Le Cavalier at the Hotel du Pont planning Sept. 1 opening
Raw video: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris arrive at Hotel du Pont
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris arrive at Hotel du Pont after their speeches at A.I. du Pont High School.
Jeanne Kuang, The News Journal
Back in June, when the Caesar Rodney equestrian statue was removed from downtown Wilmington’s Rodney Square with little warning, Tyler Akin says he briefly reconsidered the name of his new Delaware restaurant.
The Hotel du Pont’s Le Cavalier at the Green Room on West 11th Street, which overlooks Rodney Square, is set to open Sept. 1.
The name Le Cavalier, French for the horseman, was a nod to the statue, a city landmark, that was hauled away and stored in an unknown location amid a nationwide reckoning over race and inequality.
Rodney, famous for his ride to Philadelphia in a thunderstorm to cast a vote for independence and sever political connections to Great Britain, was a slave owner. It’s not known when or if the statue will return.
“That event, the removal [of the statue], we would be silly if it didn’t make us pause and reconsider,” Akin says. “But at the end of the day, the grounding of that name was so much deeper than the statue.”
The Le Cavalier name will remain because it also reflects the history of horsemanship in the du Pont family who built the hotel, he says. Perhaps the most famous example is Allaire du Pont, who owned Hall of Famer Kelso, widely considered one of the best racehorses in U.S. history.
The deliberation over Le Cavalier’s name is just another part of a string of roadblocks Akin, a Philadelphia restaurateur who grew up in Wilmington, has faced since trying to open the French brasserie in the Hotel du Pont.
Akin is more than ready for customers to witness the unveiling of the restaurant that has been in works since the ornate, lavish and very formal Green Room was closed for refurbishing in mid-January.
More: Hotel du Pont reopens, but lays off executive chef and other employees
Akin owns two Stock restaurants and is a part owner of Res Ispa, all in Philadelphia. But for the past few months, he has been cooling his heels.
Indoor dining in Philadelphia restaurants was halted in March, and it has had a devastating effect on the industry. Unlike Delaware, dining rooms in Philadelphia have not been allowed to welcome any customers. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney recently announced that dining could resume, albeit with restrictions, on Sept. 8.
Akin says he is glad he has been able to focus his downtime on Le Cavalier.
“It’s the bright, shiny spot in my life right now,” he says. “I’m so fortunate to have it. It’s been almost two years in making.”
Le Cav, as Akin calls it, originally was supposed to open in May, but the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing delays of some design components coming from Europe pushed the opening back.
Another recent curveball was the Democratic National Convention’s sudden move from Milwaukee to Wilmington. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his vice presidential pick, Sen. Kamala Harris, also held some events at the Hotel du Pont in August, and security in the building was tight.
When patrons do come to Le Cav for dinner, which will be served from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, they’ll see big changes.
The heavy, velvet drapery and faded wall-to-wall carpet are gone from the room that last received a makeover in 2004 from the Washington, D.C.-based design firm Leo A. Daly, prime architect of the National World War II Memorial.
More: Drum roll, please: Here’s the new name for the Hotel du Pont’s Green Room
When workers a few months ago pulled up the old carpet, they weren’t sure what was underneath. Akin says they planned to put down tile, but that idea was scrapped when they uncovered a design treasure.
“Lo and behold, we found what looked like a priceless, hand-laid terrazzo floor,” he says.
The mosaic floor, which hasn’t seen the light of day in at least 50 years, “was in a shabby state.”
Akin says the PM Hotel Group, operating the site for owners the Buccini/Pollin Group, “didn’t take the easy way out. They brought in some conservation experts.”
Many former Green Room elements are still in place. The fumed oak paneling, plaster ceiling and heavy, Spanish chandeliers remain, but there are now fitted with brighter, more modern lighting.
“The beauty of the design we created with Stokes Architecture + Design is it honors the lineage,” Akin says.
The biggest change in the 118-seat dining room is the addition of a 13-seat bar with a marble top on the 11th Street side of the restaurant. Akin says it is the room’s centerpiece.
There are now also a series of crushed, burnt orange velvet and leather banquettes on a west side wall along Market Street wall and more marble tabletops.
“We are done with the white linens,” Akin says.
The artwork is mid-20th-century French-style paintings influenced by the Dada art movement, rather than the Brandywine School of Art from the Wyeth family that had once graced other parts of the Hotel du Pont.
The restaurant also will have seasonal outdoor patio seating. Not all seating will be used inside the dining room during the COVID-19 pandemic. Indoor capacity in Delaware remains at 60%.
Akin, who is moving to Delaware soon, plans to be in the Le Cavalier kitchen almost every day cooking dishes that will have a Provençal slant with Middle Eastern and North African influences.
The menu includes steak tartare, scallop crudo and fin d’Été salad or grilled corn and peaches with heirloom tomatoes, lemon tahini and garlic breadcrumbs.
Entrees will range from roasted half chicken to cheeseburgers to trout amandine. The menu no longer includes a crab cake but has gnocchi Parisienne made with jumbo lump crab meat, caviar and lemon beurre blanc.
Akin, who had been a chef at Philadelphia’s famed Zahav restaurant before owning his own establishments, plans dinner-only service for about a month.
“We are monitoring hotel occupancy,” he says, which is looking stronger in the upcoming weeks.
Room service there will be branded as Le Cavalier, he says, but banquet service will remain a separate entity and will be handled by other hotel staffers.
The Hotel du Pont shut down for three months in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. When it reopened in late June, it laid off 11 employees, including its executive chef and managers in its food and banquet department.
Akin says large gatherings at the hotel “are facing their own uncertainty right now.”
Hiring for a new restaurant is always a challenge, Akin says, but “we’re really excited to have back some of the old team. A lot of the old regulars are going to recognize some faces.”
Breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch will return in coming weeks, but buffets, on hold by state mandates due to the pandemic, will likely not be making a comeback.
“That wasn’t a part of the plan,” Akin says, even before COVID-19.
Contact Patricia Talorico at (302) 324-2861 or firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @pattytalorico