CULINARIA'S ICE CREAM MARTINIS ARE TOAST OF THE TOWN
By Lynn Keyser
DELCO TIMES, June 2002
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Not only is Pam Grabowski, co-owner of the trendy restaurant, Culinaria, in the Branmar Plaza, doing very well with her three-year-old endeavor. She seems to be enjoying herself.

Take for example the creation of Culinaria's unique "ice cream martinis," a 'sensual' combination of ice cream, liquors and toppings. Grabowski, her partner Ezio Reynaud and their staff use their imaginations and then taste test to see if the combinations work.

Here's a few on the menu that passed muster: "Copper Illusion" (French Vanilla & Grand Marnier with candied orange peel); "Bag Piper" (Praline & Cream & Scotch Whiskey); "The Truffle" (Dark Chocolate Chip & Chambord); "Kermit" (Pistachio Ice Cream & Amaretto with green cherries); "Culinaria Comfort" (Peanut Butter Ice Cream & Southern Comfort with sesame-covered peanuts); "Captain Morgan" (Rum Raisin & Spiced Rum with wet walnuts) and "Ruby Slipper" (Raspberry Sorbet & Absolut Citron with glazed cherry).

Grabowski's also having fun doing the Culinaria's décor, which is changed every four or five months. It's most recent incarnation includes huge tropical plants throughout the restaurant and silk and crepe draped around dividers to give the room the "funky, clean, casual" feel Grabowski likes. A life-size Monitor Lizard (wooden) sits atop the dessert case. The floor of Culinaria has a splattered paint (a la Jackson Pollock) pattern.

The owners don't have a lot of space to work with. The restaurant is about 20 feet wide and 120 feet in length, and some of that space is taken up by an open-kitchen area where chef/owner Reynaud and assistants do their magic.

Culinaria seats 65 diners and another 10 at the bar. Because the restaurant doesn't take reservations, it may mean a wait. On a recent evening, we had a 20-minute wait arriving at the peak dinner hour of 7. However, we noticed that an hour later, there was no line.

Culinaria's fare can best be described as "new American."

Reynaud, who was a former owner of the popular Silk Purse and Sow's Ear in downtown Wilmington, has put some nice twists on American standards, such as calves liver and mashed potatoes with caramelized onions ­- one of Culinaria's most popular dishes.

The appetizers lean more to the trendy with asparagus & grilled proscuitto with toasted walnut and lemon oil dressing and fresh mozzarella, roasted sweet peppers and pesto among the offerings.

We tried the Scottish smoked salmon with capers, red onion and lemon, which was tasty and a pleasant opening to the main course.

Reynaud offers additions to the menu, and on our visit we tried two of those. I ordered the Crispy Softshells, which came either with mashed potatoes and asparagus or over a Thai salad with Jasmine rice. I opted for the softshells and salad. The crabs (two) were excellently prepared, with a light batter coating and moist, sweet meat, and went wonderfully with the ginger-flavored Thai dressing and greens. My dining companion had the Rainbow Trout stuffed with pesto with mashed potatoes and asparagus. Trout is not the most flavorful of fish, but the pesto added enough spice to make it special. In addition to the ice cream martinis, Culinaria's desserts are decadent works of art brought in from several places, most notably Pappa's Place on Union Street in Wilmington. We split a slice of key lime pie, which had a rich, creamy filling and a super light crust. Culinaria is open for lunch, and its gourmet sandwiches are also available for dinner. The restaurant also has an extensive wine list, sold by the glass or the bottle.

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