Held at Parkinson’s restaurant at 38 S. Eighth Street in Philadelphia, the dinner featured different rare wines and liquors with each of the courses, which included such delicacies as fresh salmon and baked rock fish, braised pigeon, turtle steaks, spring lamb, out-of-season fruits and vegetables and several dessert courses showcasing rich pastries, ice cream, cakes and puddings. As a sort of foreshadowing to modern fusion cookery, each of Parkinson’s courses was designed to meld familiar dishes with novel presentations. Special praise was given for a luscious sorbet that he artfully created using an expensive Hungarian Tokaj. A wine cooler was positioned behind every one of the thirty guests, who each had their own personal waiter. The meal was essentially a 12-hour event, with the guests sitting down at 6 p.m. and not rising from their chairs until 6 a.m. the next morning.
The April 19th date made things rather tricky for Parkinson, as it was between seasons. As noted by R. B. Valentine, a well-known insurance agent and avid epicure who was one of the New York guests, the timing “took the caterer greatly at a disadvantage as to both game and vegetables. He could only obtain what he did by special use of both telegraph and express.” It was still early days in the transformation to the vast network of interconnected shipping we now take for granted, and Parkinson’s influence surely pulled some strings to get what he needed to impress.
The dinner was typical of the multi-faceted affairs popular during the Victorian era where everything was over the top: opulent tables set with the fanciest china and silver, a series of multiple courses featuring rich foods, wines of the finest quality, delicious desserts, and wait-servants hired to cater to the diners every whim. The meal was so amazing and unlike anything the New Yorkers had ever experienced that they gracefully admitted defeat. Apparently, they stood up three different times during the meal and not only acknowledged that the Philadelphians had “conquered them triumphantly,” but unanimously declared that it had “far surpassed any similar entertainment which had ever been given in this country.
I will discuss this amazing meal and its 17 lavish courses in my book, The Thousand Dollar Dinner, slated for an Oct. release. Available now for pre-order on Amazon.