Finally, Tyler Akin can exhale a sigh of relief… sort of.
Le Cavalier at The Green Room, the French brasserie restaurant in Wilmington’s Hotel Du Pont, opened on Sept. 1 after delays due to the coronavirus pandemic. The eatery, which focuses on lighter, brighter French food, isn’t cutting any corners with the interior redesign, and the menu still reflects original intentions. The restaurant is a partnership between chef and partner Akin, PM Hotel Group and The Buccini/Pollin Group, Inc.
While opening during Phase 2 of Delaware’s economic reopening plan does come with challenges of reduced capacity, socially distanced seating and mask requirements, getting to welcome customers inside is what Akin has been waiting for.
“The entire idea of an opening is a silver lining and a source of excitement for me,” he says. “This has been almost the last two years of my life, planning and thinking and doing to make this possible. I’m thrilled that we’re doing it, I feel confident in the measures we have in place.”
“Le Cavalier” (pronounced: luh-KAH-vuhl-YAY) honors the equestrian tradition in the Brandywine River Valley. When the hotel opened in the early 20th century, visitors would arrive by horse as often as they would by automobile or by foot. The eatery’s name also nods at the du Pont family’s history of horsemanship.
Akin’s opening menu draws influence from the South of France and North Africa. The summer seasonal menu offers riffs on French classics with an emphasis on Delaware’s foodways.
Dishes include the Steak Tartare (filet, preserved citrus, Calabrian chili, white endive, tzatziki), Poulet Frites (roasted half chicken, sauce meunière, olives) and Trout Amandine (almond, Tunisian eggplant, espelette). Side dishes focus on French classics including pomme purée, frites, haricots verts and salade verte.
Akin says the opening menu is an annotated version of his original menu to keep sustainability in mind as the restaurant works with a smaller staff and smaller dining occupancy. Le Cavalier is putting a high priority on socially-distanced dining, and keeping staff and customers comfortable.
“The biggest thing is just the plans to keep team members safe and guests safe,” he says.
For desserts, guests can expect an innovative sundae (brown butter caramel and sweet cream ice cream, warm chocolate ganache, Green Room macaroons, spiced walnuts and barberries), along with classics including pavlova (mint meringue, peach crème fraiche, berries) and coconut cake (rum crème anglaise, toasted coconut).
For the full Le Cavalier experience, patrons can order the tasting menu. For $42 per person, it includes a large format Rougette de Veau (veal shoulder, red wine, roasted maitake mushrooms, pomme purée, crispy garlic).
Keeping the focus on looking at the French brasserie from different perspectives, Akin says Louisiana’s Crescent City played a role in the cocktail menu.
“For us, it made a lot of sense for us to look at New Orleans for the source of inspiration for the cocktail program,” he says.
Le Cavalier’s beverage program features a carefully crafted list of wines and cocktails, along with local coffee and tea service. The restaurant’s namesake cocktail is the Le Cav Kir, a take on the classic Kir Royale with huckleberry crème, crémant, and vermouth. The wine menu has a focus on natural wines—one of the only programs in Delaware to do so—available by bottle and some by the glass.
“We hope people come and forget about the challenges outside the doors,” he says of the Le Cavalier cocktail offerings.
The restaurant’s interior was designed by Stokes Architecture + Design. It features a 118-seat dining room with a 13-seat bar, and seasonal outdoor patio seating. Not all seating will be used during the COVID-19 pandemic in accordance with CDC recommendations and local regulations.
The dining room’s new decor includes velvet and leather banquettes, contemporary French artwork and an expansive, marble bar that anchors the dining room. The mosaic tile floor was discovered during construction, and dates back to the original Green Room circa 1913. The fumed oak paneling and ornate plaster ceiling The Green Room remains intact, according to a news release.
Along with working on opening Le Cavalier, Akin has spent the past couple months advocating for restaurants with the Independent Restaurant Coalition. He knows many restaurants are currently looking at their bottom line and wondering how they will stay afloat. He hopes legislation the coalition supports, and many legislators have voiced support for will pass in the next stimulus package from U.S. Congress.
“The past couple of months have been catastrophic for the restaurant industry,” he says.
Le Cavalier is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 5-10 p.m. Patrons can enjoy outdoor seating along the Market Street side of the restaurant, plus indoor dining. The restaurant will also be offering takeout and delivery through Grubhub.
Starting the first weekend in October, Le Cavalier is debuting a new brunch menu. Menu offerings include sweet options like a Dutch Baby with blackberry, brown butter crème Chantilly and calvados-caramel pecans; egg dishes like Steak & Eggs, Tunisian Shakshouka and a jumbo lump crab omelette; and an entire section devoted to sandwiches, according to a news release.
Brunch will be available on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
42 W 11th St, Wilmington; 594-3154; For more information and to make a reservation, visit lecavalierde.com.