Compared to our grandparents, we are evolved culinary beings, with better names (so long, Gertrude) and bigger appetites. We search high and low for new dining experiences, seeking out floating uni and other modernist marvels to shake us from our ennui. But can we really claim to be fully-developed, modern foodies when we know so little about the roots of American fine dining?

While most of us are waiting for the next food fad to overtake kale and pork belly, there are a handful of restaurants that pay no heed to trends. Frozen in time, these places preserve the building blocks of early American cuisine, giving nods to high-end Continental dining, or sometimes mirroring recipes found in James Beard’s monumental cookbook, American Cookery.

Continental cuisine drew from French and Italian traditions but was given an American accent, says award-winning food writer John Birdsall. “[These dishes] featured meats that Americans liked: no oxtail or offal, but prime beef cuts and chicken breast. This strain of food remained the dominant cuisine in high-end restaurants, until it eventually petered out in the late 1970s.” Meanwhile James Beard was consciously looking to revive historic dishes, Birdsall explains. “He adapted recipes from forgotten 18th- and 19th-century American cookbook authors…and interpreted them for modern tastes. Beard made it fashionable to like them. In a way, it was like when Bob Dylan picked up the electric guitar. It was a very noticeable shift into American regional food.”


These days, if you’re yearning for some classic American fare, you head to time-honored taverns, steakhouses, and other dining institutions where the average age of the waitstaff is 60 and the service is impeccable. New-school chefs aren’t completely out of touch, either. Chef Josef Centeno recently took over Pete’s Café in the Historic Core of Downtown Los Angeles, leaning heavily on recipes from Beard’s cookbook to update American classics like Steak Diane and Baked Alaska (his bologna sandwich has people talking too). So before we move on to the next big food mash-up, let’s take a look back in time and salute these vintage recipes that morphed into American classics.

1. Steak Diane

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The backstory: Popular at restaurants with tableside service during the 1970s, Steak Diane features a thin, pan-fried steak topped with a brown sauce made from its own juices—including butter, pepper, and usually Worcestershire. The sauce was flambeed with brandy to add some subtle caramel flavor, creating an impressive spectacle that would surely score cool points for grandpa. Although unconfirmed, some reports have suggested that the dish owes its name to the Roman goddess of hunting, Diana. (Note: Escoffier’s original “a la Diane” sauces include truffles; the loss of that particular ingredient is a culinary travesty). (Photo:

Where to get it: Commerce Restaurant (New York, NY)

2. Waldorf Salad


The backstory: Sliced apples and celery drenched in mayonnaise: this peculiar recipe belongs to Oscar Tchirksy, the maitre’d of The Waldorf Hotel (now the Waldorf-Astoria) in New York, who first introduced the dish at the end of the 19th century. Over the course of many years, it adopted new ingredients—such as grapes, walnuts, and proteins like chicken or turkey—and came accompanied with a bed of lettuce. Lesson learned: Proceed with caution when Front of House mingles with the kitchen. (Photo:

Where to get it: The Waldorf Astoria (New York, NY)

3. Oysters Rockefeller


The backstory: A dearth of snails used for Escargot Bourguignon—and an insistence on using local product—prompted Antoine’s kitchen in New Orleans to adapt the recipe to oysters, leading to the breakthrough of Oysters Rockefeller. After some failed attempts at opening his own place in New York, Antoine Alciatore moved to the Big Easy in 1840, where broiled or baked oysters on the half shell topped with herbs, butter, breadcrumbs, and a hit of Pernod became the stuff of legend. The exact recipe is guarded more tightly than a circa-2008 Chris Paul drive, but some believe the green combination to consist of parsley, celery, and capers. The meaning behind the name? They say the dish was as rich as tycoon John D. Rockefeller, and as green as his cash. (Photo: yumandyummer)

Where to get it: Antoine’s (New Orleans, LA)

4. Crab Louie


The backstory: Don’t overthink this one: Dungeness crab meat, hard-boiled eggs, tomato, and asparagus served on iceberg lettuce, and accompanied by Louis dressing—akin to Thousand Island Dressing, but tangier, less chunky, and with extra heat from chiles and horseradish. Some liken Crab Louie to an American version of the French salad Niçoise. An ongoing battle exists between San Francisco and Spokane, WA regarding the birthplace of this West Coast classic. Some trace its origins back to Louis Davenport, who owned a hotel in Spokane, but also spent a considerable amount of time in the Bay Area right around the time of its inception. With access to Dungeness crab, neither state really loses. (Photo:

Where to get it: Davenport Hotel (Spokane, WA)

5. Baked Alaska


The backstory: Ice-cream on top of sponge cake, encased in a protective meringue shell that’s browned on the outside, is an ingenious way of keeping ice cream frozen; but the rise of the Baked Alsaka is an even shrewder marketing move, according to the History Channel. When Delmonico’s hired French chef Charles Ranhofer, he decided to rename what in France is known as Omelette Norvegienne, to the Baked Alaska. Around that time in 1867, political observers questioned the United State’s purchase of Alaska from the Russian Czar Alexander II. Building off the buzz generated from this debate, the rebranding “promised mystery—something cold and possibly frozen, counterpoised with heat.” (Photo:

Where to get it: Delmonico’s (New York, NY)

6. Veal Paillard


The backstory: Veal Paillard refers to a thin, lean, boneless cut of meat taken from the leg muscles of young calves. The term paillard (outdated in France) can be substituted with the more common word cutlet; Italians call it scallopine, the French say escalope. According to the New York Times archives, Veal Paillard is split into two camps: “the skinless, often marinated disk destined to be cooked over charcoal or pan grilled and heaped with salad for a virtuous meal. And then there is the wayward paillard—flattened, skinned, breaded, battered or lightly dusted, then sautéed or deep-fried, depending on how bad you want to be.” In L.A., chef Josef Centeno updates his version with creamed Bloomsdale spinach and a fried egg. (Photo: Yelp/TroyH)

Where to get it: Pete’s Café (Los Angeles, CA)

7. Salad Chiffonade


The backstory: Chiffonade roughly translates to “made of rags” or “little ribbons” and exemplifies a type of cutting technique. Leafy greens like basil, sage, or mint are stacked on top of one another, rolled tightly, and are sliced with a knife to create long, thin strands. The cutting method also applies to ingredients like kale and lettuce. Musso and Frank’s serves its version with chopped lettuce, eggs, and beets. (Photo:

Where to get it: Musso and Frank Grill (Los Angeles, CA)

8. Coq Au Vin


The backstory: Firmly rooted in French peasantry, coq au vin (literally “rooster in wine”) is a braised chicken stew marinated in Burgundy and accompanied with button mushrooms and bacon (lardons); it is essentially the same recipe as Beef Bourguignon, but uses a different protein. Peasants would let the rooster (yes, not chicken) braise for a long period of time under low heat in order to tenderize it. It entered the American canon courtesy of Julia Child, who promptly replaced the standard hen with chicken, and introduced the recipe to home cooks via shows like The French Chef. (Photo:

Where to get it: TAIX (Los Angeles, CA)

9. Sole Amandine


The backstory: Dover sole amandine (misspelled “almondine” in American cookbooks, d’oh!) is a fish lightly dusted in flour and cooked in a lemon butter sauce, then topped with toasted flakes of almonds to achieve a buttery, nutty richness. Dover sole is not always easy to come by due to its higher price point, so don’t be surprised to see versions with trout, too. (Photo:

Where to get it: John’s Grill (San Francisco, CA)

10. Lobster Newburg


The backstory: Lobster Newburg—lobster in a rich sauce made with cream, butter, eggs, and sherry, sometimes served tableside in a chafing dish—was thought to have been named after a wealthy sea captain named Ben Wenberg, a frequent patron of Delmonico’s and alleged inventor (check out Dan Tana’s menu to see odes like Veal Cutlet Milanese a la George Clooney). Legend has it that the name was altered to Newburg following an argument between the Delmonico’s owner and Wenburg. (Photo:

Where to get it: Gadsby’s Tavern (Alexandria, VA)