Bites & Sips - Fine dining survival depends on adaptation
Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 9:54 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 9:54 a.m.
Restaurant watchers and food critics started discussing the end of fine dining years ago, spurred by spending habits in the wake of the recession, the death of renowned magazine Gourmet and the trend of well-known chefs turning their attention to more casual concepts, like gastropubs.
Wilmington felt the blow this year. Although there are still standouts in the city, such as Port Land Grille in Lumina Station, we lost another last month – Marc's on Market.
It's been especially noticeable in downtown Wilmington, with Deluxe at 114 Market St. closed to guests this month. Owner Scott Haulman said he's determined to reopen in another location by April.
"I'm looking at a few places downtown," he said. "But I think I'd like to be someplace closer to the beach."
He would like to maintain Deluxe's progressive identity, but the specifics would depend on the space. Haulman said he never marketed Deluxe as a fine dining restaurant. "We didn't want to be just that special occasion restaurant," he said. Instead, he wanted to offer the full, big-night-out, while also being a place where more casual diners could get a great glass of wine and a well-executed dish. There are still a few other downtown restaurants, like Caprice Bistro, Manna and Aubriana's, and others that also walk that line.
"You have to adapt," said Thierry Moity, co-owner of Caprice Bistro (10 Market St.) and a chef for 45 years. Offering a fine dining experience is often about creating the best meal for the lowest price.
"You price it too low, though, and you can't pay your bills," he said.
It's about being creative with ingredients and your business model. He works with underrated cuts of meat, uses in-season produce and makes his own duck-liver mousse.
The dish is one of those available for his prix fixe dinner in honor of the annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau this Thursday.
Moity said the fine dining experience can be difficult on the chef, who has to be there to maintain the culinary integrity. "Overall, the trick is to be efficient," he said.
Speaking of Aubriana's, chef Alex Succop unveiled the fall/winter menu for the restaurant at 115 S. Front St. A dish of note – marsala-flamed-beef and onion soup, with crostini and melted house-made mozzarella.
Fans of fine dining and innovative food have something to look forward to, though. Local chefs are always working on innovative events and pop-up restaurant nights. One of the latest is a collaboration between Rx chef James Doss and longtime friend Scott Grimm. Grimm, head chef at Dockside Restaurant & Bar near Wrightsville Beach, has been working on new menu items. He's also planning a series of beer dinners for early next year.
The two are working together on an eight-course tasting dinner paired with wine for Nov. 19. Some of the details are still being determined, but there are 40 tickets available. A portion of the proceeds will aid victims of Hurricane Sandy. The event is planned as a kickoff for next year's Wilmington Wine & Food Festival.
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