Late-night tastings and a Slow Food party
It’s no secret that Rehoboth’s Porcini House restaurant never really caught on. Some say it lacked a strong theme. Others say that the menu was a bit eclectic for this tiny beach town. But whatever the reason, a revamp was certainly in order, and James Beard Award nominee chef/owner Jay Caputo will be the first to tell you that very thing.
Fast-forward to spring, 2012: Table saws, hammers, paintbrushes (and Jay’s mom) are all hard at work at the corner of Wilmington and Second. The cramped hallways and dark corners have been exorcised in favor of a spacious and sunny interior. Tequila bars are all the rage nowadays, and Mexican-flavored small plates play well with the potent nectar of the blue agave plant. Add a fresh new partner (Greg Plummer from Dewey’s Hammerheads), a dash of Chef Caputo’s magic touch, and it looks like Cabo Mexican Tequila Bar might just hit the ground running.
Last week at Espuma I was fortunate to hob-nob with some of Rehoboth’s restaurant glitterati as the always-mysterious Jay conducted an impromptu late-night tasting of Cabo’s new menu. Our adventure began at the Blue Moon where we collected Executive Chef Lion Gardner and his wife Meg (two of The Moon’s quartet of proprietors).
As we trekked across First Street, we snagged Henlopen City Oyster House co-owner Chris Bisaha, and the fluorescent-bike riding Town Crawler (popular essayist at RehobothFoodie.com). By the time we descended on Espuma, we had picked up therapist and newspaper columnist Dr. Michael Hurd, and Chef Brian Fitzgerald of Fins Fish House. You never know who you’ll run into wandering the streets on a Wednesday night.
Undaunted by our ambush, Chef Caputo rose to the occasion with a salvo of spicy and citrusy treats (all while tending bar, no less). Armed only with warm chips, we shoveled our way through Cabo’s tasty salsa and guacamole, soon followed by a plateful of Cabo Tacos (the mahi versions are great, but the smoked pork will make you smile). The seared Ahi in the deconstructed lettuce tacos (gilded with the sweet/tart snap of mango relish) quite literally melted in our mouths. It was like the feeding frenzy from Jaws, only without the annoying teenagers.
Before you dismiss all this as gratuitous malarkey generated by free food, it is not. We all forked over our hard-earned bucks to pay for this extravaganza. So I’m not beholden to Caputo. And I still urge you try Cabo. The chef says they should be open sometime this coming week.
Across town at Hobos, Slow Food Delmarva and chef/owner Gretchen Hanson teamed up to celebrate her third year in business. Those of you who monitor the revolving door of the Rehoboth restaurant scene know that this is a worthy accomplishment. In a resort town, only the strong survive.
Chef Hari Cameron, owner of the soon-to-debut a(Muse.) restaurant, introduced me to Slow Food Delmarva. In a nutshell, SFD preserves and promotes local producers by buying and selling foods that are native to the Delmarva Peninsula. Soft shell crabs, rockfish, scrapple, peaches and sweet corn are just a few of the goodies that eateries like Hobos use to keep their menus fresh and regional. In fact, Southern Delaware Tourism’s Come to the Culinary Coast - Life Tastes Better Here program recently launched Local on the Menu, a high-tech database where farms and restaurateurs are brought together to ensure the timely sale and use of locally grown products.
Chef Gretchen sure can throw a party. She stepped up to the plate with two groaning tables loaded with her colorful creations, some vegan, and others bursting with all sorts of carnivorous delights. Two of the stars of the show were Hobos’ brightly spiced gumbo and a hot tamale pie that, though she insisted was vegan, tasted meatier and cheesier than I’ve had anywhere.
Chefs like Gretchen, Caputo and Cameron are squarely in their comfort zones with all these local goodies flowing into Rehoboth restaurants. And we get to enjoy it all. See why I do this?