Hotel du Pont’s much anticipated French brasserie, Le Cavalier — a full makeover of the hotel’s famed 100-plus-year-old Green Room — is officially opening on Sept. 1, four months later than its planned May opening.
Chef-partner Tyler Akin, a Wilmingtonian best known as chef-owner of both Stock locations and Res Ipsa Cafe in Philadelphia, has been involved with virtually every aspect of the Green Room project for the last two years.
“I was lucky enough to come in on this as it was really just a kernel of an idea,” Akin told Technical.ly. “We had an amazing group of partners and Stokes Architecture and Design, so that whole process was really educational for me.”
The original launch date for Le Cavalier (pronounce it luh-KAH-vuhl-YAY) was in May, when Delaware was just entering early Phase I in economic reopening. Instead of launching without a sit-down option — a crucial part of the Hotel du Pont experience — the restaurant opening was delayed until Sept. 1, when diners can come and sit in the dining room under CDC distancing and safety regulations.
At the same time, both Res Ipsa and both Stock restaurants in Fishtown and Rittenhouse in Philly had to be closed down. The result, he says, is a more developed menu.
“Like everybody else, I had a lot of time to think and reflect over the last two months, so I had time to tighten up recipes and to think up new dishes,” he said. “For all the frustration and tragedy of the several-month delay, there were some silver linings to it for us.”
The menu also had to undergo a bit of a conceptual adjustment due to COVID-19: ”We had a vision for how people would experience the menu that really encouraged sharing, which obviously now is more difficult to encourage,” he said.
The menu ranges from fresh oysters to pastries, and plenty of those signature frites.
“We have a really cool raw bar in the starter section that I’m excited about,” said Akin. “The entree section is built around some dishes that are plated up with frites, so there are a couple of options for steak frites, mussels, roasted chicken. We have an awesome pastry menu for dessert that I had the privilege of collaborating on with [Hotel du Pont executive pastry chef] Leah Steinberger. She’s done an incredible job helping me develop desserts that fit into the overall concept. There’s not a dish on the menu that I’m not proud of.”
The goal of Le Cavalier was to combine the high-end appeal of the formal Green Room with the more laid-back atmosphere of an informal French brasserie.
“We’re trying to keep it as casual as possible without denigrating the history of the restaurant,” he said. “To me, it didn’t feel suitable for people to be in mock tuxedos in 2020, or for there to be a restaurant that didn’t have a bar within it. We took the tablecloths away, we took the classical music away and I think we’re going to be happy with the more upbeat, approachable vibe.”
Approachable, he said, is Le Cavalier’s “North Star”: “It’s been a big part of our training, just striking that balance between elegance and approachability.”
And, of course, safety is on the forefront of Akins’ mind as the restaurant gets ready to open to indoor diners. In Philly, his Stock locations remain open for pickup and delivery only, and Res Ipsa has yet to reopen.
“We are in a very different place [in Delaware] in terms of what we are allowed to do, so I’m in an awkward position where I’m supportive of the position that [Pennsylvania] Governor [Tom] Wolf has taken — but also,” he said, “Delaware seems to be a little bit further along in terms of controlling the curve. I’m comfortable with the policies and training that we’ve come up with just to make sure that guests and staff are safe. That’s the most important thing.”-30-
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