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Lately, we (and Jeremy Piven) have become much more conscious of the fish we order and the health implications to ourselves and the planet. There seems to be a lot of info on the web to help you make smart choices. This tool provided by the Blue Ocean Institute allows you to search your favorite species and gives you detailed info on its status and safety. For example, searching for salmon told me that Alaska salmon were a good choice (with caveats) and that farmed Atlantic salmon should be avoided for numerous reasons. You can even download a printable guide or order the wallet version.

I’ve learned that many farmed species have to be fed wild-caught fish as a source of protein, essentially using perfectly edible species to feed a different edible species – so there’s a net loss of protein! Just plain silly. And now I know that Atlantic cod (which i thought was a good option) are extremely overfished and the bottom-trawling method of capture destroys the sea floor.

It’s nice to know we can keep ordering calamari though.

We got out of work about an hour late on Friday and knew it would be tough to get a table right away at Sette Luna (our default option). My wife brought up Touch of Thai on 2nd Street which I’d pitched to her after our last visit to Phenom. Perfect. No crowd, good reviews, and a new place to blog about.

We found a parking spot on Spring Garden and walked past the revamped Colonial pizza shop. We haven’t been in there since we lived downtown and it looks like they’ve remodeled the whole place, including the lower level. The place was hoppin’ and even had outside seating. Definitely a place to re-try.

A quick right onto 2nd Street and we were at Touch of Thai – set back from the street a bit so you could miss it if you drive by too quickly. Just as I’d suspected, the restaurant is in what used to be a 1st floor apartment. We’ve eaten in places like that several times and it’s always kinda strange – low ceilings, creaky floors, small windows, tight floor plan. Touch of Thai was no different, but we were expecting it and were too hungry to care. We were clearly in for some unpretentious, no-frills dining.

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Luckily, i’d remembered at the last second that the place was byob and i’d grabbed a rosé we’d picked up at Newport Vineyards on a trip to Rhode Island last summer. There were maybe a dozen tables, most empty, so we were seated immediately (yes!) with a pair of glasses to get a head start on the rosé.

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The menu was much easier to absorb than Phenom’s phonebook, but wasn’t lacking in variety. I went in expecting to try the Pad Thai based on a recommendation. I ended up going with the Lad Nah Talay, a variety of seafood with Thai cabbage and broad noodles in a tapioca gravy, and my wife went for a green curry dish. We started with chicken satay skewers with a peanut sauce and bean sprouts. Tender and tasty.

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The entrées were just as expected – simple, hearty and flavorful. Both of our dishes were on the soupier side so i’ll probably go with a stir-fry next time.

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The dessert menu had exactly what we’d wanted at Phenom, mango, ginger and coconut ice cream, but we opted for the mango and sticky rice on a whim. Sliced mango, a creamy patty of sweet sticky rice sprinkled with sesame seeds, and a scoop of mango ice cream smothered with whipped cream. It was a new dish for us and we really enjoyed it. We were half finished before we even remembered to take a pic.

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It turned out the rosé had been a great choice – a nice sweetness to complement the Thai spices. We even finished the entire bottle, not something we normally would do, though the alcohol content was relatively low. Overall it was a super mellow evening thanks to the great food and comforting atmosphere (and the wine). Plus the bill was under $40 bucks before tip. Hard to beat that. A little bigger crowd to bring the energy level up a bit would have been nice. Maybe it was a slow night. Regardless of that nitpicking, another good experience will tell us if Touch of Thai deserves to be one of our go-to spots.

Stumbled across Lehigh Valley Transplant last night while looking for info on the planned seafood restaurant opening in the old Lipkin’s building by next spring (hopefully). Check her out for a lot of great info on Lehigh Valley businesses – not just restaurants, but boutiques, galleries, events and more.
While she touches on a larger swath of the Valley than I do, there are some nice shout outs to Easton. And now i’m really interested in making my way over to Kome at the Promenade Shops.

This is the second in a series of general reviews of our favorite dinner spots – places we know we can go for great food, service and ambiance. These aren’t rankings – just the order in which I’m choosing to write them.

A block further down Ferry St from Easton’s Best #1, Ocean, you’ll find Sette Luna. Great Italian food with contemporary flair. When we first came to Easton, the building housed Moscato’s – also Italian food. The place seemed popular but i think they sold the restaurant to concentrate on the catering part of their business – not sure where i heard that.

When Sette Luna first opened, the menu was relatively limited and the food was great, but the dining room was too bright and noisy for our tastes. Their expansion into the other half of the building was a real turning point. The second smaller dining room, beautiful bar, wine cellar, and refined menu made Sette Luna more of an experience than just a place to grab an above-average meal. From the beer selection to the custom-made door handles, you really feel you’re being cared for by people with an eye for detail. That’s comforting.

Getting to the food, i have to start with the pizza. As a guy with a childish aversion to crust, I tend to view the usually flavorless rind as a “pizza handle,” eating it only so i can’t be accused of wasting food. But Sette Luna’s crust I crave. Their wood-fired oven, combined with the dough recipe and seasonings, creates a flavorful crust with the perfect blend of chewy and crispy. They offer maybe 15 pizzas on the regular menu – half white, half red – as well as a daily pizza special. They’re wonderfully thin and light so you can definitely finish the 12″ disk if you bring your appetite.

A pizza makes a nice appetizer as well. Speaking of which, there’s a nice selection of unique apps. We had an heirloom tomato salad that we loved (though it was likely a seasonal offering) and their risotto ball is amazing – a baseball-sized ball of risotto stuffed with Bolognese sauce, covered in breadcrumbs and fried, and served in a bowl of Marinara. Major comfort food.

They also serve their Bolognese as an entrée (with Penne i think) and i highly recommend it. Order a side of bread to enjoy every drop of sauce. (Yeah, you have to pay for the bread, but it’s worth it.) The menu isn’t loaded with pastas. You won’t find every conceivable combination of noodle and sauce like Olive Garden – they do a few dishes and do them well. When i’m not in a starchy mood, I go for the steak or the salmon. I think there’s an osso buco but i haven’t had it yet, though it’s one of my favorite cow parts.

Sette Luna has a nice selection of 3 different Belgian beers on draft, a long list of microbrew bottles (with descriptions -thank you!), and some great wines sold by the quartino – a small carafe holding the equivalent of 2 glasses roughly. I honestly can’t remember much of the dessert list, just the rich panna cotta.

The service has always been great. The manager, Josh Palmer, is always there to make sure everything runs smoothly – we’ve even seen him buss tables. The servers are all on the younger side – not the most polished in town but they do a solid job. We recommend sitting in the smaller dining room. The main room can be a bit noisy with the open kitchen and presence of families with children. You can wait for your table in the bar area. It can be a bit of a bottleneck based on it’s location between to 2 dining rooms so be mindful of the waitstaff trying to squeeze through. Take advantage of the call ahead seating on Fridays and Saturdays after 7.

Sette Luna offers lunch but we’ve never tried it. There’s also a Sunday Jazz Brunch that we’d love to try if we could get our butts out of bed before 10am.

Now that it’s starting to warm up, we’re really looking forward to grabbing one of the sidewalk tables for some al fresco dining. Ferry St doesn’t get much traffic so the air is clean and there’s minimal noise. Though the traffic is heavier, another great place for patio dining is Valenca in the NE corner of the square – my next “best.”

No reviews from the weekend. I had so much work to do this week that I didn’t want to even leave the house this weekend – opted for hot dogs over the firepit and ribeyes, asparagus and fennel on the grill.

I spent every night, after my day job, making about a million editorial revisions to a cookbook i’m laying out for Chronicle Books. It’s the first book i’ve done and the process is way different from what i’m used to. Lots of waiting punctuated by flurries of activity. Thankfully, i think the hardest part is over. Can’t wait for hit to hit the shelves in the fall–the photography is beautiful and i’m really pleased with the design. I’ll provide more detail and links once the book is publicly announced.

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Another busy week at the office so we weren’t in the mood to make a meal, but also didn’t want to shell out 100 bucks. My wife wanted Asian so we opted for Thai food at Phenom on Northampton St in Easton. We’ve eaten there 3 or 4 times – the last being about a year ago. The food is adequate – some things are very tasty and the portions are good – but the overall experience always leaves me a bit disappointed. The service could be more professional. For example, my wife ordered a mojito and the waitress returned with what looked like a shirley temple. She said they didn’t have any mint but that there was mint flavoring in the rum. Huh? And how do the crushed maraschino cherries make it taste more like a mojito?

The menu is way too extensive. Like one of those Chinese restaurant menus with 200 items. “I’ll have the L72 with a side of R12.” And the menu is physically cheap-looking with yellowing paper inside flimsy plastic sleeves. I could understand not spending dough on menus if they changed frequently, but I honestly don’t think anything has changed since they opened several years ago.

All that being said, it’s a relaxing place to grab a bite which is just what we wanted on Friday. We really needed it after circling downtown Easton for 15 minutes looking for a parking space – a topic for a separate post. That we couldn’t find a space upped our anxiety level cuz that meant all the restaurants were likely packed, and we were not in the mood to wait for a table. That fear subsided when we arrived to find a nearly empty Phenom. Not a good sign, but i just wanted food and a drink asap.

I usually get a bottle or two of Singha (a Thai lager). We started with a plate of crispy chicken wings with a sweet plum glaze. Very good. For our entrées, my wife got a curry dish and I had the pad thai with pork. I haven’t eaten enough Thai to judge how well Phenom’s preparations stack up, but everything tasted fine to us. We saved room for dessert as we were both in the mood for ice cream – ginger, coconut, maybe red bean? Nope. They only had vanilla. Check, please.

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Just as we were finishing up, the jazz band, which had been taking a break, started a set. We’d noticed the instruments when we arrived but didn’t think to ask if there would be live music – too hungry to care i guess. I think they have music every Friday which is fun. Too bad there were only 10 people in the room to hear them. I really don’t get the lack of interest considering how packed the other restaurants probably were. You’d think there would be more than a little spillover? If Phenom could class up its act a bit and get the word out, they could easily be packed nightly. I see way worse restaurants with lines out the door. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Texas Roadhouse.

We do have to check out this other Thai place over on 2nd street. Saw some rave reviews online, but the place looks like it’s in a what used to be a residence. Sometimes it feels like your eating in a stranger’s living room. Low ceilings and paneling. Uck.

Sugar: The Patisserie, just across the river in Phillipsburg, seemingly vanished a couple years ago. Web searches for the founder, Samantha Burns, in conjunction with “pastry” or “bakery” haven’t turned up any mentions more recent than 2006.

We only ate there once but bought desserts several times. It was such a joy to walk through the doors and feast your eyes on the glass cases full of fresh pastries. So difficult to decide. There were no slices of larger desserts – each was like a miniaturized version of a classic. Your personal  sweet treasure. Banana cream pie was the one that really stayed with me. Big enough to share but too good to even consider it.

Once, we convinced our management to use Sugar’s desserts to impress our biggest client. Little did we know, that would be our last Sugar experience.

We hoped Ms. Burns had maybe moved her operation further into the Lehigh Valley – P-burg isn’t exactly a hub of good taste. Even moving 1/4 mile across the river into Easton would have made the business more viable.

Does anyone out there on teh internets have a clue about what happened to Ms. Burns? Some community is getting to enjoy her skills and we’d love to know who we should be jealous of.

I agree about the Third Street Cafe. We drove by last Friday night and place was hoppin’. Apparently they do a Jazz dinner the first Friday of each month. We’re gonna try it in April.

Just discovered Breakfast in the Valley. I gotta scan through her posts – we’re always on the lookout for a new weekend breakfast spot. I have to (again) recommend checking out Tracy’s Cafe for your morning meal if you’re ever up on College Hill in Easton. Nothin’ fancy for sure, but way good.

Noticed the proposed Victory brew pub floor plan over at Two Rivers Daily. The place looks sizable and “multifunctional” – video games, shuffleboard, big tvs in the bar area, outdoor seating and private banquet capabilities.

Damn, I’m already worried this place is gonna get slopped up by all the Crayola kids. But at least their parents will have a lunch option other than McDonald’s.

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    For many Junes, this was my favorite cocktail. Yes, I realize that I sound particularly like a weird food writer person and not a person who lives among other people because most normal, sane people do not have a favorite cocktail for each month of the year, even if you agree with me — you do, right? –that a Perfect Manhattan is the ideal way to warm up on t […]

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