Three-time James Beard nominee keeps the energy flowing in Rehoboth
On Mothers’ Day 2012, a(MUSE.) restaurant on Baltimore Avenue opened as one of the most unusual eateries in Rehoboth Beach - and probably for many miles around. Three-time James Beard Award nominee Hari Cameron’s modernist cooking style took a while to gain a strong following. But after a short time it did, and reservations became a must for his small-plate extravaganzas that were as beautiful to look at as they were to eat. But with the success of Hari and his brother Orion’s Grandpa MAC casual mac ‘n’ cheese concept, it was time for change at a(MUSE.). And just last week that change took place. Seemed only right, just a few days before Mothers’ Day 2019.
The new menu retains some of the most popular dishes that drew people to 44 Baltimore Ave., but there are now more small plates, a greater variety of “pubby” dishes and an even friendlier price point. Of course the new menu still reflects Hari’s humor. For example, there are wings on the menu. But they are cooked in cherry cola. (Oh, they are absolutely wonderful and not as sweet as they sound.) Yes, you can get a plate of rice, but it will be spiked with crab, egg, onion, ginger, garlic and cilantro. And vegetarians will love the “Beyond Meat” plant-based burger decorated with jalapenos and a pickle.
The new menu is divided into nine sections. “Snacks” contains some of Cameron’s signature plates such as the Potted Chicken, the Jar of Pickles (a longtime Rehoboth Foodie pick hit), and the marinated olives. But some of the new items include Mixed Nuts (sweet, salty, crunchy, delectable); the Pigs in a Blanket (you need to see – and taste – these to believe them) and the bacon-topped Pimento Cheese Toast (order it to share!). Don’t forget: Like many Cape Region restaurants, the menu at a(MUSE.) varies depending on the season, or what happened to come in the door that morning, or with Hari’s mood. Some things will survive to be served another day; others go by the wayside. You have been warned!
During last week’s friends/family/media menu rollout, we enjoyed the roasted spring chicken (the baked chickpeas/herb sauce is the topper). Some of the newest items are in the “Hand-Held” department. Who wooda thought you could order a hamburger (actually a brisket burger), or a hot dog (Wagyu beef, topped with DFH beer mustard – this ain’t yo’momma’s dog!), or an open-faced fried mortadella sammie at a Cameron establishment!? Things must change, and I will admit that these are changes for the better.
Of course, it would not be a(MUSE.) without Hari’s Bespoke Chef Tasting. (“Bespoke” means customized-to-order, and that’s just what it is.) You select five courses at a per-person prix fixe; add wines for an additional charge.
Another welcome change is the removal of that evil wall that concealed the bar from passersby. Potential guests can now see that the restaurant does indeed have a lively bar, still overseen by none other than formerly leopard-spotted Rehoboth mixologist himself, David Engel. I still remember him waiting on us waaayyy too many years ago at Washington, D.C.’s Old Ebbitt Grill at 15th and New York Avenue.
Hari’s a native Delawarean. While most kids were eating meatloaf and spaghetti, Cameron and his brothers Josh and Orion (both work full time in the food industry) tucked into sushi, Thai and curries. Hari’s love of music, writing and photography prompted him to enroll in communications at Delaware Technical Community College. It’s amazing how many chefs, restaurant owners, food writers and critics credit an interest in music and the creative arts with their attraction to cooking. Perhaps the muse is equally at work in all those vocations.
Hari got his “big break” at The Buttery in Lewes when one of the chefs was taken ill and the young server was recruited to man the salad station. He laughs as he tells me how much time he spent fussing over each plate to make it deliciously symmetrical. He quickly learned about that thin line between making it pretty and getting it out before the customer starved to death.
He eventually moved to downtown Rehoboth, prepping salads at the old Ram’s Head restaurant, soon becoming what he calls “sous chef in-training” at Cloud 9. After working closely with then chef/owner Kevin Reading at Espuma, he joined Kevin at Nage. Formal training was the next logical step, so he enrolled in the culinary program at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia. He graduated at the top of his class and returned to help put Nage (now Fork + Flask) on the culinary map.
As a hospitality professional, Cameron strives to adapt dishes to his diners’ tastes. And this new incarnation of a(MUSE.) is the next step in that ongoing process. Even for a visionary, denying a diner what he or she wants is clearly not Cameron’s style. “It puts bad energy out in the world, and bad news travels faster than good news,” he smiles.
Cameron works long hours, but that doesn’t stop him from being creative. “I’m trying to perfect this restaurant and make it great,” he tells me. “But sometimes,” he concludes, “it’s all about the process and not the end result.”