RESTAURANT slogans are curious things. Rehoboth's Eden describes its menu as "bold American food," and it's certainly high-impact: antelope, ostrich, wild boar, walnut-mustard lobster salad, day boat scallops with "sultry" coconut cream sauce. But in the end, it's not so brazen as one might expect, and sometimes, not even so brash as one might like.
It's entirely well behaved down to the wine and cheese, and a tad romantic as well. But it's no bodice ripper.
Eden (which last year moved from its old Rehoboth Avenue garden spot -- hence the name) is a stone looker of a place, Nantucket blue and aluminum cold, with a sleek, tech-savvy bar, gauze-curtained booths and O'Keeffe-ish floral posters. It has a pretty little living room of a lounge (it may eventually have its own fireplace, but for the moment it makes do with an unused brick oven), an unobtrusive three-sided mezzanine, sidewalk tables and even an upstairs balcony with outdoor seating. And in a town with a lot of good wine lists, Eden puts up one of the best, and not only because of its generous offerings (over 40) by the glass. You can easily make a flight night of it with appetizers and maybe a pizza, especially as Eden offers a nice midsize cheese plate up front.
Eden may not be a garden anymore, but it does have a sort of Noah's Ark division of ingredients, about as much seafood as meat. This has something to do with the resume of executive chef Chris Bunting, who is a native of Chincoteague and has cooked at a number of area seafood shops but who was also the founding chef at Bethany's Sedona back when it was firmly into Mark Miller/New Southwestern game-and-chili cuisine. (His sampler platter for a spring fundraiser was like the amplifier in "Spinal Tap," richness ramped to 11: smoked ahi tuna, honey-habanero shrimp, cumin-chipotle-Kobe-prosciutto sausage and gorgonzola.) He handles wild boar spare ribs with aplomb, glazing the long pig-sickles with a hoisin barbecue sauce that's neither sickly-spicy nor sticky. (The honey-jalapeno corn bread, on the other hand, is all honey and no heat, and ruinously soft to boot; it's clearly never seen the business side of a cast-iron skillet.) Grilled boar sausage and white beans is a mini-classic and a fair introduction into the kitchen's smart sense that gaminess doesn't have to mean greasiness.
But greaselessness is not automatically next to godliness, so to speak. Antelope is almost the anti-game, a meat so mild it almost begs for marinating; served as a single rib, it was bullied into blandness by the saltiness of its accompanying venison sausage and garlic demi-glace (and had the faint mushy texture of meat tenderizer). The fig jam and roasted corn salsa were fine, however, and a dash of fresh baby squashes and grape tomatoes -- all from Bob Russell's Ellendale, Del., farm, the real paradise of the region -- both brightened the plate and refreshed the palate. (The kitchen is fond of crowning presentations with bouquets of mild multi-colored peppers, like jester's caps; it's a furbelow that grows on you.)
Kobe beef is notoriously rich -- they are the sumo wrestlers of the bovine world, overfed and massaged into cholesterol heaven -- and the grilled tenderloin, sided by pastry-wrapped "shiitake sticks," would soothe any filet lover's savage appetite. (The pastry was slightly marred by the grittiness of undercooked flour.) Kobe porterhouse, however, was a case of gilding the lily, since rib-eye is already one of the fattiest cuts of the beef (and it arrived untrimmed in a clerical collar of suet); a glazing of teriyaki didn't quite cut through the richness.
"Grilled Caesar salad" is actually a nice concept, and would probably be worth the initial oddness if the whole head of romaine had actually been grilled soft -- splitting it in half would probably help -- rather than just marked by the grill on the outer leaves. Scallops are lovely, seared and sweet. Fire-grilled pizza is pretty good, at least when it isn't turned out onto cold plates. The bouillabaisse is less a soup than a curry dish, complete with coconut rice -- not sultry, perhaps, but pretty seductive nevertheless. That's probably a better slogan for an Eden, anyway.
CURIOUSER AND curiouser, as Alice would say. Dish!, Eden's across-the-street neighbor, has a slogan, too, a "retro dining gallery," which does sort of suit its low-key atmosphere, not deco dinerish but (maybe) easy Ike-era hangout. And it's not immediately obvious what's so old-fashioned about the food, either, since the menu has more listings like sesame-crusted wild salmon and hoisin-glazed sea bass than "free formed" chicken pot pie (and as strong a by-the-glass wine list as Eden's). But there is a sort of home-kitchen-cabinets style to the cooking that becomes more apparent as the meals go by. This can be a strong point when it comes to some dishes. The pot pie (since replaced by "free formed eggplant lasagna") was one of the better choices, with nicely short dough, though one night, the too-late addition of vermouth to the sauce left a raw alcohol flavor; and while it sounded Betty Crockerish, crab-stuffed mushroom caps with white cheddar had only enough cheese to hold the stuffing in. Chicken satay and spiced peanuts with coconut-peanut sauce would be the star of a backyard beachcomber bash.
On the other hand, turning beef stroganoff into a bowl of pappardelle topped with beef strips, shiitakes and sour cream is too much like an upscale kitchen helper-in-a-box concept (and the Madeira was no better incorporated than the vermouth). Adding double cream brie to the duck quesadilla doubled the richness, but novelty seemed to be more the rationale than real compatibility (not that that's the gravest sin). "Lightly jerked" pork medallions were indeed gently spiced, but over-zealous searing made that irrelevant; the broccoli was overcooked and unseasoned. A sort of fancy-backyard surf-and-turf appetizer of carpaccio and lump crab salad arrived so trendily deconstructed that it seemed disinterested: inseparable slices of pounded beef without oil or cheese, lump crab in a pile with capers and caper berries on the side. And marinating lamb in the classic Western rosemary-mustard combo but using it as kebab with pita and Indian raita tastes okay, it just makes one wonder why.
But however uneven, Dish! is never boring. Pan-seared rockfish with lump crab and curry-tinted sauce was a first-rate version, not overly rich and a nice twist on a local standard. Crab cakes with a corn chowder-style sauce were also both familiar and fine. The chili dusting on the nicely sweet tuna was a little bitter, caught up in the grilling perhaps, but happily not heavy-handed. Perhaps the oddest moment came one evening when the kitchen sent out word that it was out of the "classic gravy" that ordinarily came with the "shake and bake" chicken breast, so that a veal-shrimp nage that "had the same flavor style" was being substituted.
And yet . . . the place has an undeniable sweetness about it. Maybe that's the retro part.