Grazie Barbetta!

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!”

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The main dining room at Barbetta

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.

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The Clinton’s with Laura Maioglio and her husband, Nobel Prize winner in medicine Gunter Blobel

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.

Aloha and Hau’oli Lanui!

If you were a kid in the late 1950s or early 1960s, as we were, chances are you owned a Hula Hoop.hula Aloha and Hauoli Lanui! And chances are your parents, or someone they knew, owned a Don Ho album or had a muumuu dress in her closet. At some point your family probably tried Japanese food at a Benihana Steak House or faux-Polynesian cuisine at a Trader Vic’s where the cocktails were adorned with orange slices, cherries, pineapple slices and a little umbrella or swizzle stick vaguely shaped like some Pacific island totem. After dinner, maybe you went to the drive-in to see Elvis in Blue Hawaii or Girls! Girls! Girls! also set in Hawaii.

Hawaii gained statehood in 1959, and as statehood approached and for years thereafter, Americans were simply gaga for anything that smacked of these exotic Pacific islands half way between Japan and the mainland. “Backyard luaus, the traditional native feast, are likely to become as popular as the hula hoop last summer,” declared New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne in 1959. That same year the Associated Press reported that tourism to Hawaii was expected to increase from 100,000 to one million visitor a year.

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Victor Bergeron, a/k/a Trader Vic, at work in Oakland, California

Mad Men, with its meticulous attention to detail, captures this slice of American life, especially when it comes to food and drink. Remember Don Draper’s first date with Bethany Van Nuys in Season 4, Episode 5 (“The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”)? They’re seated at a teppanyaki table at a Benihana, which lacks the intimacy Bethany is seeking. But the Mai Tai she’s drinking looks delicious. The Mai Tai makes several appearances in Mad Men, a cocktail widely attributed to Victor Bergeron, the California-born restaurateur who founded the Trader Vic’s chain.

On New Year’s Eve 1964, Joan Holloway welcomes fiance Dr.Greg Miller home after a hard day at the hospital, places a lei around his neck, and leads him to a Hawaiian-style dinner she’s prepared (Season 4, Episode 3, “The Good News”). There’s a glazed ham decorated with pineapple and a mysterious blue liquid in a glass which we took to be a Blue Hawaii cocktail.

There’s also a nod to the 50th state in Season 2, Episode 11 (“The Jet Set” ) when Don Aloha and Hauoli Lanui! and Pete Campbell travel to Los Angeles for a meeting and Pete is seen poolside at The Beverly Hills Hotel sipping an orange-yellow cocktail. For The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook we asked the hotel to help us identify the concoction. They dug into the archives and determined it was a Royal Hawaiian, a cocktail popularized at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki.

If you want to host a Hawaiian-style luau to welcome back Mad Men this March, or a Hawaii-themed holiday party this winter, there are a host of recipes in The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook to choose from: Mai Tais, Blue Hawaiis, Royal Hawaiians, Rumaki, egg rolls Sterling Cooper-style, pineapple-glazed ham, and, to top if off, pineapple upside down cake. Even in New York in winter there are ways to bring the Hawaiian islands home. Hau’oli Lanui! (Happy Holidays!)