The menu at a(muse.) in Rehoboth Beach, DE, is a simple affair with a dozen or so small plates and a handful of entrees and desserts. But don’t be misled. There’s nothing low-key about any of these offerings—from the intriguing flavors and ingredients to the artistic presentations. Dishes like grilled squid nestle with lentils, olives, and yogurt amid a smear of black squid ink streaking like a comet across a serving bowl. Potted chicken packs a creamy mix of shredded chicken, chicken-liver foie-gras mousse, whiskey, and a port reduction into a glass jar to be slathered on toasts.
Even slivers of fluke, a type of flounder, get fancy with radishes, grapefruit, fennel, and a lovely riff of the bittersweet apértif Aperol.
Yes, this is the type of cuisine you’ll find at the restaurant sitting along lively Baltimore Avenue in the beach town. You’ll have to head elsewhere if you’re looking for boardwalk munchies like pizza, funnel cake, and fries.
The mastermind behind A(muse.)—a modest, interestingly decorated space—is chef/owner Hari Cameron, a Delaware native who was recently catapulted into the national spotlight by being named a James Beard Foundation semifinalist in the “Rising Star Chef of the Year” category.
Cameron espouses a cooking philosophy tying modernist techniques with Mid-Atlantic sourcing. His eight years as executive chef at nearby, award-winning Nage served him well. A(muse.), which opened last year, allows him to capitalize on his creativity.
He’s crafted a menu that encourages diners to nosh on an assortment of dishes. Take note: The servings, while bursting with flavor, are as spare as a Lean Cuisine lunch. The fluke, for instance, allowed for a couple of bites at most as a first course. Cameron also offers six-course and 11-course tasting menus.
We took the a-la-carte route, savoring many of the chef’s creations. The house-made focaccia bread got us off to a good start as we settled in and began to take in our surroundings.
It’s homey and chic at the same time. The cork tables and wood-laminate flooring speak to a bistro sensibility, but then you notice the shelves of potted plants, the papier-mâché rockfish on the wall, and, look carefully, wallpaper made of pages from the Joy of Cooking.
You’ll also find a copy of the cookbook in one of the unisex bathrooms, which are worth a visit. Just about every diner who goes into the restrooms returns and insists that others make a trip, too. The hand-poured concrete sinks are the reason. One is shaped like a horseshoe crab; the other like a nautilus shell with the water swirling around the ridges. They’re impressive.
It’s that attention to detail and whimsy that makes this restaurant fun. When you find out that Cameron was instrumental in the restaurant’s design, you begin to get a picture of a chef brimming with ideas to please guests in the front and back of the house.
Cameron’s composed plates are also picturesque wonders. They adapt to the season’s bounty, so they change often. You might find delicate poached lobster chunks sharing the plate with colorful carrots and Bibb lettuce, or potato cream, a stellar soup dotted with earthy hen of-the-wood mushrooms.
On one visit, the fresh porcini pasta was too al dente, but the other flavors—duck egg, sage butter, and Parmesan—carried the dish. The delicious pork belly, made from Berkshire pork, was the most generous serving.
The “seconds” delivered, too. The tuna was cooked terrifically, perfectly pink in the middle. The sea scallops were fat, seared orbs with bits of cauliflower. And the strips of organic chicken breast with black-eyed peas were moist and juicy.
Not everything worked, though. We’re puzzled why a broth was poured over an otherwise fine flat-iron steak, drowning the rich meatiness of the defenseless beef. The deconstructed desserts were confusing, too.
The “beach bonfire” was a clever conceit, playing off s’mores, the popular campfire treat. The chef breaks down the parts—marshmallow, hazelnut, chocolate ice cream, and graham-cracker “sand”—arranging them prettily on a plate. Unfortunately, a gritty, dry taste dominated.
The oak caramel “crème brûlée” was a beige slab adorned with a toothpaste-like squiggle of orange cream, shattered honey, and olive-oil gummy bears. The “60-second cake” looked like it had been thrown together in that time, but it was a sweet finish with pineapple bits, coconut, cherries, and pecans.
Those deviations didn’t detract from an overall impressive meal. The chef’s mission is so sincere—to use the highest quality products in an inspiring way. We embrace his message and his wonderful food.