1020 North Union Street
According to the British Art Journal, the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington has long boasted the largest and most significant collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings in the United States. I mention this artistic tidbit for one very good reason: Eclipse Bistro, flagship of the Platinum Dining Group*, just happens to be located a scant mile from the museum’s front door. So after a rewarding session of browsing through the Bancroft Collection, Eclipse would make a most convenient gastronomic & libationary stopover for either lunch or dinner.
At first glance, you might be somewhat disappointed by Eclipse’s appearance. But don’t be fooled… Although the restaurant doesn’t look like much from the outside – domiciled in a rather nondescript modern building tucked away behind a BMW dealership – once across the threshold, you will soon discover why TripAdvisor rated it number 4 among the some 450 eateries in the Wilmington area.
As you enter, the diminutive bar beckons. There’s a very nice selection of wines by the glass, including a crisp Italian Pinot Grigio from Annalisa, fabulous Pinot Noir courtesy of Oregon’s Chad, and a racy Sangiovese blend from Tuscany’s Caparzo. Zesty cocktails include the likes of the Italian Gentleman (Old Forester Bourbon, Amaro Lucano, lemon, bitters & mint), Cosmo Blanco (New Amsterdam Orange, white cranberry, lime & sun-dried cranberries), and the Saint (Hendrick’s Gin, St. Germaine, lemon, basil & sparking Cab Franc.
The adjoining dining area isn’t terribly large, but the tables are quite comfortable and well-spaced. You’re just far enough from your neighbors to carry on a discreet conversation; but just close enough to savor a bit of that bustling bistro bonhomie. The service, in true bistro fashion, is friendly, exceedingly knowledgeable and, even on the busiest of evenings, as smooth as a Japanese railroad.
The food, I would hasten to add, is as agreeably cozy as the ambiance. Like the atmosphere, it’s charmingly sophisticated without being the least bit stuffy… And Julia Child’s maxim, inscribed above the semi-open kitchen, tells it all: “Cooking is like love; it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”
To start things off, the Mushroom & Chorizo Tart – trust me on this – is nothing short of spectacular. Wild mushroom ragù is companioned by spicy bits of chorizo sausage and baked in a perfectly prepared crust. The pièce de résistance, however, is an extraordinary gastrique. A gastrique is basically a reduction of vinegar and sugar that can be infused with a variety of culinary options: from liquor to garlic, to onions & shallots, to fresh fruits. In this case, the fortuitous ingredient of choice is sherry. It is designed to bring out the assertive flavors of a particular dish and look good while doing it. And here it does both – in spades. An addictive treat for both eye & palate and simply not to be missed!
Equally recommended is a recently sampled daily special: the chicken, corn & avocado fritter. You can always count on the Eclipse kitchen to come up with something uniquely distinctive; and the fritter most assuredly fills the bill. For starters, the batter is just the right consistency: light, airy, and delightfully crunchy. Then, of course, there’s that incredible poblano/potato cream sauce… rich, but not at all heavy or cloying… beautifully & subtly seasoned… and velvety smooth on the palate. Seldom have I sampled a dish so utterly beguiling. Kudos to the kitchen. Another must try.
The restaurant’s salads also make excellent starters. The Caesar is quite good – though not terribly exciting. I much prefer the Bibb Lettuce, spruced up with grape tomatoes, pine nuts, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, and splash of dynamite preserved orange vinaigrette.
My nod, however, would probably go to the Wedge Salad (pictured). This is, of course, a menu item that has recently suffered from a good deal of “ubiquitous consumption” (with apologies to Thorstein Veblen); be that as it may, Eclipse’s rendition succeeds admirably where others often fail. Not only is the iceberg pristinely fresh, as you would expect, but the other accoutrements – namely the tomatoes, lardons (diced, fried bacon), and creamy Stilton dressing – are more than generously applied. The latter is particularly important, as, in many eateries, you usually run out of dressing long before you run out of Wedge. No such worries here, however.
The only slight disappointment arrived with the Brussels & Cauliflower. When it comes to Brussels sprouts, you either love ‘em or hate ‘em; and I must confess that I’m a devoted fan. But this dish certainly wasn’t as I’d expected, as its components looked suspiciously like they had been dropped onto the plate from ten thousand feet. But while the presentation was not particularly photogenic, the interplay of tastes & textures was right on the money; and the paprika-honey vinaigrette quite seductive. It was even better when reheated the following day. If you can manage to turn a blind eye, so to speak, it’s a worthy contender.
As you move on to the entrées, possibilities abound – all gently tweaked by the kitchen’s captivating caresses. The Pan-Seared Scallops, for example, are pillowed on mushroom risotto, aided and abetted by an intriguing chorizo relish, shot of sherry gastrique, and splash of truffle oil. The Bistro Catch (fish of the chef’s choosing) is presented on an island of saffron dirty rice and companioned by roasted broccoli and a zippy sauce etouffée. And the Shrimp & Linguini (pictured) is buttressed by wilted spinach, crushed tomato, and infusion of red chili.
And speaking of matters piscatorial, nothing quite beats the extraordinary Seared Ahi Tuna. It is prepared succulently rare, precisely as ordered, and arrives at table on an island of winter vegetable ragout surrounded by a rich sea of smoked butternut squash purée. The crowning touch…? An stylish splash of tangy balsamic glaze. Tuna is a rather robust denizen of the deep, and the kitchen’s chosen accompaniments prove to be excitingly complementary in their strong supporting roles.
Meatier matters are ably represented by the likes of a hefty Black Angus New York Strip and succulent Pan Seared Venison Loin teamed with roasted cauliflower mash and intriguing cranberry-apple salsa. Even the plebeian European Chicken Breast flexes its culinary muscles courtesy of an outstanding potato, leek & andouille hash and garlicky chimichurri sauce. In this case, however, I think I’d cast my lot with the extraordinary Sherry Braised Pork Shank (pictured). The meat, basking in an intensely flavorful au jus, is just fall-off-the-bone tender, with broccoli rabe, crispy polenta, and smattering of pickled mustard seeds spicing up the festivities.
But if there is one entrée that is an absolute must, it is the kitchen’s incomparable rendition of Pappardelle Bolognese… Bolognese sauce, or ragù alla Bolognese, a meat-based sauce originating from Bologna, Italy, seems like a relatively straightforward dish. In reality, however, the proper execution of a genuine ragù alla Bolognese is infinitely more complicated than it appears. In other words, anything that can go wrong… well you get the idea. Fortunately, Eclipse adroitly manages to avoid all the usual (and unusual) preparational pitfalls. Its consistency is neither too dry nor too soupy, its flavors intense without being over the top, and its seasonings – including a sublime hint of tarragon – are exhilarating without being intrusive.
Desserts carry on the restaurant’s exemplary work. Possibilities include a number of old favorites like Molten Chocolate Cake and S’mores Bread Pudding, as well as a top-notch Chocolate Truffle Gelato. But the table – and personal – favorite proved to be the incomparably delicious Lemon Tart Brûlée. An innovative takeoff on the traditional crème brûlée, the tart features a crumbly hazelnut crust, addictively tart lemon infused custard, layer of semi-hard caramel, and colorful strawberry compote. The perfect conclusion to a most satisfying evening at table.
Highly recommended on all counts, Eclipse Bistro is surely worth a journey… Well, a short road trip at the very least.
*Note: The Platinum Dining Group is a full service hospitality group based in northern Delaware. It was founded in 1996 by Carl & Lisa Georigi when they opened their first restaurant, Eclipse Bistro. Platinum has since added three more restaurants – Capers & Lemons in Wilmington (which I plan to review at a later date), Taverna in Newark, Redfire Grill in Hockessin – an “any event” catering company, and a fine-goods retail market to its extraordinary stable of gourmet & fine dining establishments.