1601 Concord Pike
1601 Concord Pike, Suite 73
Looks can be deceiving. Though Independence Mall is fashioned after a historic landmark, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the shopping center’s restaurants are more global than Colonial. The Melting Pot takes its cue from Swiss-based fondue. Nirvana is an Indian place. Celebrity Kitchens, which features hands-on cooking classes and demonstrations, often hosts experts in Spanish, French and Italian cuisines.
During the last two years, the center lost three longtime delegates to this culinary United Nations when Asian Palace, Flavour of Britain and Utage left. But the opening of two newcomers soothes the sting. Takumi, a Japanese restaurant that occupies Utage’s old space, is owned by a former Utage chef, Hideyuki Okubo, and his wife, Jessie. Rasa Sayang, which specializes in Malaysian cuisine, last September moved into digs a few doors down from Takumi.
Okubo’s plans include installing a cocktail bar and lounge in an adjoining space. For now, Takumi has the same down-home feel of Utage, but with some fresh appointments, such as fabric accents. (Unfortunately, it has the same bathrooms.)
Takumi’s lacquered bento box, available at lunch, is among the largest I’ve seen, giving diners a satisfying meal for a good price. My box contained airy pieces of zucchini and shrimp tempura and lustrous nuggets of teriyaki chicken and mushrooms darkened with soy sauce. Fresh-tasting sashimi fanned across the bottom. The fish’s texture was buttery yet firm, giving me something to sink my teeth into. That quality was also evident in the rolls.
Takumi, like Utage, does sushi well. I relished the refreshing zing of the salmon-avocado kyrui (cucumber) maki, served with a vinegary ponzu sauce. It was rivaled only by the cool summer roll, gossamer-like rice paper packed with tuna, salmon, cucumber, white radish and sprouts.
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For clean, straightforward flavor, it’s hard to beat the Rainbow Roll, named for the six types of differently colored fish draped like silky throws across the top. The bundle holds avocado, crab sticks and cucumber.
My favorite rolls were the Takumi and the Samurai. The Takumi, a package of sweet eel, crunchy asparagus and avocado, is topped with tuna and drizzled with eel sauce. A quick torching lends texture to the top. The crunchy Samurai contains the delicate-tasting yellowtail, salmon and squid, all rolled in seaweed and cooked tempura-style to a golden brown.
There are decent non-sushi dishes, including a yakitori appetizer featuring skewered curls of sweet-salty grilled chicken and Aigamo no Rsuni, amazingly tender duck breast also served on a skewer. As for the hibachi dishes, I’ve been a fan since Utage first introduced them.
Then there are some ordinary options. I sampled a donburi (Japanese rice bowl dish) made with chicken and an egg broken on top and stirred into filaments. (This version is known as O-yako, which means “parent and child.”) Though served atop rice, it’s a light, very sweet dish, owing to the dashi, a soup stock flavored with soy sauce and mirin. It was respectable, but didn’t knock my obi off. Nabeyahi udon with shiitake mushrooms and green onions was likely just as authentic. But I wasn’t thrilled with the shrimp tempura floating among the noodles, which took on the texture of a wet tissue. The garnish of sliced fish cake was like lunch meat.
Initially sticking with a menu that resembles Utage’s is smart. It attracts the old customer base. But I’d like to see Okubo—who has studied at Tsuji Culinary Institute, one of Japan’s largest professional culinary schools—start flexing his culinary muscles with more inventive dishes and sushi that’s not dominated by salmon and tuna. That’s something to look forward to. There are too many good Japanese restaurants around here to play it safe.
Malaysian food in Delaware, however, has been absent, which has led North Wilmington to welcome Rasa Sayang warmly. The restaurant looks more upscale than Takumi, mostly by virtue of its age. Flowers unfurl across walls and booths and tables cluster atop shiny floors.
Cocktail lovers can expect to pay for that pretty new face. Martinis and Manhattans here are $10—more than in some fine-dining restaurants in the area—which sets an expectation for the food that follows.
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The restaurant delivers a surprise or two, some of which slipped through my straw. Grass jelly—made by boiling fermented stalks and leaves of a mint-like herb with potassium carbonate and starch—forms dark gelatinous strands that swirl in a glass of sweetened soy milk. It’s a little sugary, a little nutty tasting and a little chewy.
I expected greasy shrimp toast when I ordered the shrimp puff. I was surprised. The palm-sized bundle of minced shrimp, wrapped in bacon was not at all heavy or oily. Another surprise: meaty spareribs are fried lightly, then bathed with a sweet-and-sour sauce. I loved the Hainanese chicken wrap, which demonstrates Malaysia’s multiculturalism. Then again, it’s easy to love the combination of crisp iceberg lettuce leaves and chopped gingery chicken.
A roti might mean different things, depending on the dish. Roti canai is described as a crisp pancake, but it’s more like a flatbread. Rasa Sayang’s version is shaped like a cannoli. Except for the texture, it’s somewhat unremarkable until you discover the curry dipping sauce. Don’t miss it. It’s hiding delicious morsels of chicken and potatoes. The dipping sauce also comes with the roti telur, which I much preferred. The flatbread sandwich of egg and onion has all the comfort of American grilled cheese.
Dishes marked with a chili pepper are supposedly hot and spicy. On one occasion, that was true of the seafood tomyam, a soup so full of thin rice vermicelli that it eats like a meal. Red flecks of chili delivered heat to the shrimp, scallops and calamari that floated in the broth. On another visit, however, the lemongrass dominated, leaving the soup without kick.
Thai green curry, another example of Malaysia’s varied culinary influences, had a bright flavor and a heat that crept up on you slowly. There was the sense, however, that the sauce was made in advance and the chicken or seafood was added before serving. Even in a bath of lemongrass-infused curry, the chicken tasted boring, as though it had no time to absorb the colorful flavors.
There was also an occasional portion issue. Served in half of a hollowed mango skin, the mango delight with shrimp reminded me of something sold in a tiki restaurant. When I dug down to mix the hot and sweet flavors, it wasn’t so fruity. But shrimp that day must have been at a premium. I was left mostly with mango slices.
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I could also quibble about the amount of shrimp in my noodle dishes. I think I found three. But I will admit that Rasa Sayang serves some of the best pad Thai I’ve tasted. The kitchen happily avoids giving diners an overdose of peanut flavor, and there was no oily residue. It was a toss-up as to whether I preferred the Malaysian version, mee Siam, made with thin noodles rather than the flat ones in pad Thai. The chili sauce in the latter left a pleasantly light burn in the back of my throat. In both cases, fried squares of tofu were a treat—though they did not make up for the missing shrimp.
Props to Rasa Sayang for its vegetable dishes. Props, too, for sticking with the concept right down to the desserts. I can’t say that I was wild about the coconut pudding, quivering flan-like pyramids imprinted with the word “Solo” from the plastic cups in which they were formed. I did enjoy trying it. I recommend the fried bananas, served with chocolate.
Along with pad Thai, Rasa Sayang’s main attraction is the attentive server I had on four out of five visits. He was informed and gracious—even when I mistakenly walked out with the signed credit card slip.
Independence Mall makes takeout a new experience. You can order mee Siam from Rasa Sayang, sushi from Takumi and chicken biryani from Nirvana, and you only need to make one trip.
It’s not New York, but at least it’s cosmopolitan.
Page 5: A Hot Commodity | Crabañero brings the spice.
Crabañero brings the spice.
Chuck Parkhill needed something to spike a tepid Bloody Mary, so he reached for a few condiments that were within arm’s length: habañero hot sauce and Old Bay seasoning.
Crabañero sauce was born that day, and Parkhill, who owns Lapp’s Kitchen in Wilmington, inadvertently invented the official tongue-tingler of Delmarva crab lovers everywhere.
“It really has taken off on its own,” says Crabañero expert Tina Gaffney. “It wasn’t meant to be this big. People go to the website (crabanero.com) and buy the bottles, T-shirts, everything.”
From Lapp’s Kitchen’s fancy new digs (901 N. King St., Wilmington, 654-8688), Crabañero gives zip to turkey meatloaf, oyster po’ boys and, naturally, crab cakes.
Despite a heavy dose of capsicum-packin’ habañero peppers, Crabañero is not overwhelmingly hot, Gaffney says, “but very flavorful.”
Nice. —Matt Amis
Page 6: Sandwich Generation | Herein, the best combos since sliced bread.
Herein, the best combos since sliced bread.
Any cold cut jockey can bang together ham and Swiss. It takes a real sandwich swami to come up with an original. Below, a few of our favorites.
At Maggie’s Deli (32191 Nassau Road, Lewes, 644-7477), rolled pitas rule. The leader might be the Southwest Sammy: oven-roasted turkey dressed with chipotle mayo, cucumber slices, red onion, roasted red peppers, avocado and alfalfa sprouts.
The Buffalo Banger at Pickles & Chip’s (1707 Foulk Road, Wilmington, 478-5720) sounds simple and tastes great: grilled chicken tenders are topped with melted American cheese, bleu cheese, lettuce and hot sauce.
Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop (various locations) puts the best bits of Thanksgiving dinner into a hoagie roll—oven-roasted turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce—and a bit of mayo and calls it The Bobbie. It is probably Delaware’s most famous sandwich. But you knew that.
Don’t get it twisted: It’s Ry, not rye. At E’s On Main St.
(13 W. Main St., Middletown, 376-5988) the signature sandwich is named after owner Eileen Keegan’s son, Ryan. Grilled ciabatta is filled with sliced, grilled chicken breast, then slathered with artichoke-Parmesan-garlic spread.
The fried oyster BLT isn’t new, but it is rare in these parts. They do it right at Café Solé (44 Baltimore Ave, Rehoboth Beach, 227-7107), with tangy rémoulade on fresh focaccia. Owner Laura Cox tops lightly breaded fried oysters with lettuce, tomato and smoky bacon. Add some Brie for melty, cheesy bliss. —Matt Amis
Page 7: Food for Brood | Feed your pets naturally with these local products.
Feed your pets naturally with these local products.
Natural food made from human-grade products can help improve your dog’s digestion and overall quality of life. Here are four local favorites.
Beaverdam Pet Food (11067 Coon Den Road, Greenwood, 349-4155, beaverdampetfood.com) uses only USDA inspected chicken, fish and pork in his pet food, which focuses on nutrition. Owner Truman Schrock, a lifelong farmer of hogs and cattle, should know.
Chris Ranney makes K-9 Krunchies (14 E. Avon Drive, Claymont, 792-2308, k9-krunchies.com) from peanut putter, pumpkin and applesauce. Store-bought treats gave her Shaggy indigestion, so Ranney came up with her own recipes. “There are no preservatives and they stay fresh for three weeks on the shelf,” she says. “I’ve eaten them. It smells like I’m baking peanut butter cookies and pumpkin pie.”
Treats by wholesalers Tail Bangers (Hockessin, 877-725-2469, tailbangers.com) look worthy of a Venetian café. No byproducts, artificial colors, flavors or preservatives go into the Barkin Biscotti or the Canine Cannoli, which are made with beef, Parmesan and yogurt. The only downside is your dogs might take to howling the works of Luciano Pavarotti.
Peanut butter-flavored Waggies (waggies.org) are prepared by a dedicated crew of folks with cognitive disabilities. Dogs love the bone shapes. Their masters like the freshness and supporting a great group of people. —Matt Amis