I have been blessed with being involved in theatre for 64 years and have critiqued the arts for 35 years. Those of a certain age will remember News Journal theatre critics Phil Crossland and Otto Dekom of the 60’s through 90’s. Phil loved every show he ever saw and every actor on stage. We all wanted to be reviewed by him. On the other hand, the antagonistic Otto terrorized community theatre performers, often delivering cruel, personal attacks.
I serve this up as backdrop. No one has more community theatre background than moi. (You will see soon why I used that French word…bientot. ( in French, ‘bientot’ means ‘soon’ ).
The abominable Otto was also the Journal’s food critic, serving up similar assailments. He was hated more so by restaurateurs, whose livelihood depended on paying customers.
I have never written a restaurant review. Nor should I. I’m pretty easy to please. However, I am a native Delawarean and a student of the history on both the du Pont family and the DuPont Company. Cousins P.S du Pont and A.I. du Pont would not have been pleased with what the guests at the former Green Room experienced on Thanksgiving.
For years the Green Room was top ranked in the Michelin Guide. This was a place of substance, of tradition, of pride for Delawareans. It was the go to venue for special occasions.
Tens of millions have recently been invested in the DuPont Building. The “rebranding” of the Green Room does no service to this fabled history.
So, let’s dive in. Or should I say ‘trot’ in. ‘Le Cavalier’ translates to ‘The Horseman’. For the life of me, I cannot see what relevance that name has anything to do with DuPont, aside from being French. For the non-linguist, it’s also ‘difficile’ to pronounce. (I recall a few years ago when The Grand management attempted to rename The Playhouse ‘The Playhouse on Rodney Square’. That gained no traction, The Grand relented and went back to the name we all grew up with).
We had been to Le Cav 4 months ago. The experience was – how you say – not magnifique. They were out of an entrée I wanted. For a fine dining venue, I found that strange. My companion’s fish was overcooked and mushy and her dessert was unappetizing.
To the consternation of said companion, I called for reservations for Thanksgiving, reasoning that there was no way they could mess up twice in a row. I was wrong. In fact, management doubled down on bad service.
They asked for payment upfront, which was a first for moi. We visit fine dining establishments weekly.
The reservation was for 4:45. As we entered, free wine was offered to those waiting. Sacre bleu; an ominous sign, signifying a wait. We finally got to our table at 5:15. The question then, if all seats were reserved and management knows how many guests to expect, why in the world would there be a wait? Thanksgiving is not a walk-in. C’est inexcusable. (finally, I find a word that is spelled the same and means the same in both languages)!
The printed menu is so tres, tres pretentious. To wit: ‘Elysian Fields Lamb Shoulder’, ‘Bavette Frites’, ‘Spaghetti aux Palourdes’. As Boris Johnson said to Macron at the climate summit last month, “Donnez-moi un break.” We’re in provincial Wilmington, not on the Champs Elysees. Two years of French at Brandywine High helped a bit. I can imagine the servers spend valuable time explaining the meals to those who took Spanish or German.
Ten minutes after being seated, our server finally appeared. She was affable, but there was a look in her eye. My sister began by ordering a salad – or in this environment it is titled ‘un salade’. The ‘salade’ was delivered late (en retard). Oui, an hour en retard. From the “Petites Plats” (appetizers), I made an order. “Oh, I’m sorry. We’re out of that.” For the second time out of a listed menu item. This is even more exasperating on Thanksgiving.
I ordered vichyssoise. It arrived on time. Voila! However, the table settings were sans spoon. After repeated attempts to ‘cherchez’ (search) la femme server, I gave up and ate it with a fork. Quite tasty, fork or not.
All 3 of us ordered the turkey. It was slow in arriving. Eventually, the 3 ‘Grand Plats’ were presented. My companion received a totally different entrée. That was not c’est si bon by any means. However, 1) recalling our previous experience and 2) observing the backlog of seated guests waiting for their meals and 3) still a bit miffed at moi for coming here in the first place, she threw up her hands and ate it. She enjoyed the dish.
Taking a visit to la salle de bain, I passed a couple in the lobby who had been waiting an hour. The place was packed. I counted but 4 servers. Overbooked and understaffed at the flagship restaurant in the state? Mais oui! This, aussi, is inexcusable.
By no means do we blame the wait staff. There is a term I recall from my serving days when things went topsy turvy; “in the weeds”. Putting on brave faces in the dining room, I would imagine the four servers were “in the weeds” in the kitchen.
I have as many credentials as a food critic as I do interior designer, but observing the grandeur of the room, those multi-colored Picasso-type paintings seem so tres out of place. There was no synchronicity with the majesty of the venue. It’s akin to painting flames on a 1969 Jaguar XKE.
Le Cav should have retained some of the popular dishes of the former Green Room. You shouldn’t upend the history of the Hotel and think you are innovative. Small towns are proud of their heritage. Delawareans certainly are. (A historian once noted, if E.I. du Pont had never brought gunpowder to the banks of the Brandywine in 1802, Delaware would be a satellite of Pennsylvania).
We had hoped for a memorable experience on this special day. We received one, certainmente. As my companion noted as we left for the night, “Le Cavalier did not disappoint. Indeed, they exceeded my low expectations.”
Btw, ou est les macaroons?