Nino Mancari, chef and co-owner of Rehoboth’s Salt Air, has one of the cooler culinary pieces of body art around. Tattooed down his left forearm is a butcher’s diagram of a pig—more specifically, it’s the logo of St. John in London, the revered restaurant where Mancari trained years ago. Another of Mancari’s accessories—his son—is named Keller, in honor of Thomas Keller, the famous restaurateur, and owner of the French Laundry, which is widely considered one of the best restaurants in the country.
I mention this because a) I get a kick out of it, and b) because it illustrates just how wildly passionate (some might say obsessive) chefs like Mancari are about their craft. It’s also the major reason I look forward to visiting Salt Air whenever I’m in Rehoboth. Our latest visit certainly didn’t disappoint. Here’s a look.
Stone-milled grits created the creamy base for this sublime shrimp and grits entrée—peppered with chorizo sausage and Bob Russell Farms cherry tomatoes.
The roasted East Coast halibut filet has become a mainstay of Salt Air’s specials menu, which is a complete no-brainer. Mancari roasts the succulent white fish, plates it atop black lentils, and rains down beefy hunks of pork belly, and a sweet tomato jam.
Seared crab cakes yielded a light, almost puffy interior. Scattered between the cakes is a bacon-flecked potato salad, more Russell tomatoes and a smoky, creamy remoulade.
Because our table clearly loved crab, we went for Salt Air’s crab dip, a shared starter very different than the standard cheesy-goopy-creamy pub fare. The version pictured was made from crabmeat, lemon, Old Bay crème fraiche—and that’s it. Very simple, very light, and very delicious.
But this was the talk of the night (apart from when rock legend Dave Grohl rode past the window on his bike—true story): marinated sea urchin crostini. I’d only experienced sea urchin as uni sushi, and never before with pieces this big or this out in the open. The verdict? Well, it tasted very much of the sea, in sort of a briny, salty, caviar vein. But the texture—slippery and smushy and almost cream-like—was the adventure. Definitely worth a try for the brave eaters out there. And so too is Salt Air. The brave, the free, the bold, the beautiful, whoever. Just go out and try it.
The slightly morbid fish is correct. He hangs on the south wall of El Dorado Mexican Restaurant on Del. 24, smack between Lewes and Rehoboth, and home to, in my humble opinion, the best fish tacos in Delaware. No trip to the beach is complete without a visit to El Dorado. Owner Aquiles Demerutis’ construction is simple—crispy, fried chunks of mahi mahi, crunchy green cabbage and warm tortillas. But it’s his homemade condiments that puts his tacos over the top. He makes a creamy concoction out of avocados and Serrano peppers that’s out of this peninsula. There’s also fresh-tasting pico de gallo, tomatillo salsa spiked with roasted red peppers, and pickled onions marinated in fiery habañeros.
Depending on how you mix and match your toppings at the salsa bar, your already-delicious taco receives a powerful flavor boost.
I salute you, morbid talking fish. Because, unlike this guy, you died for a good cause.
The good folks at Nage are proud of their homemade everything, too. We especially loved this mojito, which the bartender made using mint-infused simple syrup, homemade lime sour mix and a few other ingredients that would take normal people hours to prepare.
That’s the beauty of Nage: They put in the work for you. Such was the case during a packed-house dinner service. It was a Monday night, and the kitchen seemed a bit undermanned and frazzled, but the results were worth any headaches the staff might have incurred.
Beer-battered softshell crabs with polenta and chorizo were perfect for a hazy summer night.
I think these scallops need to be tested for performance enhancers. These giants were pan-seared and plated atop peppery carrot slaw.
Pictured: Green Branch Farms organic chicken breast with ricotta gnocchi, sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, heirloom baby squash, shiitake mushrooms and sage brown butter.
It wasn’t Halloween and this isn’t brains and blood. It’s pastry chef Keith Irwin’s raspberry bavarois, a frozen, fruity, molded creation with crème anglaise.
$avings Alert: Wilmington’s Toscana Kitchen + Bar is gearing up for a major renovation/name change/reboot within the next few weeks, and in the meantime, it could mean a good deal for you.
Here’s chef/owner Dan Butler explaining in a Facebook message:
“Yes, the rumors are true! Toscana Kitchen + Bar will soon be getting a facelift. Well, it’s more of an extreme makeover. Our downtime should be minimal and WE ARE STILL OPEN now. (Construction schedule TBD.) When we reopen in September, you will experience a new menu, a new layout and even a new name!
In the meantime, enjoy today’s Toscana Kitchen + Bar and some specials we have rolled out to celebrate our upcoming 20th birthday and reopening:
20 for $20 – We’ve selected 20 wines and made them available to you for $20 every day until we reopen.
Visit www.toscanakitchen.com and print out our coupon—good until the renovation begins. Present it to your server to receive 20% off the food portion of your check.”
Renovation is set to begin September 6, JulieAnne Cross, a rep for Butler told me, and will be reborn about 10 days later as Piccolina Toscana. More to come.
Thursday, August 19: Since all most of us know about Argentina typically revolves around this guy or this gal, the Stone Balloon Winehouse in Newark will school us with its Wines of Argentina dinner this Thursday.
Here’s a glance at the menu:
Head on shrimp and espelette with melon, avocado, mint, citrus salad
San Telmo “Esencia,” Torrontes, Mendoza, Argentina 2009
Local softshell Crab with burnt corn puree, spoon bread, green tomatoes and pepper preserves
Terrazas “de los Andes,” Chardonnay, Mendoza, Argentina 2008
Speck Ham and stone fruit salad with chanterelle mushrooms, radish, and toasted nuts
Terrazas “de los Andes,” Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina 2008
Local Hereford beef with chipotle honey, red and yellow watermelon, pickled onions, watermelon radish, smoky watermelon puree
Navarro Correas, Syrah, Mendoza, Argentina 2005
Plum and cacao nib: black plum, pickled cherries, vanilla, cacao nib, and black cherries
Navarro Correas “Alegoria” Gran Reserva, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, Argentina 2004
The dinner gets underway at 7 p.m. and cost is $65 per person. Call the Winehouse at 266-8111 for more.
Thursday, August 19: Which local brewery makes a better beer, Iron Hill or Dogfish Head? Victory or Stewart’s? Clearly, there’s only one way to settle this: on the bocce court. Yes, bocce, the backyard game cherished by old men and Italian men alike will take center stage at the annual Beer and Bocce Tournament at Iron Hill in Wilmington Thursday.
Join brewers from Iron Hill, Dogfish Head, Victory, Yards, Flying Fish and Stewart’s Brewing Company as they throw slightly heavy balls across the lawn. Each brewery will have one of its beers on hand for guests to purchase. For more, call 472-2739.
Saturday, August 21: As summer begins its depressing send-off, and barbecue heads chase the last wisp of lighter fluid fumes from neighborhood to neighborhood, we at least have this last call: The fifth annual Diamond State BBQ Championship at Dover Downs.
At this year’s Diamond State BBQ, which is officially sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, nearly 100 barbecue teams from around the country will pore over barbecue smokers for hours all in the name of cash and prizes, plus bragging rights in brisket, pork ribs, chicken and pork shoulder categories. Yes, it’s exactly like Pit Masters.
For those not competing, expect tons of “competition style” barbecue vendors, beer wagons, crafts and merchandise, music, and—oh boy—a Delaware’s Strongest Man contest.
Like years past, the event will be held in the infield of Dover International Speedway from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 in advance, $7 at the door.
Saturday, August 21: As Newark’s crunchiest eatery and music venue, Home Grown Café is flexing its cool-kid muscles this weekend with the second annual Blues and Brew Festival. The café will welcome a lineup of live, original music, as well as food specials inspired by the Southern Delta, birthplace of the blues.
The Home Grown kitchen is rolling out a special menu that will run through Monday, and includes:
• A po’ salad spiked with shrimp and rémoulade
• Crawfish étouffée over rice
• Blackened tofu mock choux (a Cajun corn stew) with homemade breadsticks
• Bananas Fosters with coffee ice cream
For more details, plus a lineup and schedule of bands, click here.