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A Romantic Affair, The Delmonico Way!

Max Tucci shares the recipe for a Seafood Tower and the story of how his father courted his mother with this platter at Delmonico's.

9:00 AM EST on January 31, 2024

The Seafood Tower at Delmonico's restaurant.

The Seafood Tower featured in The Delmonico Way! cookbook.

Delmonico's regular Frank Sinatra once sang, “Our love affair is a wondrous thing. That we'll rejoice in remembering." On this Valentine’s Day, (which is also my 45th birthday), I offer you a sublime Seafood Tower recipe from The Delmonico Way, that you'll rejoice in preparing because nothing epitomizes the glamour and over-the-top opulence of a Delmonico’s signature seafood tower, a dish that dates back to the 1800s.

During my father’s courtship with my mother, he instinctively knew that in order to “kiss the girl,” he had to give her the jewels of the sea. Lobster, oysters, and caviar are just a few of my mother’s favorite things. And when they were presented on a tiered tower, my mother knew that Mario was going to be the captain of her ship.

Max's father, Mario, at the family villa in Florence.
Max's father, Mario, at the family villa in Florence.

My father was an absolute renaissance man, a bon vivant, and a ladies’ man. He dated some of the most beautiful socialites in Manhattan—and Florence as well—courting them at Delmonico’s. He was a smooth operator. When actress Arlene Dahl gifted him a copy of her 1965 book, Always Ask a Man: Arlene Dahl’s Key to Femininity, she inscribed it to “Mario—The man with all the answers, in friendship and admiration—Arlene.”

As part of the Delmonico’s family, Mario was considered quite the catch, and enough of a celebrity and eligible bachelor (a title that I, too, was once given by Gotham magazine) that in 1960 gossip columnist Cholly Knickerbocker reported on his engagement in the New York Journal-American: “Nicoletta Mazzei, daughter of famous Florentine architect Aldusio Mazzei, arrives here the end of the week. In January, she’ll wed Mario Tucci, son of the Delmonico restaurateur.” That marriage never happened, but Mario did end up marrying Countess Anna Querci (who later founded the Design Lab Museum in Florence); however, their marriage did not last long. Meanwhile, my mother, Gina, married and divorced Bernard de Martini, whose ancestors had been founders of Bank of America.

Max's mother, Gina, in Pucci.
Max's mother, Gina, in Pucci.

On February 26, 1975, Giuliana di Camerino, the creator of the Roberta di Camerino fashion house and a dear friend of Mario’s, held a swanky dinner party at Delmonico’s in the Palm Room, the main dining room, adorned with pink tablecloths, pink roses, and the iconic miniature fringed candelabras for the occasion. Signora di Camerino invited Gina, who was the Executive Vice President of her fashion house. Gina arrived with her then-current beau, real estate tycoon Robert Waldron. When a smitten Mario—who often attended big parties as a guest to keep an eye on the staff—insisted that Gina sit next to him, Robert bristled and forced Gina to choose, and she sat next to her date. But Mario would not be deterred. He had the head waiter deliver ounce upon ounce of Beluga caviar to Gina as a clear sign of his interest. The courtship began.

The Palm Room at Delmonico's (circa 1970).

That night the Palm Room was filled with major executives from Alitalia, C.I.G.A. Hotels, and Banca Commerciale Italiana, and all their eyes were on Gina and Mario. The next day Mario sent dozens of roses to Gina. And that was only the beginning. As she described it to me, “For over a month Mario kept insisting that I dine with him at Delmonico’s. He hand-delivered love notes to my doorman at 215 East Sixty-eighth Street. It did not stop there. He sent dozens of roses every other day for over a month. I was flattered. Mario was known as the playboy of Manhattan, but he was so elegant. He had that European flair. He was relentless, so I finally accepted and gave in. Candidly, I really wanted to have those famous Delmonico oysters, caviar, and that seafood tower. Oh, my goodness, how delicious! Then Mario won my heart.”

When the special evening arrived, Mario sent a car and driver to pick Gina up and chauffeur her downtown. Upon entering the restaurant, Gina was ushered to my father’s large round table, center stage in the grand Palm Room. Mario had set the mood—he had a trio serenading the room and an impressive four-tier seafood tower brought to the table. That cascading display of jumbo shrimp, perfectly steamed lobster, the freshest oysters, Beluga caviar, and various types of shellfish impressed my mother immensely, and a great love affair began over that tower of aphrodisiac.

The Seafood Tower at Delmonico's (2024).
The Seafood Tower at Delmonico's (2024).

I’ve always pictured it as something like the movie The April Fools starring Jack Lemmon and Catherine Deneuve (and featuring a scene at Delmonico’s): a love story with the city of Manhattan as backdrop. And if the city was the scenery, Delmonico’s was center

stage. Delmonico’s was elegant, alluring, and romantic. The perfect lighting (an obsession for Mario) was flatteringly dim. Petite candlestick lamps were topped with sterling silver filigree covers that adorned fringed salmon-colored silk lampshades that diffused the space with a soft pink hue. Staff was omnipresent, but unobtrusive. They were ready to serve. And soon after that wondrously magical evening at Delmonico’s, Mario asked Gina to marry him!

The wedding day of Mario & Gina Tucci.
The wedding day of Mario & Gina Tucci.

In the spirit of The Delmonico Way and Valentine’s Day, I encourage you to stay home and cook and prepare this outstanding Seafood Tower; however, if reservations are beckoning, I strongly recommend you book a Valentine’s reservation at Delmonico’s!

For Reservations Visit:

https://www.theoriginaldelmonicos.com/menu/valentines-day-2024/

A Sublime Seafood Tower from Delmonico's

A Sublime Seafood Tower from Delmonico's

0 from 0 votes
Recipe by Max Tucci
Servings

4-6

servings
Prep time

20

minutes
Cooking time

40

minutes

Ingredients

  • For the Mussels & Clams
  • 1 cup 1 white wine

  • 2 cloves 2 garlic, crushed and minced

  • 1/2 cup 1/2 loosely packed chopped flat leaf parsley

  • 3 tablespoons 3 salted butter

  • 1/2 cup 1/2 clam juice

  • 12 12 mussels (cleaned and bearded)

  • 12 12 clams

  • For the Crawfish
  • 1 cup 1 beer

  • 1/2 cup 1/2 Old Bay seasoning

  • 1 pound 1 small crawfish

  • For the Octopus, Shrimp, and Lobster
  • 6 6 baby octopus

  • 6 6 jumbo shrimp, shelled and deveined with tails attached

  • 1 1 lobster (about 1 ½ pounds)

  • 2 2 lobster tails, in shells

  • 1/4 cup 1/4 extra-virgin olive oil

  • Juice of 1 lemon

  • Salt to taste

  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

  • For the Oysters
  • 12 12 raw oysters

  • For the Crab Legs
  • 1/2 pound 1/2 King Crab legs

  • For the Assembly
  • 2 pounds 2 crushed ice

  • 6 6 lemon wedges

  • Decorative seaweed or a combination of dill fronds and lacinato kale sliced into ribbons

  • Prepared horseradish for serving

  • Cocktail sauce for serving

  • Dijon mustard for serving

  • 1 2-ounce tin 1 black caviar

Directions

  • For the Mussels and Clams
  • In a large sautĂ© pan with a lid, heat the wine, garlic, parsley, butter, and clam juice to a gentle boil.
  • Add the mussels and clams and cover.
  • Lower the heat and simmer until the shells open (4 to 10 minutes).
  • Discard any unopened shellfish.
  • Set aside to cool.
  • For the Crawfish
  • In a medium pot, combine the beer, 1 cup water, and Old Bay seasoning and bring to a boil over high heat.
  • Place the crawfish in a steamer rack and set it over the liquid.
  • Cover and steam until the crawfish are bright red (4 to 6 minutes).
  • Set aside to cool.
  • For the Octopus, Shrimp, & Lobster
  • Brush the octopus, shrimp, lobster, and lobster tail with the olive oil.
  • Drizzle the lemon juice over them and season with salt and pepper.
  • Grill over high heat until opaque (a few minutes per side for the octopus and shrimp, and about 10 minutes for the lobster)
  • Remove from the heat according to time requirements.
  • Set aside.
  • For the Oysters
  • Shuck the oysters.
  • For the Crab Legs
  • In a medium pot, bring 1 cup water to a boil.
  • Place the crab legs in a steamer rack and set it over the liquid.
  • Cover and steam until the crab legs are bright red (4 to 6 minutes).
  • Set aside to cool.
  • For the Assembly
  • Fill the bowls or platforms of the tower with ice.
  • Arrange the seafood on top of the ice.
  • Drape the seaweed decoratively.
  • Place the lemon wedges between the seafood.
  • Serve with horseradish, cocktail sauce, and mustard in small bowls. 
  • Nestle the tin of caviar in the ice.

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