The Rehoboth Foodie joins the Coastal Style team and chronicles the Confucius experience
Let’s play a word-association game. I’ll say “Chinese food,” and you tell me what comes to mind. I’m going to guess (work with me here…) that you’re thinking, “cheap.” And maybe “sweet and sour something-or-the-other” or “one from column A and one from column B with rice and egg roll.” And for many of the 44,000 or so Chinese restaurants nationwide, you’d probably be right.
You’d also be right if you guessed that some of that stuff sits on a steam table all day, waiting for you and your credit card to arrive. But that’s not the case at Confucius Chinese Cuisine in Rehoboth Beach.
Owners Shawn and Danielle Xiong were both born in Hunan Province, China. They love the food they grew up with, and they take it seriously. “Our recipes are for those who want to go a step further in their enjoyment of Chinese Food,” says Shawn. So let’s
get down to business.
I have a problem eating anything that’s looking back at me. For example, I love Eggs Benedict, but please don’t top each of the twin yolks with a slice of black olive — that’s waaay too up-close and personal. So imagine my reaction when I found myself face-to-face with Shawn’s famous Crispy Whole Black Sea Bass. (Note the word, “whole.”) Short of fitting it (or me) with a blindfold, I had no choice but to avoid eye contact and dig in. The delicate skin shimmers with the soft tang of honey and vinegar, adding a crispy bonus to the snow-white meat. This is not a dish to be gobbled up quickly! It’s a minefield of bones and fins and takes some care to maneuver. But it’s definitely worth the effort.
Another seagoing entrée that doesn’t require quite as much deconstruction is the Pan-Seared Salmon. Shawn marinates the pleasantly unctuous fish in lemon, lime, cilantro, ginger and garlic. A quick stint in a hot skillet caramelizes the outside but leaves the inside pink and citrusy. As a reviewer, I so wanted to find something wrong with it, but I failed.
Before landing here in Delaware, I used to order Kung Pao Chicken from the Hunan joint down the street. The peanuts and vegetables were soggy, and whatever might have been spicy had long since evaporated. Of course, it was $6.95, so I got what I deserved. At Confucius, everything’s prepared to order. Firm, brightly colored vegetables and crackly peanuts bask in a savory, semi-opaque sauce, aromatic with red and white peppers. If you’re nice, they’ll mix shrimp and chicken for your Kung Pao. It’s a roller coaster of shapes and texture, and worth every penny of the $16.95 tariff.
Shawn and Danielle’s regulars will happily share two facts: First, they’ll confide (while looking furtively from side to side) that Shawn loves to make off-menu items for his Faithful. Once he gets to know you, you don’t even have to ask — something you love will appear at your table. Second, they’ll tell you to get the Sautéed String Beans — firm, crispy and studded with all sorts of bracing spices. But move fast! They disappear quickly. Avoid unnecessary fork wounds by ordering two.
Another star on the starter menu is the Spicy Cold Noodles. The contrast between the Sriracha-born garlic/pepper heat and the cool pasta sets off the perfect party in your mouth. Salt & Pepper Shrimp share that spotlight, but the calamari steals the show.
Rather than being cut into the classic rings, a briny, black pepper-infused batter encases the entire mantle (the tubular body) which is then fried to a crisp finish. It’s like eating a
savory Popsicle with a cephalopod surprise inside.
A common misconception is that everything at Confucius is spicy hot. Go ahead, Shawn, set ‘em straight: “It has to be tasty before it’s spicy. Since everything is cooked fresh, I can add or subtract as much heat as desired and customize any dish to be gluten- or MSG-free, vegetarian or vegan.”
Confucius is tucked away in an unassuming little house just two blocks from the ocean on Wilmington Avenue. Blink and you’ll miss it. I strongly suggest reservations (302-227-3848), especially in-season and for Sunday brunch. Sorry I couldn’t find much fault with anything there. Guess I’ll just have to go back again (and again) to make sure.
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