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, who bopped around to tables checking in and laying charm on customers (he was also busy readying Off the Hook’s second location), left cooking duties to Matt Cornelius and Nick Brown, young, affable cooks who offered good face time with customers.
Their lone blemish, if you could call it that, was a plain Jane filet of mahi, which slumped atop fingerling potatoes and a limp tomato sauce. Though I was treated to a beautiful and unfettered cut of fish, the composition lacked the panache of others. I much preferred the grilled shrimp and smoked cheese grits, a comparative party on a plate exploding with deep flavors that enhanced warm, grill-marked shrimp.
Sautéed crimini mushrooms marched and melted into gooey Pecorino cheese atop crisp flatbread, while tender braised leeks worked their subtle magic filling the gaps. Such an outstanding topping—I just wanted more of it.
Portion size was not an issue with OTH cioppino, which burst with the bounty of Indian River—more golf-ball clams, velvety mussels, fin fish, scallops, shrimp (and probably more critters I’m forgetting). Nor was it an issue with perfectly cooked seared scallops—another bargain at $15—which roosted atop creamy pearl couscous.
The dessert menu, meanwhile, gave rise to some down-home heaven, first with a rich, creamy Key lime pie that would make customers at Jimmy’s Grille buckle, then a dark chocolate terrine, sprinkled with toasted hazelnut and sided by coffee ice cream. Though my favorite had to be Hagen’s French toast bread pudding, a dessert that induced Pavlovian drool at the mere mention of its otherworldly topping: whipped maple- and applewood-bacon butter.
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