Tasty Tango

Two Central and South American restaurants serve food that explodes stereotypes of Latino cuisine.

Server Karen Hernandez of Mariachi presents a few house favorites.  Photograph by Tom Nutter Mariachi
14 Wilmington Ave.
Rehoboth Beach

Manos Latinas Cuisine
2304 Kirkwood Hwy.

Yolanda Pineda was smiling ear to ear. This, apparently, is not unusual. When customers enter Mariachi—the Rehoboth Beach restaurant she owns with fellow Salvadorian José Perez—she typically greets them with a grin.
But Pineda’s lovely smile seemed even wider than usual. A customer had just ordered one of her favorite house dishes, lengua al vino, or, as we say in English, “tongue with wine.”
The customer was my dining partner. And yes, I was hesitant to try something that in its former incarnation could have tasted me back. I have no problem with pork belly, sushi, sweetbreads, steak tartar and crispy chicken skin. Tongue, however, was scary territory, despite the fact it’s a beloved dish throughout Latin America.
Turns out, tongue is no more scary than thinly sliced squares of roast beef, which is what it tasted like. (Just ignore those little bumps along the edge.) It was the sauce, however, that made the dish memorable. Chef Jaime Perez cooks carrots, red onions and celery in sherry wine and Madeira wine until they release their essence. Then he strains the sauce to produce something that is full-bodied yet silky.
“This guy works hard before the food comes to the table,” Pineda later said proudly.
Such selections demonstrate that there is more to Latino cuisine than tacos and tostados. Mariachi is a fun fusion of Spanish and Mexican dishes. Some have an authentic flair. Others receive a nuevo twist.
But Mariachi is not the only Delaware restaurant to expand Americans’ horizons. Manos Latinas in Elsmere offers diners the chance to sample upscale Peruvian cuisine, courtesy of Guillermo Llerena, who honed his skills in Lima, Peru.
Most of the time, both restaurants offer well-presented and well-executed dishes that make each course a discovery. Both manage to combine a mom-and-pop affability with quality ingredients and flavors that often exceed expectations. But this is where the comparison stops. As Mariachi and Manos so aptly demonstrate, the colorful cuisine in Central and South America is wonderfully diverse. Putting the two side by side would be like comparing guava and plantains.
Lomo saltado combines prime sirloin sautéed with tomatoes, onions, green peppers and cilantro in  a delicious Peruvian sauce. Photograph by Tom NutterMariachi has location on its side. Just a block from the beach, the restaurant’s first floor has a bank of sliding glass doors and the second floor features a balcony.
With white tile floors and white linens, the dining room is neat but unassuming, especially when compared to its culinary neighbors, which are dressed to capture tourists’ attention. I pitied the launderer who had to work on my salsa and sauce stains. It looked like I slaughtered something for dinner.
Mariachi’s salsa is not the best I’ve sampled. It was watery that night and the chips tasted stale. Not a good start. A well-made caipirinha however, softened my stance, as did the appetizers.
Mussels floated in a delicious sherry broth spiked with strips of ginger that delivered a zing when I bit into them. The broth was so good that it begged for bread. A tortilla just wasn’t good sopping material.
The flour tortilla came from my queso fundido con chorizo, gooey Chihuahua cheese studded with crumbled chorizo, all served in a mini casserole dish—the kind used for crab imperial. Pulling the cheese apart took some fancy finger work, which was easier when I used the tortilla as a tool. Though not a good dish for a first date, it was ideal for sharing with friends.
Pupusas, however, won the prize, partly because I’ll give nearly anything made with comforting corn flour a blue ribbon. I loved the puffy pita-like gorditas stuffed with pork and cheese. “You must have them with the slaw,” Pineda instructed. We folded the pillows around the vinegary cabbage. Crunchy and soft. Sour and salty. Soothing and invigorating. Opposites really do attract.
A minty mojito stands up to Mexican and Spanish seasonings.  Photograph by Tom NutterI was as enamored of the masitas de puerco, chunks of shredded pork marinated in criolla (creole) spices: garlic, onion, bay leaves, oregano and cumin. Though roasted in lemon juice and bitter oranges from Seville, there was nothing bitter about the dish, which was peppery and robust. And because bitter orange is said to have medicinal benefits, the pork did double duty. A few tortillas on the side would have been welcome.
Mariscada in Gulf sauce just couldn’t stand up to our more vivacious entrées. Scallops, shrimp, squid, mussels and fish nodded lazily in a sherry broth. Though light and fresh-tasting, the entrée taste shrank against the more forward flavors of our other two dishes.
Tres leche cake was suitably soaked with condensed milk, evaporated milk and whipping cream, then topped with whipped cream and a squiggle of caramel. I recommend scrapping the whipped cream on the flan, which masked the wonderful caramel crust on top. Sopapillas were floppy squares of flaky pastry—a sticky, happy mess. But for something sweet, I much preferred a side of creamy plantains, picked at the perfect time and cooked masterfully.
Manos is an entirely different dining experience. On Kirkwood Highway near Elsmere, the small building looks as though it houses the restaurant and the owners’ home.
Traffic streaks by the windows in the dining room, which is decorated with requisite pictures of Peru and llamas. It’s tidy and pleasant, though the glass-front refrigerator makes you think of a sandwich shop and the air conditioner on our visit struggled to produce cold air, despite its loud efforts. I also had to get over listening to George Michael on the radio. Fortunately, the crunchy Peruvian corn kernels—Peru’s version of salsa and chips—soon distracted us.
By far my favorite dish was huancaina. Who would have thought sliced potatoes, served with a sliced egg could seem so gourmet? As was the case with many of Mariachi’s dishes, credit the sauce, in this case a slightly spicy, slightly cheesy concoction made with evaporated milk and aji amarillo, a yellow Peruvian pepper.
Seafood fajitas include shrimp, scallops and salmon grilled over an open flame.  Photograph by Tom NutterThe dish’s wholesome earthiness delivered a soul-satisfying flavor. For the same reason, I loved the pastel de camarones, a sort of pie made with layers of mashed potatoes, woodsy mushrooms, shrimp and capers, which added a tart bite. Like Mariachi’s pupusas, the dish combined contrasting textures and flavors. Few Americans would think to combine shrimp and mashed potatoes, let alone throw capers in the mix.
Slivers of tilapia—“cooked” in a lemon, garlic and yellow pepper sauce—lacked the restrained quality of a good ceviche, which is refreshing and vibrant. Instead of titillating our palate, the tilapia alarmed it. Swimming in sauce, the fish was too sour and vinegary.
Sliced steak topped with a fried egg and accompanied by fries was decent, though the meat was a little chewy. But when given the chance, opt for Llerena’s livelier dishes, including the medley of shrimp, peas and tiny carrot cubes tossed in a saffron-infused rice. I was delighted to find fine saffron threads in the bottom of the bowl.
Llerena’s deft hand with spices and herbs made sopa criolla (Creole soup) a slurpable delight. Slender pieces of beef floated in a broth whose creep-up-on-you heat reminded me of Thailand’s tom yum soup. The tomato-based broth also contained thin strands of pasta.
Though we had a bit of a language barrier, service was efficient at Manos. But sadly we were the only ones there on a Tuesday night.
Prices are certainly reasonable for the quality of the food. Appetizers range from $4.99 for Peruvian corn to $12.99 for deep-fried squid to $18 for a mixed seafood plate for two. Most entrées are under $20. But if you order an appetizer, soup and entrée, you’re spending more than you would at many area restaurants featuring Latin American cuisine. That might surprise diners who equate Latin cuisine with cheap family food.
There is nothing mass-produced about either Manos or Mariachi. Each dish tastes as though it was made at home for guests. (In the case of Manos, that was not far from the truth.) Both restaurants seem to have the desire to take diners on a culinary trip to Latin America.
Given the number of entrées I’d like to try, that trip is one I’d like to make often.
  Page 2: Brandywine and Dining

Brandywining and Dining

 No snobs in this group, just a fun bunch of people who want to learn about wine.

Canio Caputo,  Bruno Caputo and  Oscar Zelaya, of Wards Fine Wines in Wilmington (from left), take a light approach to wine education. Photograph by Luigi Ciuffetelli

Brandywine Creek State Park is a great place to unwind. Canio Caputo’s living room is a great place to uncork.

Caputo, of North Wilmington, started the Brandy“wine” Tasting Group for oenophiles who prefer casual settings. No one boasts a stunning familiarity with vineyards of far-flung regions. There’s no crazy talk about micro-oxygenation machines or which region of the Rhone is better. It’s simply a meeting of people who sip and nosh at a different member’s home every month.
“We don’t have power-point presentations or anything,” Caputo says. “We do have lecturers. Typically a lecturer will bring six bottles of wine, ranging in price from $10 to $50. He or she gathers as much information as they can about the vineyard, then we do 1-ounce pours. We just want people to learn about wine and not be intimidated.” Each bottle is concealed in a brown paper bag. “You’d be surprised at how your palette likes the inexpensive wines,” Caputo says.
Members donate $20 each for drink and food. There are occasional beer tastings as well.
Brandy“wine” Tasting Group events are booked months in advance. For more, contact
canioacaputo@yahoo.com.   —Maria Hess
Page 3: Give Prince a Chance

Give Prince a Chance 

Prince on Delaware has made noshing in New Castle a more cosmopolitan experience while staying down home, too.
 By Pam George

Salmon is pan seared, topped with a Chilean salsa, then served atop assorted salad greens. Photograph by Thom Thompson

The landscape surrounding Prince on Delaware in Historic New Castle is distinctly colonial. The restaurant definitely is not. On the menu, the South meets Spain and mingles with Jamaica. Selections have included “tapas” shrimp, tuna tartar, a half-roasted chicken with mole and Caribbean curry cakes. And, for the most part, owner Prince Johnson makes it all come together.

I loved the café chicken salad, chunks of breast meat speckled with dill and oregano and mixed with Dijon and mayonnaise. A touch of sriracha adds kick. Meaty grilled portobello turned a green salad into a hearty appetizer. Black-eyed pea soup with sausage made me forget the bland beans my mother served on New Year’s Day. The soup was close to perfect.
Prince trained at The Restaurant School in Philadelphia and worked at the famed Le Bec-Fin. His kitchen shows a deft touch with seasonings. Its twist on tapas was provocative, thanks to the liberal use of cumin. Caribbean spices turned a succulent center-cut pork chop a lovely bronze color. It might be too peppery for some, but I thought it was dead on.
I adored the moist turkey burger dusted with chipotle seasoning and decorated with a squiggle of spicy mayonnaise. I also admired the cheesy roll. But you can’t call Prince’s “outrageous” wings Buffalo wings. A Buffalo native would be appalled. I thought the meaty fried chicken drumsticks were great, but they are not Buffalo wings in all their lip-burning splendor. I admired the fried chicken’s crispy coating, but a kitchen so capable of handling spice could have doused it with more seasoning. You’d expect the accompanying greens to have a dusky, earthy taste. The flavor, though, was muddied.
Salmon, coated with pink peppercorns and mustard, was fabulous, but the pasty risotto lacked the requisite toothsome quality, and a lovely lobster bisque was flecked with too-fine threads of lobster.
The correctable missteps: Service was slow at dinner and entrées arrived before the appetizers were finished, but those missteps are easy to correct.
“We’re paying the bills every month, and that’s important,” Johnson jokes. It is also encouraging, considering Historic New Castle is not an easy place for a restaurant with creative flair. Tourists expect the traditional, and gourmands from Wilmington are loath to travel. But here’s hoping they’ll continue to give Prince a chance.
 Prince on Delaware
124 Delaware Ave.
New Castle
 Page 4: Great Pumpkin

Cindi Filasky. Photograph by Tom NutterGreat Pumpkin

There’s a world of foods to make with the big orange squash—and someone who really wants to show you how.
There’s more to do with a pumpkin than carve jack-o-lanterns and make pie, as Cindi Filasky will tell you. Filasky offers a one-day pumpkin cooking class that shows the many possibilities.
“People are always saying they don’t know what to do with their pumpkin or wondering if you can really cook with them, which is how the idea for the class started,” Filasky says.
For the past 10 years, Filasky has taught 40 to 50 students how to make pumpkin pie while laying out more than 20 pumpkin-inspired foods for them to taste. 
Everything from appetizers to desserts is served. Samplings include pumpkin rolls filled with cream cheese, pumpkin bread, soup and a pumpkin dip. Another dish features rice, meat, green beans, onions and other vegetables baked inside a pumpkin.
The class is taught in the barn of Filasky Farm in Middletown, which gives a rustic, cozy feeling. After class, everyone receives a recipe book and a pumpkin of their choice to experiment with at home. The class costs $25. “It’s just a fun afternoon where we get together and laugh,” Filasky says. For more, call 378-2754.   —Jessica Delli Santi
 Page 5: Good to Go

Chef Kris Etze. Photograph by portraitsinthesand.comGood to Go

 So you don’t feel like messing your kitchen. Here’s help.
KitchenAid on the fritz? Burnt your last dozen soufflés? Worry not. Local businesses offer gourmet cooking without the shopping, prepping and, well, cooking that’s normally required.
Chef Kris Etze is Abracadinner (Lewes, 228-6125, www.abracadinner.com). For her clients, she prepares vacuum-sealed meals such as spicy manicotti with fresh tomato sauce, red peppers and aged cheeses. “I’m all about cooking fresh and organic whenever I can,” says Etze, who tailors menus to tastes and diets.
Men are allowed at My Girlfriend’s Kitchen (1227 Quintilio Drive, Bear, 834-1720), but the relaxed atmosphere really does resemble a girlfriend’s kitchen. “We have love seats in the middle of the floor,” says manager Tiffany Gilmore. MGK specializes in ready-to-cook family entrées that you can prepare on site, pick up fully prepared or have delivered. Sesame orange chicken tenders are big hits, as is Gilmore’s favorite: orange-cranberry glazed tilapia.
The faithful gather at Super Suppers.At Super Suppers (3619 Silverside Road, Wilmington, 478-5935), customers can zip out with a month’s worth of dinners or hang out to prepare meals from ingredients and equipment on hand. Private parties are big, says co-owner Cathy Hagan of the Wilmington store. Dishes change monthly, but a few favorites generally stay, such as Asian flank steak and vegetarian lasagna.
Celebrity Kitchens (1601 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 427-2665) is like dinner and a show. Dinners are created tableside by chefs such as Julio Lazzarino from Deep Blue—or by you. “Some of the chefs are closet comedians,” says owner Cindy Weiner. “They want the guests to have fun.” Entreés range from sushi to filet mignon. Best of all, wine is free with each course.    —Matt Amis

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