- ½ cup sweet or almond cream Marsala wine
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Maraschino cherries
- Beat egg yolks in a large mixing bowl. Add sugar gradually, beating continually Continue to beat egg-yolk sugar mixture while adding wine. Put the mixture in the top of a double boiler, and cook over boiling water, stirring constantly until thickened, about 3 or 4 minutes. Do not allow custard to boil or it will curdle. Cool completely.
- Whip heavy cream until stuff and fold into cool custard. Spoon into sherbet glasses and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
- Serve chilled and decorate with maraschino cherries.