Monday, September 19, 2016

The Best Simple Tomato Sauce for Pasta

The Best Simple Tomato Sauce for Pasta

As we exit summer, here's a simple sauce that's perfect for using some of those wonderfully vibrant and flavorful tomatoes. They need little adornment. This recipe uses no meat and just a scant amount of aromatics to underscore the tomatoes' flavor. Yes, the simmer time is pretty long, but it's worth it. This sauce is amazing. Finishing the pasta in the sauce helps it pick up the sauce's flavor.

The Best Simple Tomato Sauce for Pasta

The Best Simple Tomato Sauce for Pasta

2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, cut into small dice
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 lb. fresh ripe summer tomatoes (use canned tomatoes out of season; I don't recommend using store-bought tomatoes from November until about mid-June as they lack flavor), cut into 1-inch pieces
4-6 sprigs of fresh thyme, tied together with string
Dash of nutmeg
Pinch of red chili pepper flakes
1 lb. dried penne rigate pasta
8-10 basil leaves, cut into ribbons
Grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

1. Heat the butter and olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. When the butter has melted and warmed, add the onion and cook about 5 minutes, then add the garlic and season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking until they are softened and fragrant, about 5 minutes more.

2. Stir in the tomatoes, thyme, nutmeg and red chili pepper flakes, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer (medium-low or lower). Simmer for 90 minutes, stirring every 15 to 20 minutes. The mixture should bubble just slightly.

3. Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions 1 minute shy of al dente (al dente pasta is cooked through but chewy, so this pasta will be too chewy, indicating it needs more cooking time, which I'll get to in a second). Drain pasta, then stir the pasta into the simmering tomato sauce. Continue cooking the pasta in the sauce for another minute or two until the pasta is al dente (i.e. cooked through but chewy).

4. Remove the pasta from the heat and serve in shallow bowls topped with fresh basil and grated parmigiano-reggiano. Pair with a robust but not overbearing Italian red wine, such as Sassotondo Ciliegiolo.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Rehoboth Beach Dining 2016

The summer beach season is over, which means it's the perfect time to head to the shore to enjoy fewer crowds, shorter lines and the (still quite decent) mid-to-late September weather. We were in Rehoboth Beach over Labor Day weekend, which, yes, meant we were chased inside on Saturday by tropical storm Hermine, but the wind and rain was all the more reason to stay inside and eat well.


This year, we focused mostly on revisiting some of our favorite places to see how they're holding up. Really quite good, actually.

Dos Locos Steak Fajitas

Dos Locos basically feels like our second home while we're at the beach, and with the stormy weather we faced during our recent trip, we made several visits. The thing is, we really love Tex-Mex food and, despite the fact that we live near several popular Tex-Mex restaurants in D.C. (Cactus Cantina, Guano's and Laredo--formerly Alero), we never get food at those places that's as good as Dos Locos. Their frozen margaritas are by far the best, delivering a tart buzz without the cloying sweetness of most restaurant's frozen margs. The fajitas, whether you get steak or chicken (they also have many other varieties), are always well cooked, flavorful, not too greasy and garnished with all the accoutrements we like. Plus, it doesn't hurt that every person we've met who works there is unfailingly friendly.

a(MUSE.) jar o' pickles

Rehoboth Beach has a good variety of fine-dining restaurants (even if they have white tablecloths, you can still totally go in your shorts--it's the beach after all). We enjoyed quite good meals at two of our favorite. a(MUSE.), which no longer feels like a newcomer in town, continues to excel at delivering a range of unique flavors. We started the evening with a pucker-inducing jar o' pickles served with toast triangles, mustard and creme fraiche, which came with a variety of pickled vegetables, including snow peas. I loved my halibut served with a side of rye, a grain I've never enjoyed in whole form before--the chewy grains were delicious. A tender Berkshire pork came nestled among tasty mushrooms. a(MUSE.) has a great bar, and while we enjoyed several good cocktails, the most memorable drink we had this year was an excellent wine: the Southern Slope 2012 cabernet sauvignon from Washington State. I'll keep my eyes open for that for sure.

Espuma was nearly empty the night we were there, but hey, it was the night of the storm. Despite that, we were still treated to a delicious dinner and friendly service. I enjoyed a roast chicken with mushroom and pea risotto while Chris opted for the mushroom ravioli--perfectly al dente pasta pockets filled with a silky mushroom puree and flecked with generous chunks of bacon. I hope they were busier through the summer, since this is a wonderful restaurant.

Blackwell Hitch mahi mahi tacos
Our one attempt to try something new for dinner resulted in our least impressive meal. Blackwall Hitch is a small regional chain with outposts in Annapolis and Alexandria, and, as of this year, also one in Rehoboth Beach just steps from the boardwalk. The seafood-focused menu is quite lengthy, but unfortunately not very imaginative, making it a challenge actually to find something interesting. I opted for mahi mahi tacos, which were fine but not exceptional. Chris had the pork osso buco, a tender, generously portioned braised pork shank that could really use a more interesting partner than buttered pasta. The best thing here was our starter salad: a pleasing arrangement of pear, arugula, pecorino cheese, raisins and pine nuts.


Hobos shrimp salad
Apart from our arrival-day tradition of getting a Baker's Choice pizza from Grotto Pizza (always amazing, still was this year), we tend to not really do much for lunch, since typically we're on the beach where we might grab a hotdog or some Thrasher's fries. Well, this year, given that we only had one real beach day, we had plenty of time for lunch. We took the unusual (for us) step of leaving Rehoboth to drive a little ways north to the next town. Lewes is a quaint little town with a historic town center that abuts the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal. Striper Bites is a great little coastal bistro on the south side of town. Wanting something lighter, I sprang for the hummus platter with pita and grilled vegetables, which was just perfect. Back in Rehoboth on a nicer day, we enjoyed people watching from Hobos outdoor patio. The shrimp salad I had hit the spot: a slightly spicy mix of greens, avocado, bacon and plenty of pieces of large shrimp.

Royal Treat buttermilk pancakes


There's only one name you need to remember for breakfast in Rehoboth: Royal Treat. It just seems to get better every year. I raved about their omelets last year and I'll rave about them again: they are made just right. As if that wasn't enough, their buttermilk pancakes are also quite heavenly: cooked to golden perfection with a slightly sour tang to match their perfectly chewy-soft texture. Royal Treat is pretty popular, and it doesn't open until 8, so if you need an early breakfast or don't want to stand the line, nearby Goolee's Grill or the Robin Hood diner are solid choices, featuring similar breakfast fare (eggs, pancakes, waffles, breakfast meats, etc.). One thing I really appreciate at Goolee's is that you can get a side of fresh fruit, which is unfortunately not on offer at Royal Treat or Robin Hood. And Robin Hood's blueberry pancakes really impressed us this year--almost as good as Royal Treat's hot cakes.


Kohr Bros. beat Starkey's for soft serve this year, but Royal Treat's peanut butter and vanilla swirl ice cream is still our favorite boardwalk sweet treat. I think we ended almost every night with a stroll down the boardwalk, cones in hand.

a(MUSE.), 44 Baltimore Avenue, Rehoboth Beach, Del. (302) 227-7107. Reservations: Open Table.

Blackwall Hitch,  52 Rehoboth Avenue, Rehoboth Beach, Del. (302) 226-0550. Reservations: Open Table.

Dos Locos Stonegrill & Tex-Mex Restaurant, 208 Rehoboth Avenue (near 2nd Street), Rehoboth Beach, Del. Reservations: Open Table.

Espuma, 28 Wilmington Avenue (entrance on 1st Street), Rehoboth Beach, Del. 302-227-4199. Reservations: Open Table.

Goolee's Grill, 11 South 1st Street (on the corner of Wilmington Avenue), Rehoboth Beach, Del. (302) 227-7653.

Grotto Pizza, 36 Rehoboth Avenue, Rehoboth Beach, Del. (302) 227-3278.

Hobos Restaurant, 56 Baltimore Avenue, Rehoboth Beach, Del. (302) 226-2226.

Robin Hood, 54 Rehoboth Avenue, Rehoboth Beach, Del. (302) 227-0770.

Royal Treat, 4 Wilmington Avenue, Rehoboth Beach, Del. (302) 227-6277.

Striper Bites, 107 Savannah Road, Lewes, Del. (302) 645-4657.


2012 Rehoboth Dining Guide (Includes Dos Locos, Grotto Pizza, Robin Hood)
2013 a(MUSE). review
2014 Rehoboth Dining Guide (Includes Espuma)
2015 Rehoboth Dining Guide (Includes Dos Locos, Royal Treat)