Monday, June 13, 2011

Ebbitt Room, Cape May

Good heavens, the Virginia Hotel is an awesome sight in the twilight. Just in the middle of Jackson Street, the heart of the preserved neighborhood, it's the best hotel in Cape May. It's only fair that it should have what's generally regarded as the best restaurant, and it's only fitting that we should go there.

[If you're worried, we went to the Lobster House the night before.]

The sitting room to the left of the entrance is lovely (as is the porch - there can't be many nicer places to sit on a couch and have a drink in Cape May).

While the dining room is a nice mix of bold-yet-deep color, antique nicknacks, and dining heart surgeons.

The Ebbitt Room has a reputation for innovation and excellence. We were excited even more by the history of head chef Lucas Manteca - he's worked at Martin Berasategui, The Fat Duck, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns. The dishes described in articles from last year sound rustic and approachable enough for South Jersey, but interesting enough for...well, me. [snob]

Somewhere between last year and this year, they rewrote the menu, performing a strategic process I like to refer to as 'screwing the pooch'. We walked by the morning before our dinner and went right home to ask the Carsons [who got married at the Chalfonte and dine at the Ebbitt every year] what the hell happened to the interesting food. The menu ranged from seafood pasta to roast chicken to pork chop to steak and lobster. I assumed there must be a whole menu of specials that would illuminate the heavens and give diners with a pulse something to be interested in. There turned out to be two specials, and one of them was another species of steak.

Seriously, who decided to ruin the menu? I don't need an ipod with my seafood, but there's something weird at work.

Out of protest, we didn't order any of the $35 mains, sticking instead with two starters, two salads and two instantiations of the other special, an excellent zucchini-crab soup. To counter all this flaming grumpiness, let me tell you that everything was cooked pretty well to very well, and the service was as outstanding as it's purported to be.

This meat plate was quite good. Someone was a bit disturbed by the lardo, so I got to eat both pieces, but all of the cured meat and the olives were excellent. Those crackers were interesting too - I think you could call them home-made Wheat Thins.

This foie gras mousse and strawberry parfait was not so good. If I had a vision of the future, I would say that the sweetness of the dish reminded me of the foie-based dessert we ate in Soho three nights later. But I didn't have the sight, so all I could think was that this was a near-liquid foie concoction with a lot of overly-sweet strawberry preserves. I wanted to like it but didn't. Couldn't. Wouldn't?

Crab and avocado salad. Y'know, I don't think I had even a bite of this. I bet it was decent because we had crab in a later dish and it was exceptional, but it was basically a crab Caesar salad. Ooh, I tell a lie - I know I tried it, because that's how I know it was a Caesar dressing. Someone liked it a lot.

I had the beet salad, baby beets with greens and an herby creme fraiche underneath. I loved it, because I love beets. They were bursting with the flavor of...beets.

Incidentally, I haven't apologized for the poor photography. Not sure what was up with that; it was still light outside and didn't seem that dark inside, but all the pictures suck.

Thankfully, the best thing about this dinner, a thing that didn't suck at all, was the summer squash soup with tomato and crab. The soup was warm and mysteriously-spiced, the crab was intensely sweet and wonderful...and the tomatoes were raw and still cold, which was certainly on purpose but I thought a little distracting. In this dish, there was the promise of something better from the chef peeking out, like crab toes. I really hope they go back to being an interesting restaurant next year.

Although I may just have to stick with fried chicken at the Chalfonte.

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