Photos by Joe Del Tufo
Bardea Steak, the highly anticipated Wilmington eatery, is open and serving up America’s favorite protein in Delaware.
Despite all the well-earned accolades between them, Scott Stein and chef Antimo DiMeo felt a bit frazzled on the phone two years ago while negotiating cattle prices from a specialty ranch in El Paso.
The main problem? They didn’t speak dude ranch.
“Buying whole cows for the first time, it was a little intimidating,” Stein says. “Their terminology, their accents, their whole tableside manner was different.”
The restaurateurs behind Bardea Steak eventually broke the ice. It turned out to be a pivotal deal in the midst of an agonizingly long R&D ramp-up that spanned more than a year and was blunted by the persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last June, the pair and their collaborators opened their highly anticipated steakhouse with El Paso cattle (by way of Italy) as their centerpiece.
“We’re not trying to reinvent steakhouse dining. …But we think this approach is more refreshing.”
—Scott Stein, co-owner of Bardea Steak
Just one weekend into a not-quite-yet-full-throttle service, Stein sounds like he’s breathing a bit easier.
“The biggest thing we heard is that it doesn’t seem like a new restaurant,” he said. “It smells like a new restaurant [and] looks like a new restaurant but feels like it’s been open longer. To me, that’s a good compliment. It means we have our shit together.”
It’s a good thing, too.
The team’s flagship restaurant next door, Bardea Food & Drink, was a semifinalist for a 2019 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant, and DiMeo was a semifinalist in 2022 as Best Chef in the mid-Atlantic. It helped put Wilmington’s dining scene on the regional map with shoutouts in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia magazine. Even Vogue last year listed Bardea Steak among “America’s Most Anticipated Restaurant Openings of 2022.”
Just as Bardea built its foundation on traditional Italian flavors, Bardea Steak is a next-generation subversion of the classic American steakhouse, and one that offers a deep well of opportunities for a chef of DiMeo’s ever-expanding talents.
The food? Beefy. But not just any old beef. Those cattle from El Paso? They’re Chianina cattle—a hulking, porcelain-white, ancient breed of cows that was first cultivated more than 2,000 years ago around central Italy and the Tiber Valley. DiMeo, a devout Italian chef, heard the legends of the Chianina, with its lean yet well-marbled texture and deep-red hue. He thought they only existed in Italy.
DiMeo’s menu is a part whimsy, part graduate thesis on cattle butchery. The steak portion of the menu focuses on five different breeds from around the globe, some considered among the finest in the world and sourced by chefs like José Andrés, founder of World Central Kitchen.
Diners order a cut by the ounce, like an Australian wagyu sirloin butt with raspberry bordelaise; or a bone-in strip from the legendary Chianina.
DiMeo prepares most of his dishes over a custom-made open hearth that showcases live fire cooking, as well as numerous dry-aged meats. He utilizes the koji dry-aging process, in which steaks gets rubbed in koji—any starchy grain (like rice) inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae—for 48 to 72 hours.
“We’re not trying to reinvent steakhouse dining,” Stein promises. “But we think this approach is more refreshing, more interactive. No one wants to be exhausted from ordering food, but at least it’s not boring.”
Certainly not. You won’t find some of the cuts featured at Bardea Steak elsewhere in our region, including the Japanese A5 wagyu and Piedmontese tomahawk steaks. Stein and DiMeo sampled more than 100 different steaks while cultivating their menu, often flying out to purveyors’ farms.
“The approach is similar to Bardea in that the menu is a guide, not set in stone,” Stein adds. “It’s up to the customer and server to navigate you through experience.” Take, for instance, the $90 flat iron “flight” of three different breeds. “Flat iron is probably something I would never order normally, but I was just blown away by the flavor of it,” he says.
At the onset of the pandemic, Stein and DiMeo were at a crossroads, Stein says. But rather than retreat in the face of rewired dining habits and uncertain futures, the team decided to push ahead—with even bolder flavors, more outré ingredients and more artistic flair. To their surprise, diners kept pace.
At Bardea Steak, the dining experience is as much about the sizzle than the meat itself. “We’re about quality ingredients, perfectly executed,” DiMeo points out. These show-stopping ingredients are sometimes prepared tableside. The full menu is a menagerie of culinary wonders, from Pekin duck, oysters, rabbit, venison and wild boar to swordfish and more.
“All of us are struggling to create a pre-pandemic place in a post-pandemic world,” Stein says. “The important thing for us at Bardea was always improving. Dining out was the only source of entertainment besides Netflix. Post-pandemic, dining out is your evening out. Entertainment value matters too.”
Who can ask for more entertaining meat than a beef heart empanada and wild game like venison, ostrich and elk, which DiMeo twists with with za’atar and black tahini or fire-roasts on skewers?