Noted restaurant critic Ruth Reichl said it best in her book, Garlic and Sapphires:
“Every restaurant is a theater, and the truly great ones allow us to indulge in the fantasy that we are rich and powerful. When restaurants hold up their end of the bargain, they give us the illusion of being surrounded by servants intent on ensuring our happiness and offering extraordinary food. But even modest restaurants offer the opportunity to become somebody else, at least for a little while. Restaurants free us from the mundane reality; that is part of their charm. When you walk through the door, you are entering neutral territory where you are free to be whoever you choose for the duration of the meal.”
Though Ms. Reichl was making reference to such pantheons of gastronomy as Le Cirque and Delmonico's, this unwritten pact between customer and restaurateur is no less true at any place that touts itself as “fine dining.” In Rehoboth Beach, Blue Moon is one of those restaurants.
It's been a wild ride at the Blue Moon over the last 35 years (October 2011 marked the 30th anniversary of the Moon). Changes of ownership mixed with a little juicy scandal brought scattered reports of inconsistencies in quality, presentation and service. But just about every person who criticized this place in the past has made a point of telling me how much they've enjoyed their recent experiences there. Perhaps, in Ruth Reichl's words, the Blue Moon is again “holding up their end of the bargain.”
Blue Moon is housed in a restored Victorian beach house where traffic jams between customers and waitstaff add to the noisy, party atmosphere and the sense of hob-nobbing with the “in crowd” (whoever that is). On two of our recent visits, the kitchen started things off with complimentary plates of bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with gorgonzola. The sizzling crisp of the apple-smoked bacon swaddling the earthy dates brought to mind the elusive umami, or what the Japanese call the “Fifth Taste.” The dates take on different forms depending on the chef's mood, but the basic concept remains the same. In short, I could have made a meal out of them.
UPDATE! We kicked off the season on Tasting Tuesday with our old friends from Tideline Gallery on Rehoboth Avenue. In fact, Bill and Babs Hammond were the first to introduce us to the Tuesday phenomenon many Moons ago (sorry, couldn't resist).
Not only do Tuesdays feature pairings with various wines, but it's also a chance for Chef Lion Gardner to have a little fun with the menu. However, on this particular Tasting Tuesday, compliments on that particularly tempting menu belong to Matt Kern, at the time one of the cooks there at the Blue Moon. It's tribute to Chef Lion's confidence in his staff that he puts his faith in these guys, and it's a tribute to Matt that he hit the ground running and certainly did not disappoint.
The festivities began with a plate of Those Wonderful Dates. This time they rested comfortably on little crackers.
As our 2009 Hugel “Gentil” Alsace White Blend was being poured, we ordered the Oyster Po'Boy starter. Two eggy, toasted rolls embraced huge crunchy oysters topped with a bracing kimchee, cilantro and brown butter aioli. Two more could have been dinner.
The Scallop & Lobster Ceviche was beautifully and horizontally presented. “Out of the box” tidbits included black grapes, almond and a delicious lime gelee. The egg portion of the Chicken on Chicken starter is a deep-fried soft-boiled egg (yup, you read it right) was perfectly cooked with a still runny yolk and a delicate, crispy crust. It topped a confitted leg and crackly bacon. And these were just the appetizers….
Fresh glasses and a 2010 Guy Saget La Petit Perriere Sauvignon Blanc arrived along with a bowl of Roasted Cauliflower Soup topped with trumpet mushrooms and crispy chunks of pancetta. Though it was certainly tasty, we have had more flavorful soups at Blue Moon (see the mushroom soup description below). They can't all be home runs, y'know.
Blood Orange & Roasted Beet salads provided a leafy amuse between the substantial appetizers and the mains. The mains were paired with Coteaux de Languedoc La Clape's 2009 velvety blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. A healthy chunk of Pan Roasted Rockfish rested atop beet spatzle (!), brussels sprout leaves and chunks of merguez sausage (a spicy north-African blend of either mutton or beef). It all floated in a creamy lake of cauliflower puree which tasted pretty much like the soup, but sans the ‘shrooms ‘n' pancetta. Here, the mild taste played well with the moist, seared fish.
I couldn't resist the Foie Gras Breakfast Sandwich. What a crazy dish! A moist and mapley griddle cake is topped with thin-as-air slices of Canadian bacon, a perfectly fried egg, a medallion of foie gras and black truffle. It is positively one of the richest things I have eaten in a long time. After all, foie gras translates to “fatty liver,” and what seemed at first to be a moderate portion was superbly filling. I could barely put away my Moon Pie (…oops — can't call it that anymore! And they have the lawyer's letters to prove it).
Hamachi crudo. It was amazing.1/17 Yuzu pistachio custard. Gadzooks!2/17 Tuna tartare en timbale3/17 Meet me at the Moon4/17 Sunday Brunch5/17 Oyster sliders appetizer6/17 Oh my goodness … love those buns!7/17 Lion's famous creme brulee8/17 Fried Green Tomatoes with caramelized onions and a balsamic drizz9/17 Pecan caramel pie with Crack ice cream10/17 The crispy egg with buttery grits11/17 Asparagus soup with creme fraiche, crab & saffron emulsion12/17 Duck Bolognese over gnocchi with favas and a cute duck egg13/17 Berkshire pork belly with coconut rice, red curry and pickled snow peas14/17 Pork Shank with polents, ‘shrooms, peal onions and asparagus15/17 15 oz ribeye w/fingerling/veggie hash and bordelaise.16/17 Sausage & clams with serrano chili and squid ink tagliatelle17/17
Expertly seared Scallops were joined by sweet potato gnocchi, arugula and a puree of mushrooms topped with a pomegranate reduction. Just look at the picture.
The Corned Berkshire Pork Chop rested moistly on sprout kraut (gotta love this guy), a warm salad reminiscent of caraway, and smoked tomato gribiche (a mayo-style sauce made with hard-boiled egg yolks, mustard, oil, assorted spices and whatever else suits the chef's fancy).
Dessert was paired with a cool Gerard Bertrand Muscat. Of course, we had the obligatory Moon Pie (see above legal disclaimer). We were also pleased to have the opportunity to sample the other dessert offerings. Check 'em out: Chocolate-Black Raspberry Gateau, the Lemon Poppy Cloud Cake with cranberry and honey rosemary ice cream, and the S'More Creme Brulee with little Graham tuiles poking out of marshmallow custard.
The Moon is back, with a vengeance! We now return you to our regularly scheduled program:
The appetizers set the bar for things to come. The Seared Diver Scallops are cuddled up on a bed of creamy risotto that hints at a salty prosciutto edge. The lucky little mollusks are then showered with a bit of black truffle and parmesan. The Roasted Chincoteague Oysters greet you with the snap of crisp bacon. But wait…after a couple of bites, you detect a hint of licorice: The aroma of anise released from warm fennel! Of course, I had the Fried Green Tomatoes (twice). These crunchy little discs (green Roma tomatoes, I suspect) are presented timbale-style, stacked with a pesto/onion compote. This is not your country diner presentation, dear reader! And, at the risk of annoying the Chronic Complainers, it was delightful.
The star of the soup/salad show is the Wild Mushroom Soup. Notes of sherry give way to the buttery texture of pignoli (pine) nuts, and the restrained spicing allows the woody mushrooms to shine through. Co-starring on that bill is the Organic Mixed Greens. The surprise here is the burrito-like presentation: The salad is wrapped in creamy, thin-as-air strips of Serrano. The chewiness of this dry-cured Spanish ham, sharing your fork with the olives, red onion and Valdeon (a creamy cow and goat's milk blue cheese) sets off a textural party-in-your-mouth. On an earlier visit I also had the Reb Bibb Lettuce Salad with radish, cucumbers and parsnips topped with a pleasantly acidic banyuls vinaigrette (banyuls is a wine vinegar from grapes grown in the Banyuls-sur-Mer region of France). The violin-like tops of curly fiddlehead ferns provided the perfect denouement.
On my most recent visit I went (what I thought was) downscale and ordered the Fettuccini Bolognese. I love Bolognese sauce and have ordered it all over the country. What arrived as a topping for the al dente spinach fettuccine was a deliciously spiced cross between the richest “sloppy joe” filling and the lightest marinara you've ever had. Redolent with red and green peppers, tomato, and what I suspect was a softly spiced combination of lean beef, pork and veal (or at least two–I also tasted fried pancetta, or at least I think I did…), it satisfied both my inner fine diner and carnivore. On another visit I had the Slow Braised Veal Cheek, surrounded by mushrooms and au jus. Ladled over the tender meat was a puree of celeriac (a low-starch, celery-like root vegetable). Oh, and the veal was crowned with a surprise not on the menu: a tiny, sunny-side-up quail egg!
Dining companions ordered the Roasted Half Spring Chicken (simple wild rice and roasted veggies encouraged the crispy-skinned bird to dominate), the Duck Leg Confit (plopped squarely in the middle of the best tasting risotto I've ever had–raisins and goat cheese! Who wooda thought?), and Duck Three Ways with a perigourdine sauce (reduced stock (often veal) with truffles). The breast was seared and crispy, while the leg and thigh were served en confit.
Another member of our party had the Seared Scottish Salmon, ordered (and served) medium with lentils, leeks and a vinaigrette laced with coriander. At the risk of even more hyperbole, she went ballistic. Others had the Slow Roasted Pork Roulade (pork loin wrapped around a textural roller-coaster of shiitake mushrooms and chestnuts), the Braised Beef Short Ribs (meltin' off-the-bone into a bed of chipotle/cheddar polenta), and the seared Rack of Lamb surrounded with a simple array of roasted vegetables.
Co-owners Meghan Gardner, Chef Lion Gardner, and former loyal customers-turned-business partners Tim Ragan and Randy Haney want the Blue Moon to continue to be what it has always been. Do you agree? Give them a try, and then post your comments below.
Note that the menu changes regularly and many of these goodies reviewed and pictured here might not be available. My experience so far has shown that this is not a problem, and there's always something good waiting for you there.
The Blue Moon is located at 35 Baltimore Avenue. Always call for reservations (302) 227-6515. After dinner, you can stroll into the famous Blue Moon bar. Depending on your personal proclivities, you could make lots of new friends. And there is a Sunday Brunch from 10:30 'til 2. Click here to see Blue Moon's sample dinner menu. (D, Bar). Price range: Expensive +.