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I truly don’t enjoy writing negative reviews. Most restaurants try their best to put a good product forward. Others just phone it in and rely on consumers’ low expectations to keep the money flowing in. The rest go out of business. We make an effort to visit locally-owned restaurants and avoid the corporate chains unless absolutely necessary. It’s just assumed we’ll get more personal attention and fresher ingredients, and it feels better to keep our dollars local. We’ve generally had good results with this strategy.

So it’s with much disappointment that I give a “thumbs down” to the Marblehead Chowder House. We’d heard all this talk about their “Best of the Valley” and “Readers’ Choice” awards and figured it might be a great gift card option for Christmas. I get the impression that Marblehead is something of a cherished institution and i’ll probably be accused of snobbery by at least a couple readers. Listen, if you’re in the mood for buttery, uninspired seafood preparations, then Marblehead is for you. Please choose it over Red Lobster. And the service was quite good – happy, polite and enthusiastic.

We ordered the baked appetizer platter to get a broad sampling. The crab dip was good (though i’ve rarely had a bad one), the dipping toasts were drenched in oil, the clams casino were greasy, and the bacon-wrapped scallops looked like they’d just been dropped in the deep fryer. I had a tuna steak grilled “Key West” style with pineapple salsa. Sounded great. Looked great. Not so great. They cooked the fish rare as I requested but it was dry and flavorless, and the salsa, while very fresh, didn’t add much. My wife’s average-tasting lobster ravioli were just plopped on a plate with too much sauce.

All that being said, if you still plan to try Marblehead, we recommend sitting in the bar area – much cozier and not as brightly lit as the main dining room. Also, we have a good feeling that the chowders and seafood pies will be super creamy and decadent. If we visit again, it’ll be only to try the soup.

So… if you want a remarkable all-seafood restaurant in the Lehigh Valley, then you’re out of luck for the time being. (The new seafood spot in downtown Easton will get a chance when it opens in 2010.) The best strategy to get great seafood in the Valley is simply to go to a great restaurant. You won’t have as many fish options but you can be sure that what you order won’t disappoint. For example, Bolete normally has a poached white fish, salmon, tuna tartar, calamari and raw oysters – all excellent. Sette Luna has great mussels and the best shrimp we’ve ever had. And Valenca‘s codfish gratin is coma-inducing. And for the raw stuff, you can’t beat Sogo.

This past Monday, we took a personal day to do a bit of Christmas shopping without the crowds. It took us a while to get rollin, but we eventually made our way to our first stop in Bethlehem just before lunchtime. We wanted to see if a gift certificate to one of the Sands casino’s two new restaurants, Burgers and More by Emeril or Carnegie Deli, would make a good gift for my folks. We decided both spots were too casual to make a classy gift, but we were psyched to try Emeril’s for ourselves. We grabbed a seat at the bar and were handed the menus and two build-a-burger order forms. It’s nice to have the options clearly spelled out and there’s an implied reassurance that there won’t be any miscommunication with the chef. Hopefully you can read all of the choices in the pic.

My wife wasn’t in a burger mood, but went for the crabcake sandwich. The menu had a bunch of non-burger options including salads and a portabella burger for vegetarians. I do wish there was a veggie burger option on the build-your-own menu.

Design sidebar: It took me a while to realize that the BAM adjective in front of a number of menu items was an acronym of the restaurant’s initials and not just a reference to Lagasse’s trademark exclamation. Not sure why they didn’t play that up in the logo?

Our food took a while to arrive – probably due to the lunch rush – but the unique plating put a smile back on my face. You gotta love the fryer basket of extra thick and crispy onion rings. And the burger was great. Lots of toppings – a generous amount of blue cheese, and tasty balsamic-braised onions.

On my next visit, I plan to get the brisket blend burger with bacon, bbq sauce and cole slaw. And I heard the andouille barbecued white beans are fantastic. Though we may have to try the Carnegie Deli before the return trip to Emeril’s. Their dessert cases are a sight to behold.

Just had a great meal at our favorite hidden gem in Easton – Touch of Thai. Two meal-worthy appetizers, two big entrées and a kickass dessert for maybe $40 (though the byob policy negated the drink tab). And the place was practically empty! I mean it’s great to be able to get a table with no wait but the place really deserves more bizness. Check out my earlier reviews if you’re interested.

I wasn’t expecting Emeril’s burger joint and the Carnegie Deli over at the Sands casino to open so quickly. Lehigh Valley InSite has an early review. Can’t wait to build my own gourmet burger – or at least have a pro build it to my specifications.

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  • hummus heaped with tomatoes and cucumbers
    Like clockwork every summer, I decide that the only thing I want to eat, maybe forever because when it’s warm out I completely forget winter is coming (I’m sorry, I had to), are variations on tomato-cucumber salad. We did a world tour of these last year and it might take me another decade of Smitten Kitchen-ing but I will get to them all. Left to our own dev […]

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