Dining Review: Off the Hook: A New Restaurant by Steve Hagen in Bethany Beach:
Blend traditional fish house with modern upscale-casual, and this is what you get.
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Hagen also could tack on Delicious. Simple. Traditional. But that probably wouldn’t leave much room on the sign. The motto is every bit true. And after three visits it crossed my mind that perhaps Hagen’s created an ideal beach restaurant: The menu is a modest cross-breed of traditional fish house and modern upscale-casual. The ingredients are exceedingly fresh, and usually prepared without too much elaboration.
It’s just the sort of place Sussex Countians seem to be craving. The game plan works, and is employed similarly at Rehoboth’s Salt Air and Henlopen City Oyster House. It goes like this: local seafood and produce, uncomplicated dishes, vibrant flavors, affordable checks. Two three-course meals at Off the Hook cost me less than a tank of gas.
And you can’t get middleneck clams this plump and sweet and the size of golf balls at any fill-up station. The mammoth bivalves bobbed in a simple tomato broth spiked with caramelized fennel and chorizo, a smooth mix of flavors that helps squeeze every molecule of flavor from a quality ingredient.
See also Off the Hook’s fried oysters, where a fat, briny oyster hides beneath a crispy, super-light crust and is accentuated with blue cheese crumbles and a swoosh of spicy mayo.
Even on the occasions when the kitchen invited a few embellishments to a plate, the combinations remained spot on. In an outstanding bowl of warm butternut bisque, shredded lump blue crab swirled in and accentuated the pronounced sweetness of roasted squash. A splash of added citrus butter needed dimension. The same balancing act played across blackened mahi filets, which nestled inside warm flour tortillas in OTH’s popular fish tacos beneath housemade pico de gallo and vinegary pickled onions.
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