In 1981, when we were newlyweds, we went to the Windy City by Pullman to see Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party. Because it was a special occasion, we stayed at The Drake. We loved the exhibit, toured the Loop, and were dazzled by the Miracle Mile. Retrieving our luggage from the porter but still not wanting the fun to end, we asked the Drake’s maître d’hôtel if there were time to order Chateaubriand for two to go before we left for home on our evening train.
Time was extremely tight, but they kindly said they’d try. Precious minutes clicked by. When our outrageous request looked truly impossible, we let the front desk know we had to leave and caught a cab for the station. We figured we’d grab a sandwich on the club car.
On the platform, steps from boarding, we heard someone running toward us. It was a young Drake chef in a spotless coat with Chinese knot buttons, white hat flapping. He presented a porcelain platter bearing an armor of tin foil. It was the Chateaubriand–a 10-oz. tenderloin filet accompanied by a mysterious shallot wine demi-glace reduction sauce with flavors of lemon, tarragon, and peppercorn (I’m a writer, not a chef), nestled in a ring of tender baby carrots, pearl onions, haricots verts, button mushrooms, and fingerling potatoes. Somewhere, someone must have been playing Berlioz.
“We’re so sorry to be late. Here you are,” he said. “This is on us.”
We thanked him emphatically, but…”What about the platter?”
“Our gift to you.” He bowed and disappeared.
Had we dreamed this? After 35 years of use and washing, the Drake monogram has dissolved from the china, but the exquisite memory lives on.
Though we can’t offer corporeal nourishment at Portland Monthly, we do endeavor to give you that extra nugget of information to feed your imagination. Here’s a little something about Chateaubriand. It was created by Montmireil, the private chef for ambassador Vicomte François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), the Napoleonic cross-media star renowned for his literary French Romanticism. To twist off Victor Hugo, who was a ‘big fan’ of the vicomte’s poetry, “I will have Chateaubriand or nothing.”
Lucky for us, it’s making a comeback. See Claire Z. Cramer’s story on culinary nostalgia, p. 67.
Because we love theatrical presentations, including those at tableside, I also cop to a pyrotechnic penchant for watching dishes served flambé. (See “Dinner Is The Show” in our Portland After Dark section, page 33.)
I’m always so glad to hear from our readers who appreciate what we serve up. Thank you, Heather, for your note: “I have learned so much from this dreamy magazine.”