Treat your favorite foodie to a hidden gem
Three or four years ago I wrote about a hidden gem slightly west of the beach in Seaford. Since then, and after 31 years of turning out consistently excellent country French cuisine, Bon Appétit restaurant has undergone a major remodel. And I’m pleased to say that after all that sawing, drilling and dust, the result is still classically understated - and the wonderfully whimsical wall hangings are still there.
This column is not a restaurant review. Never has been. I leave the reviews (good, bad or indifferent) to RehobothFoodie.com, Gloria Merriman’s About My Beaches blog, or whatever else lurks on the all-inclusive (and often intrusive) internet. My intent here on this page is to tell you about the people who take the financial and emotional risk of opening a restaurant in this resort area. My hope is to humanize what might otherwise be just a door with a sign above it. And if I occasionally get carried away and urge you to try a bite of this or a sip of that, then so be it. Consider it a value-added.
My scribblings on this page over the years (11 as of this January, in fact) have attracted a small army of locals who have made it their business to expand my dining horizons. One soldier in that army is none other than Jack Riddle, esteemed Rotarian and president of our very own Community Bank. Jack’s job also requires that he have his finger on the pulse of this business of eating - with an accent on the “business” part. So I’ve learned to listen to this guy. Truth be told, it was Jack who first introduced me to the delights of Bon Appétit restaurant.
I have to admit to some trepidation when he suggested it. Nothing against the quaint burg of Seaford, of course, but it’s simply not the first place where one would expect to find such a well-run, fine-dining French eatery. And on our first visit - and every visit since then - everything has been perfectly executed.
Owners Karen Pedemonte and her husband Chino met on the job at a restaurant in New York. He started as a dishwasher while Karen earned her certificate from the Culinary Institute of America. The couple purchased Bon Appétit in 1991, and though the theme is decidedly French, Chef Chino blends German, Incan, Chinese, Japanese and Swiss influences into his cuisine. He works only with the assistance of his sous chef, and if he isn’t able to work, the restaurant closes down. Now there’s consistency for you.
Karen’s bailiwick is front of house, and she’s all about the details. From the fresh flowers to the crisp napkins to keeping water glasses and bread baskets filled, she works seamlessly alongside her seasoned waitstaff in her newly refurbished dining room. It’s crisp, bright and welcoming as the historic French prints and pin-ups gently punctuate the rooms.
I knew things were going to be interesting when our professional, but very clever server Maggie delivered carved butter flowers to the table. And it just got better from there. Our go-to appetizers (reasonably priced at only $8) include the longtime favorite artichoke crostini. Artichoke hearts are perched on toasted French bread and enrobed in warm Parmesan cheese sauce. There are no words (for me that’s a welcome rarity). Poached mussels in white wine with shallots, garlic and cream always follow. Bracingly spicy with a gentle creaminess. And there are eight more from which to choose.
The Bratwurst, Knockwurst and Smoked Pork entrée reminded us that it’s not 100 percent francophilic there at 312 High St. in Seaford, but the Gallic accent still dominates with the French Onion and the Cream of Mushroom soups - both made entirely in-house.
Our favorite entrées include the perfectly grilled-to-temperature Black Angus New York strip slathered with roasted garlic butter, and the Roast Half of Duck with Black Cherry Sauce. The entrée selection is surprisingly extensive for such a small place; there are usually at least 10 choices with an even distribution among seafood, steaks and distinctly European specialties. At the risk of gushing (or has that ship sailed?), everything I’ve had so far at Bon Appétit easily stands nose-to-nose with any big-city eatery.
After you devour the apps, salads, soups and entrées, the menu tempts with desserts. They rotate seasonally, and our favorites on the current list include the Poached Pears in Red Wine, the Cranberry Apple Cobbler (topped with ice cream, of course) and the bread pudding.
The Pedemontes have been operating Bon Appétit for over 30 years, so they must be doing something right. It’s no mystery what that something is: tireless dedication, skill, patience and an uncanny focus on customer service. It goes without saying that reservations are a must. (Of course I had to say it anyway.)
Their current hours are 5 to 9 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. They are closed on Christmas Eve and Day, along with New Year’s Day. Check out their latest carte (it varies every few weeks) at BonAppetitSeaford.net, then call 302-629-3700. It’s well worth the drive.