a(MUSE.), at 44 Baltimore Ave., is certainly one of the most unusual restaurants in Rehoboth Beach, and probably for many miles around. (Click here to make reservations thru OpenTable.com.) Owner and Chef Hari Cameron has proven that truly serious diners in Rehoboth are ready for his daring, small/large plate tour through all sorts of fresh, locally sourced ingredients, and if the crowds at our recent five visits are any indication (not to mention his nomination by the James Beard Foundation for the Rising Star Chef award), he's hit the jackpot.
Warning! If you're looking for a 3 pound lamb shank, wrapped in crisp bacon on a bed of mashed potatoes, or a dozen braised shortribs on a disc of polenta the size of a CD (not that there's anything wrong with that), this is not the place for you. Cameron's recently added tasting menu affords a sample of his signature dishes. See the sample tasting menu by clicking here.
And the good news is that the cost of a tasting extravaganza will set you back no further than if you'd eaten a full meal and dessert at any of the other fine-dining joints in town.
So, there's the disclaimer. Are we on the same page, and are you ready to walk on the wild side with Chef Cameron -- dinner-wise, that is?
UPDATE! As a(MUSE.) finds its sea legs, Chef Hari has expanded the menu to include larger portion dishes that still feature the high-quality goodies that go into the small plates. So if you're not a lover of small plates, you can still enjoy a(MUSE.)'s creative goodies and the friendly atmosphere. Since this original article was written, Chef Hari has completely revamped the menu, replacing the numbered sections with a simple "Firsts," "Seconds," "Sweets," and "Tastings." Firsts contains his legendary small-plate works of art, including a Poached Lobster dish with carrot puree, lacto-fermented and shattered carrots (yup, you read it right. It involves liquid nitrogen!), lobster roe, bibb hearts and foraged rose hips [pictured, left]. This is an amazing dish and a must-get for those who love lobster. Another plate worthy of MOMA is the Potato Cream Soup decorated with hen o' the woods mushrooms, pine nut crumbs (there's that nitrogen again!) charred & pickled onions and locally foraged pine salt [pictured, right]. It is as soothing as it is beautiful to look at. We went to the Seconds menu for our last course, ordering the Dogfish Ale Pâte à Choux Gnocchi [pictured, left] with caramelized brussels sprouts, roasted, raw and pureed turnips, crispy sage in sage brown butter and shaved Granny Smiths drizzled with paprika honey. The gnocchi are like nothing I have ever had that is called gnocchi. Made with Pâte à Choux dough, they are like tiny creampuff shells redolent of hops and grain. The slight chewiness of the gnocchi against the crisp tartness of the apples is like a party in your mouth.
It is important to understand that the menu at a(MUSE.) changes regularly. Cameron is sensitive to the seasons and the local ingredients that accompany them. I have, however, left the older review intact (removing references to the old menu layout where I can) below so you can use it as a guide. But keep in mind that many of these items may be rotated off the menu until their particular season returns.
We now return you to our regular programming re small plates:
I love the Jar of Pickles [pictured, right]. Cool & crunchy veggie sticks are pickled to a bright and bracing acidity, then presented in a glass jar accompanied by a schmear of mustard, a dollop of creme fraiche and sourdough crostini. Last night I started with the Toad In The Hole [pictured, left]. This dish pays tribute to every kid's memory of comfort food, but with a couple of wonderfully non-kid-friendly surprises. A farm egg is nested in the proverbial hole in a delightfully buttery round of toast. Mustard greens create yet another nest, and pickled onion and a touch of Old Bay round it out. I would never have combined these things, and I'm so glad Cameron did. My one gripe is that I'd like the white of the egg cooked a little firmer. I suspect it was steamed, and I'd love it if Hari would leave it in just a little longer; like the quail eggs that crown the bastirma crostini at AlMayass on E. 21st St. in NYC. A simple fix, and the dish works perfectly.
Cool Hand Fluke [pictured, right] is a thin-as-air slice of fluke crudo, surrounded by beets, tiny potatoes and cool watercress. If you like sushi, you'll love this one. It tastes like the ocean -- but with potatoes. Chips & dip have always been the Perfect Snack [pictured, left], and is served on a plank where an off-centered ramekin holds spring onion dip -- in name only. The light taste of leeks and crème fraîche replaces any strong onion flavor, and the crispy chips (slices of toasted lavasch, perhaps?) are delicious. The only bad thing is that they eventually run out. Drats.
The server will warn you that the Senators Love Soup [pictured, left] is not the big ol'chunky bowl of bean soup you might be used to. If anyone can deconstruct soup, it's got to be Cameron. The smoked ham and Berkshire pork beg to be eaten on the same fork with a couple of tasty white beans and pieces of celery and parsnip. A comforting broth is decanted tableside.
The American Classic shrimp cocktail must be seen and tasted to be believed [pictured, right]. The man serves it with chips of ice, for goodness' sake! Cool horseradish, capers and lemon are like a dessert fresh from an episode of Chopped. (I can see it now: Shrimp: Not just for dessert any more!).
A Taste of Spring [pictured, below right] is our veggie writer's favorite; a cool, crunchy tangle of asparagus, cattail (!), buttermilk and mixed greens.
Substantial savories and unexpected textural twists and turns brings us to Have You Any Wool? [pictured, left] just had to be about lamb (get it?), and the slice of lamb belly (think of lamb bacon) is quite good. It shares the plate with a hint of absinthe (!, again), coffee and little lambs'-tail lettuce.
Come Out of Your Shell Soft Crab [pictured, below right] might very well be the star of the show at a(MUSE.). Fried to a crunchy finish, it is accompanied by a polite green onion, pasta mixed with mild roe, and .. wait for it ... green almond! A soft, almost buttery glaze on the pasta softens the naturally bitter taste of the almonds. But be aware that this luscious, fuzzy pleasure is only available 'til about June, and knowing Cameron's penchant for freshness, the crab dish might soon find another accompaniment.
Textures of the Field is that mouth-feel roller-coaster to which I alluded: Another veggie delight (dish is pictured in the veggie review of a(MUSE.) See link below.) with toasty quinoa, barley, soy and wheat grass. I hate wheat grass. This was delicious! Who knew?
[Larger, more traditional portions replace the small-plate versions of the following items] Introducing the heavy-hitters, including Yard Bird [smaller portion pictured, lower left] where organic chicken teams up with chard, peas and smoked potatoes in a softly delicious reduction. Veggies will love Earth and Surf; a medley of mushrooms combined with sea lettuce (a very strong taste -- get ready!) celery root and a bit of parmesan. By Ocean, By Air is replaced by School is Out: Grilled Tuna, potatoes, onions and wine. New additions include A New Family Tradition: Hickman's steak with zucchini, peaches and onion, and Virginia is for Lovers, consisting of Snapper in black garlic with local clams. Post your comments below.
The star of the dessert show is certainly The Beach. In the picture [below right] (lit only with a birthday candle, and Photoshop'd to death just so you can see it), a sandy shore of toasted grain gives way to a faux ocean of salted caramel in which bouys of shattered grape and ... wait for it .. lemon salt water taffy ... float. I love it.
Hari may give me "that look" for writing this, but a(MUSE.) is not your typical restaurant, and I do not suggest bringing the kids unless they have exhibited very early signs of foodieness, an ability and desire to try new things, and behaving themselves.
It has a very lively bar, overseen by none other than that leopard-spotted mixologist himself, David Engel (Renegade/La La Land/Nage/Espuma). People are drawn to David's snarky commentary and local repartee as he mixes, slices, dices, blends, dishes, shakes, mulls and pours. Check out the late night menu by clicking here.
Why not a(MUSE.) yourself by experiencing this one-of-a-kind eatery by going to 44 Baltimore Ave., where Café Solé and then Solé used to be. There's outdoor seating, and the recent Solé renovation moved the front door to ... the front! So no more threading your way through al fresco diners in order to get in.
Wait 'til you see the bathrooms! Both sinks are custom cast. Pictured below is the already-famous horseshoe crab sink. Out of almost 200 reviews, this is the first rating of "10" ever awarded to a bathroom.
Click here to take a look at the vegetarian point-of-view from Deb Griffin, our very own tree bark nibbler.
a(MUSE.) is in the old Café Solé spot on Baltimore Ave.; be sure to call if you are bringing in a big party 302-227-7107. Click here to see the dinner menu. (D., Bar) Price range: Expensive -.
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