Nage Rehoboth rolls out the red carpet
Last week’s first Winter Food & Wine Festival at Nage turned out to be a huge success. It was certainly the place to see and be seen, to eat, eat some more, drink, and … well, you get the idea.
In the main dining room, Southern Wine & Spirits’ Michelle Souza poured with wild abandon (it’s what she does). Faithful visitors to this page might remember Michelle from my groundbreaking exposé of the Women & Wine Club. (OK, so maybe “groundbreaking” is a little over the top….)
This time our wine maven-about-town was pouring a Chardonnay and a smooth Pinot Noir, both from the Santa Maria Valley north of L.A.
Band leader Dave Matthews adds his name to an increasing list of musicians-turned-wine-sellers (including Madonna, AC/DC, the Rolling Stones, KISS and Barbra Streisand). Michelle emptied bottle after bottle of Dreaming Tree Cabernet and Crush (a Zin/Merlot blend) inspired by Matthews and Steve Reeder of SIMI winery in Sonoma. Though Matthews was not in attendance, another rocker-turned-oenophile was. (More on that later.)
To Michelle’s right, former Stingray chef Drew Lopuski, now on the line at Nage, was working his risotto magic. (Drew’s mom, Linda Butler, owned 1776 Steakhouse with her husband, Ken, from ’94 to ‘07.) Skillet after creamy skillet quickly disappeared - I was lucky to get some of Drew’s coconut risotto. Crispy bits of coconut provided happy little exclamation points amongst the velvety Arborio rice.
Everybody at Nage is all atwitter about the new Nage Market, soon to open next door (where Niko’s used to be). So atwitter, in fact, that they set up a big section to feature some of the goodies-to-be. Marketing diva (and all-around cutie) Chrissy Sarro was supervising the booth, singing the praises of their quinoa, chickpea and arugula salad; Shepherd salad (tomato, peppers, cukes and onions with a Turkish accent), and a colorful fusion of Brussels sprouts and bacon. I’m not a fan of the tiny cabbages, but add bacon, and I’ll eat ‘em slathered on a flip-flop.
More market goodies included a carnival of crackers, imported cheeses, chips and an in-house cured corned beef brisket enfolded in homemade rye and finished with Gruyere and braised cabbage. Speaking of bread, Nage is fortunate to have pastry chef and bread maniac Keith Irwin playing for the team. Keith and his infectious smile were both holding court behind a multilevel dessert station, reigning over trays full of chocolate mousse (with candied kumquats, yet), red velvet cheesecake, toasted rosewater marshmallows, chili pepper-infused Mexican sipping chocolate, and little spoons full of Meyer lemon curd with toasted crumb streusel.
This is not Irwin’s first rodeo. A graduate of Culinary Institute of America, he acquired much of his experience cooking at 12,000 feet for Alpenglow Stube restaurant at Colorado’s Keystone Resort. Keith came down from the mountain in 2000, eventually joining the team at Nage two years ago. It’s official: I’m dubbing this guy the “Bread Whisperer.” He is obsessive about the nuances of artisanal breads, and has actually been known to talk to yeast. Every day, he checks the humidity, the barometric pressure and the temperature because the little yeasties (when they aren’t chatting with him) react to these atmospheric whims. The B.W.’s luscious loaves will be a prominent feature at Nage’s new market.
Owner Josh Grapski and manager Mark Harrison are planning both indoor and outdoor seating for light lunches, salads and sandwiches. Prepared foods will also be available in picnic baskets for beach nibbles. Chef Irwin is lobbying hard for special bread ovens to be installed in the new space. Looks like he’s ready to give the new Panera Bread a run for its money. Finally! Decent bread in Rehoboth Beach. It’s about time.
The place was crawling with Rehoboth glitterati. Back Porch Café co-owner Keith Fitzgerald and bar manager-in-residence Bee Neild grazed their way through the traveling hors d' oeuvres, picking and choosing from mini ham biscuits with pineapple jam, shrimp chorizo skewers, lamb meatballs, twice-baked fingerlings, tuna tartare (in tiny ice-cream cones - go figure), pork loin sliders with lingonberry jam, smoked deviled eggs and lots more. All those tasty little plates had chef du cuisine Hari Cameron written all over them.
Psychiatrist Dr. Duane Shubert carefully memorized sous chef Ted Deptula’s cooking demo of apple and red cabbage pork roulade (sounds like good therapy to me). TV producer Mick Kaczorowski (of Animal Planet’s "Meerkat Manor" fame) selflessly auditioned any wines served up by Nage bartender Mac Payne. Josh and Mark glad-handed and smiled their way through the evening, making everybody feel at home.
Newspaper editor-in-chief Trish Vernon arrived with a dashing silver-haired gentleman in tow, but was later spotted alone at the raw bar communing with the crab claws, wreck fish ceviche and calamari salad. The aforementioned gentleman, armed only with a camera and two glasses of wine, disappeared mysteriously into the crowd.
Catering director and coordinator Kathy MacDonald whipped up her soon-to-be-famous liqueur infusions; delectable elixirs that can be sipped on their own or added to coffee or Mexican chocolate. Get a load of these flavors: horseradish, mandarin orange, pink peppercorn, cranberry orange and apple spice with cinnamon, cardamom and clove.
Speaking of rock stars pushin’ the grape, former Bad Company bassist-turned-acoustic guitarist-turned-wine-maven Paul Cullen and his delightful wife Bonnie topped off a long line of glasses with his juicy Sonata wines. I felt it was my duty to sample the lush Rosso, the citrusy Sauvignon Blanc, and the pleasantly dry Rosé (my favorite, with a whisper of butter pecan). The grapes used to create the private Sonata label are cultivated in Eastern California’s Sierra foothills, and the popular performer suggests you “tune your palate” with these succulent blends.
While Paul Cullen poured wine, Texas-born Nathan Johnson actually played guitar. His most recent CD (the latest of four) is titled “Dames, Dreams and Other Dreary Things.” Nathan averages over 200 performances a year. He moved to Delaware in 2011 to expand his horizons, broaden his audience and deliver more than you expect - not at all unlike Chef Hari Cameron and the cuisine at Nage. Cooking and music are both savored by the senses, and both the chef and the guitarist like their art to reflect their personalities. In that crowded dining room, both artists mixed genres and expanded on obscure themes. Johnson’s guitar stylings and Hari’s small bites were equally well received.
If the turnout for this Winter Food & Wine Festival is any indication, it will be the first of many. With the new marketplace on the horizon, Grapski and Harrison have their hands full. It’s most certainly a lot of work, but their Rehoboth team is truly like a family. It was impressive to watch the entire crew function like clockwork, smiling their way from kitchen to bar, from cooking stations to demos to tray-toting servers. A good time was had by all.
Bob Yesbek is a notorious foodie and can be reached at Bob@RehobothFoodie.com.