From now until New Year’s Day, many revelers will throw calories to the wind, and there’s no better place to indulge than Bardea Steak, which recently launched a chef’s tasting menu that is perfect for holiday dining—and Valentine’s Day.
The downtown Wilmington restaurant, located next to the critically acclaimed Bardea Food & Drink, offers the multicourse menu for $150 per person. (Add $75 for wine pairings.)
On our visit, the succession of small plates combined the flavors of Bardea Steak and big sister Bardea Food & Drink, known for Italian-inspired cuisine.
The chef’s tasting is not Bardea Steak’s only menu change.
Owners Scott Stein and Antimo DiMeo, the executive chef, have also refined the offerings to reflect DiMeo’s Italian roots, such as meatballs with yellow tomato and black tahini, tomato pie with burrata and crab gnocchi.
But it’s far from an Italian restaurant. The “snack” section includes soup dumplings with lamb and shishito peppers with ostrich sausage.
Not to worry. Meat is still on the menu.
However, DiMeo refuses to fit any typical steakhouse mold. The James Beard-nominated chef said he wants to cook food his way, and Bardea Food & Drink customers will not doubt that the same mind is behind both menus.
While the tasting courses are small, you won’t leave hungry.
Bardea’s taste of the sea
A tasting menu is about the chef’s whims, a practice in Japan called omakase, which means “I leave it up to you.”
We had no idea what would come next, and, as it turned out, we had nine courses, some of which included multiple items.
First was the “taste of the sea,” which included an oyster on a half shell with lychee foam and hackleback caviar. It was an explosion of ocean flavors with a touch of aji Amarillo, a spicy yellow Peruvian condiment
The dish also included a mini taco and tostada, perched on a rock for a pretty presentation.
The little taco hugged pink shrimp with a dash of Calabrian chili aioli and passion fruit reduction, while the tostada was a platform for lobster knuckle and claw meat, green goddess dressing and scallop ponzu. Like the oyster, these bites bloomed with unctuousness.
All three were meticulously garnished, a feat that undoubtedly required tweezers.
DiMeo stayed with seafood for the following course: gnudi colored with squid ink and topped with a tuft of crabmeat. The dumpling sat in a vivid pool of crab amatriciana sauce.
Italian flavors came to the fore again with the tortellini au poivre, a beautifully folded, delicate pasta with tomato-leek gel.
Tweaking the traditional
DiMeo has a deft way of transforming the familiar into the inventive.
Take, for instance, the trio of “sandwiches,” which included deconstructed veal parmesan featuring grain-fed veal skirt with fresh, seasoned tomato juice in a shot glass.
A diminutive porchetta featured a tower of provolone, pickled broccoli raab and red chili aioli, while the third sandwich sported salami, provolone foam and pickled vegetables that reminded me of a muffuletta.
Light-as-air arepas came with a fork-tender pork collar. We tucked the meat into the cornmeal cake and topped it with pear barbecue, pear mostarda, cole slaw and gochujang cream.
The meat of the matter
After all, the restaurant is named Bardea Steak, so the tasting progressed toward such dishes as a blushing slice of venison with a potato-leek espuma and mushroom duxelles.
The venison was part of the “Hunting with Nonno” section—nonno means “grandfather”—which included a roulade with guinea hen, crispy chicken skin and prosciutto with mustard-saffron cream.
The poultry was the only miss for us due to the chewy texture. However, I would eat the venison as a full entrée in a heartbeat.
Next, two perfect squares of Washygu beef—a cross-breed of Japanese cows with Black Angus—crowned a mound of colorful red pepper risotto with onion sabayon.
By now, we were full to bursting, but out came perfectly rare Holstein picanha with smoked red cabbage and guava bearnaise sauce.
Dessert was an apple fritter with apples and gelato—the ideal sweet finish to end a sumptuous feast that took nearly three hours.
It was, in short, an experience.
Bardea Steak also features The Butcher’s Feast, a steak tasting for $180. I preferred our mix of proteins.
Although many dishes looked like appetizers, they were far from it.
From the ingredients to the preparation to the presentation, the tasting clearly required much time and effort in the kitchen.
It was time well spent.
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