Every year The Ladies and I go to Rehoboth Beach in Delaware for a long weekend. We’ve been doing this for about 16 years now, and it’s one of my favorite times of year. It’s our chance to get together and hang out for a few days, leaving husbands and kids and jobs and real life for a little while. We loll in the sand, walk on the beach, sometimes get in the ocean, read trashy magazines, and catch up on each others’ lives.
And we eat.
Over the years things have changed a bit, of course. Kim no longer burns herself crispy because she refused to put on sunscreen (“I’ll do it in a minute”). We now consider anything lower than SPF 15 to be ridiculously irresponsible. We haven’t had hi-jinks involving lost shoes or pool break-ins or shrubbery for a while now. We don’t drink quite as much wine or go for quite as many giant cocktails before dinner.
But in all the years of Ladies’ Beach Weekend, one thing has remained constant.
We eat, and we eat well.
Here’s how it goes:
We usually leave Friday morning around 10. We load up the car, make sure we have enough quarters for parking, and check on the EZ Pass for the bridge. Whoever’s driving goes, “So does anyone remember how to get there?” We chat talk about families and jobs and guys and crack each up other until we get to the Bay Bridge, when we all shut up and freak out a little bit inside.
We hit 404 and wonder whether Elmer’s is still open, and if there’s two and if it’s the one on 16 that closed or the one on 404. We comment on the houses as we mosey through the tiny towns that strictly enforce their speed limits.
We turn onto Rt. 1, roll past the outlets, check out what’s playing at the movie theatre (in case it rains), and wonder if they’ll let us check in early at the hotel. Windows come down as we turn onto Rehoboth Avenue, and we check out stores and restaurants that are new since last year. This is about the point when someone asks, “So where are we eating tonight?”
Because one of the great things about Rehoboth is the excellent dining that can be had there. Sure, there’s Grotto’s pizza (which even sounds disgusting—who named that company?) and Dotte’s saltwater taffy (never understood the appeal) and Jake’s Seafood (so lame it hurts my feelings)—places very much catering to families with kids who need something fast and easy. Totally understandable. But there is also some outstanding cuisine to be found, if you know where to look.
And where to look? Is in the Dining Guide.
Some enterprising person has put together a book of menus of many of the dining establishments in this little beach town, and that book gets put in many of the hotel rooms in town. Brilliant.
We get into our room, unpack, put on swim suits, and grab towels and sunscreen and water and books and Us Weekly—and the Guide. On the beach, Kim reads some of the menus out loud.
“Roasted quail with chorizo, wild rice and fresh herb stuffing, sautéed celeriac, malt whisky and maple syrup.”
“House-made gnocchi with shredded duck confit, pearl onions, grapes, chanterelles, walnuts and brown butter reduction.”
“Pan seared sea scallops with bacon risotto, oven-roasted tomatoes, sautéed chanterelle mushrooms, English peas, sherry-thyme pan reduction.”*
At some point, though, we have to make a decision, and we call for reservations. Here, now, I’d like to share with you the Ladies’ Beach Week Dinners, 2009:
Friday night -- Eden (http://www.edenrestaurant.com/)
The other three -- Lobster and crab tower, mango salsa, guacamole, roasted peppers, balsamic reduction (I am not even kidding you when I say that these girls talked about “The Tower” off and on all day)
Me -- Roast pork polpettes, braised black eyed peas, baby corn, black garlic, garlic greens. (These were little pork meatballs that I could have made a meal of by themselves. Very hearty, very homey, very Southern.)
Ali -- Grilled soft shell crabs, eggplant couscous, warm green tomato gazpacho, deviled aioli (This was kind of a self-dare, as she’d never had soft shell crabs before. Seemed to go well.)
Kim -- Pork tenderloin, creamy grits, slow roasted pork belly, braised local green beans/cherry salad (We told her she wasn’t allowed to order the scallops AGAIN.)
Michele -- Wood oven roasted USDA prime ribeye, bliss potatoes, arugula, mushrooms, black garlic vinaigrette, truffle butter (Hey, sometimes a lady just needs a steak.)
Me -- Pan seared local rockfish, lobster pomme puree, roasted baby corn, watermelon radish, lobster vin blanc (This blew my freakin’ mind. The fish was so creamy, the lobster added incredible richness, and the radish kept everything from getting too out of control. Incredible.)
Saturday night – Espuma (http://www.espumarestaurant.com/)
Harissa martini (red, spicy, Mediterranean, strong)
Appetizers: (I think these are right. Girls, correct me if I’m wrong.)
Kim -- Roasted local organic beet salad, grilled bleu cheese sandwich, wild mushroom vinaigrette
Ali -- Tartare of sushi grade tuna, cucumber "caviar", avocado mousse, tarragon, watermelon consommé
Michele -- Laura Chennel goat cheese and carmelized onion tart, roasted red peppers, belgian endive, fig puree, balsamic "foam"
Me – “Bacon and Egg (and Cheese) Salad” -- bibb lettuce, bacon lardons, black truffle-parmesan vinaigrette (This was kick-ass. I don’t know how he did it, but the chef managed to somehow bread a soft-cooked egg, so that when I cut into it, the outside was slightly crispy and the inside was still warm and runny. Killer. Magic.)
Ali -- Neo-classic Espuma paella -- shrimp, tender chicken, chorizo, saffron, mussels
Kim and Michele – fish special, which was great, but I can’t tell you what it was. Sorry. Deal.
Me -- Duet of Hudson Valley duck, cauliflower mousse, cippolinni agrodolce, radicchio, cherry glaze (I think I won on this one, frankly.)
Sunday night – Back home
Ice cubes and air.
People go to the beach for different reasons. For us, Ladies’ Beach Week is a constant in an enduring friendship of four very different women leading four very different lives. And the food we have every year helps cement the memories we make every year. And that's pretty delicious.
*All from the Blue Moon menu -- http://www.bluemoonrehoboth.com/