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We were looking for a dinner spot last Friday and wanted to try something new. I was in the mood for something casual and was pushing for Black & Blue near the Easton courthouse. My wife heard some good chatter at work about Emeril’s new place at the Sands and I could tell she had her heart (and stomach) set on it. It was already 5pm so I was surprised when she was easily able to make a 7pm reservation – we’ve since learned that Saturday is the busy night.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed. I was expecting something as stylish as Emeril’s Chop House across the casino floor, but it was much more casual. The restaurant runs along a wide hallway that extends from the back wall of the casino. There are 3 seating sections – a bar, a prep area, and the dining room. The bar had the most character with a view of the casino floor. The prep area gives you a view of the pizza oven and charcuterie cooler & slicer but the lighting was kinda bright. The dining room, where we were seated, was pleasant but had the vibe of a catering hall. (The curtain near our table clearly indicated that the dining room was designed to be closed off for private parties.) The arched beams leading to a huge chandelier were a nice detail, but the height of the ceiling, starkness of the walls, and view of the adjacent large hallway detracted from the intimacy we look for in rustic Italian dining.

My main focus in the menu was the meat and cheese selection. We created a combination of 3 cheeses (burrata mozzarella, taleggio, and robiola) and 3 meats (prosciutto, coppa, and nduja) from a selection of maybe 20. They arrived accompanied by 2 different chutneys and some small (seemingly fried) breads. Everything was great except the little churro-like breads. They were chewy and stale. My wife also ordered the radicchio and endive salad.

For our entrées, my wife went with the clam pizza and I ordered the meatballs. For a wood-fired pizza, it was rather bland. They need to take a page out of Sette Luna’s playbook and give their crust a lot more seasoning and color. The meatballs, though, were great. There were 3 of them covered in a rich red sauce and fresh arugula all on a bed of soft polenta. If I had one criticism, I would have plated it on a large dish. It really looked like a side order. And I had to take care to avoid splashing with so little room to maneuver on the plate.

The service was good except for one instance when the entrées arrived a few minutes before we were finished with our charcuterie. Our table was pretty well filled with dishes and cutting boards, but the server tried to force the entrées onto the table and take away our unfinished appetizers. I made him cool his jets, but I still felt I had to rush through the rest of the meat and cheese as our food was starting to get cold.

The desserts were petite and excellent. My wife enjoyed the dark chocolate-hazelnut tart and I had the spumoni torta.

We’ll likely go back but will probably be a little more specific about where we want to sit – and probably skip the pizza.

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I really appreciate the drive to DIY before reaching for the credit card. There are certainly plenty of house/yard projects I have to hire someone for, but my first thought is always “Can I do it myself?”

When it comes to food, I understand my limitations and have enormous appreciation for skilled chefs and a good restaurant experience, hence this blog. That being said, I’m also somewhat frugal and am always looking to have a home dining experience that feels a step above the norm. It’s not only the result that I love – enjoying the process is key. And while cooking and baking can take up to a few hours per recipe, long-term recipes offer a whole different level of satisfaction.

Three time-intensive foods – wine, cheese and cured meat – also happen to be our idea of a heavenly meal. And I’m excited to say I’m close to achieving that trifecta at home.

I started winemaking a few years ago and have made cheese the last couple summers. Wines take a good two months from fermentation to bottling – plus at least 6 months of aging if you so choose. I’ve only attempted fresh cheese so far (mozzarella, chevre, feta and ricotta) which take a few hours to a few days. The next step would be aged cheeses (maybe brie or bleu) but the kits I’ve seen are a bit pricey. So I’m skipping ahead to salted, cured meats – aka charcuterie.

Inspired mainly by watching too much Anthony Bourdain, I started some research a couple months back and found that my basement conditions in winter are close to perfect. It’s an uninsulated stone foundation and sits right around 57º through March. We have a tiny room in the basement that had once housed a toilet and maybe a sink. The room had been partitioned with paneling that had taken on a fair amount of water damage at the base over the decades. We knew the whole setup was a mess but hadn’t touched it since we moved in almost 5 years ago. Now I had the perfect motivation.

I tore the walls down and poured a concrete slab on top of which the new walls would sit. This is the lowest spot in the basement and I don’t want any leaks damaging the new walls or spawning mold or mildew. I put up new studs and concrete backer board, and painted the brick wall and floor with mildew-resistant masonry paint. The new walls are covered in glossy white tile. The ceiling was the challenge. I originally wanted to enclose the pipes to keep the room as clean as possible. I decided the pipes were OK and hung a pine ceiling in 3 pieces to fit snugly around them. Twenty steel hooks were the final touch and I’m ready to hang some meat. I received Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie for my birthday last month and have decided to start with guanciale.

I finally had a chance to sort through all 1800 pics (!) to share our French gastronomic experience. These won’t mean much to anyone here looking for Lehigh Valley restaurant reviews, but who doesn’t love looking at photos of great food?!

Our first meal – a French breakfast and an “English” breakfast. The omelet made it “English.” We’re big breakfast people so we had to get used to the limited selection. You quickly learn to love a toasted baguette with a slathering of butter and jam.

Our first dinner. The steak haché (chopped steak) with a fried egg is a very common menu item. And the first of many plates of pommes frites.

The day trip to Champagne is highly recommended.

Two ever-present elements – sandwiches made for walkin’ around and Orangina.

Gotta love the veggies steamed and served in the mason jar.

A disappointing dessert – fromage blanc with honey. It was more acidic and clumpy than expected. And my strawberry milkshake was really runny and really expensive.

Lunch at The Louvre. My wife didn’t capture the cool little prawns or the slab of gelatinized seafood on the far side of the plate.

My beef bourguignon was amazing but it looks like crap in this pic – literally.

A visit to the Mouffetard market to assemble a picnic meal.

Does including the feathered head make this bird more appetizing?

Stumbled upon a nice Italian restaurant near the Trocadero across the river from the Eiffel Tower. A pile of seafood – my wife’s favorite. And a disassembled lasagna with smoked salmon for me. Fantastic.

A delicious banana and Nutella crêpe and a perfect waffle.

I’d seen this “flan natur” at a few patisseries and finally got one on a walk around Montmartre where we had another picnic outside Picasso’s studio.


One of our favorite meals just off the Champs-Élysées. The French cook steak much more rare than Americans are used to, and our waiter asked me if I wanted it “medium” – our “rare.” I surprised him by requesting it “bleu” – the descriptor for super-rare that i’ve been waiting to use for 15 years. I’d guess they cooked it maybe 30 seconds on each side. I loved it.

A common dessert option is the “tarte du jour.” Today’s was pear – simple and perfect.

Another banana and Nutella crêpe. Not as good as the first.

I had my eye on these enormous meringues near our hotel. This one was raspberry. Not as good as hoped.

We finally made our way over to Berthillon and waited in a looong line to get my hands on some rhubarb sorbet. Then they ran out of it when we were 10 feet from the counter.

We ended up with hazelnut, chocolate-orange, pear and almond. Don’t you love these double cones?!

Duck confit and frites in disc form. So great.

A kinda OK backdrop for our last picnic. A selection of Italian meats and cheeses plus a rhubarb-raspberry tart.

A return to Berthillon in search of rhubarb. Also coconut, nougat and dark chocolate.

For our final dinner, we tried to find a brasserie with the 3 French dishes we’d not tried all week – then we ordered all of them! Steak tartare, escargot and onion soup. Seems like a weird combo but it all worked together somehow.

In general, we found the food to be rather simple and straightforward. Flavors were fresh and clean without a lot of seasoning. We visited only moderately priced bistros, choosing not to splurge on any of the pricier restaurants where you’d likely find a greater level of complexity in their haute cuisine. Not surprisingly, due to the simple prep, the bistro food often arrived within 4-6 minutes after ordering. Impressive. The one downside was the amount of smoking in the outdoor cafés (and everywhere else for that matter). If you want to people-watch and absorb some Paris atmosphere be prepared to absorb a bit of secondhand smoke as well. You get used to it after about a week. Then it’s time to fly home. sigh

I recently took a 2-day trip to Chicago for a some meetings in one of our Chicago facilities and snapped a couple pics of the two substantial meals I had.

My first morning, I grabbed breakfast at my hotel’s restaurant – David Burke’s Primehouse. The hotel really hyped the place up but, because a $50 steak on the expense report isn’t generally well-received, I figured i’d at least grab breakfast to get a sense of Primehouse’s quality. I ordered their signature omelet with filet tips, mushrooms and caramelized onions. It all looked great as you can see, but it was so flavorless! Just a little salt and pepper would have been nice. I could have added it myself, but it’s just not the same, so i slogged through it as presented. Who needs all that sodium anyway, right?

That evening, I was looking for a lighter dinner and remembered a place we passed a few times on our trip last October, ENO. They offer a wide range of wines, cheeses, cured meats and chocolates. I decided on a flight of Côtes du Rhône paired with the server’s cheese flight reco. They were all hard cheeses – i prefer soft – so i should have clarified. They were good nonetheless. Overall, an amazing selection, decent prices and a nice atmosphere. And little cards explaining everything!

Sitting at gate 2 at the Lehigh Valley airport about to embark on a business trip to Seattle (via Chicago). I can’t believe there are this many people flying this early in the morning. And it seems like many of them do this on a daily basis. Ugh.
Let’s see if I have the motivation to update this post with all of my eating experiences over the next few days…

Update 1: Breakfast at Chicago/O’Hare – Little place called Berghoff in terminal C. Mushroom/onion/jack omelet. Not very fancy but really good and sustained me for the long leg to Seattle. I won’t buy preservative-filled plane food.

Update 2: Dinner at Txori (pronounced chor-ee) – A great Spanish tapas restaurant the team took me to Tuesday evening. We tried a little bit of a lot of stuff. I snagged a menu cuz there was no way i would remember what everything was.

The best dish of the meal was unfortunately the first – octopus, red potato, olive oil and smoked paprika:

chorizo with shaved chocolate:

garbanzo beans in cumin/tomato sauce:

piquillo peppers stuffed with codfish brandade:

veal/pork meatballs:

The day’s cheese plate (our waitress did a poor job explaining the choices):

Update 3: Breakfast at Boka – This is Hotel 1000’s restaurant. Don’t know about lunch or dinner, but the breakfast was tight. Smoked salmon/apple/potato hash with poached eggs and Hollandaise.

Update 4: Dinner at Umi – I was in the mood for sushi and my hosts took me to this great spot on 1st Ave. Amazing sushi. Huge rolls. Cool space. Interesting conversation. It was a bit dark so please pardon the picture quality. Spotted real Ginger Beer on the menu. We’ve loved the soft drink (Bermudian not Jamaican) for years, and now we can get drunk from it! Gotta figure out where to find a case.

Mackerel, yellowtail, tuna belly, and salmon sushi; and lots of rolls – each one different but all equally huge. Definitely would give Sogo a run for their money:

Final Update:  Breakfast at Bigfoot Food & Spirits at Sea-Tac airport. I only had a few minutes before my plane started boarding and the meal was way bigger than expected. A huge croissant sandwich with roasted potatoes and a big bowl of yogurt, fruit and granola. Followed by some Five Guys gloriousness at Washington/Dulles before my flight back to the LV.

We discovered Klein Farms in Forks Township a few months back. We’d seen an ad in The Irregular newspaper (i think) so it was in the back of my mind that we needed to check it out. One day we were getting ready to head out to a dinner party and we figured we’d pick up some of their raw milk cheese on the way for everyone to try.

I’ve read a bit about the benefits of properly produced raw milk and there are some compelling arguments. The cheeses certainly tasted differently than expected. Klein Farms has a wide range of flavored cheddars and spreads, and my concern was that they were using the flavors (fruit, herbs, etc) to mask inferior cheese. I grabbed a plain gouda and a cranberry cheddar – nothing too gimmicky. I found the gouda’s flavor dramatically different from the European goudas we normally get (usually smoked), and the texture was much more elastic and less dense – almost like a mozzarella without the stringy protein structure. The cheddar was good, though a bit sharp for my tastes. I think we both prefer the more earthy flavors – smoked gouda, bries and blue cheeses. Humboldt Fog is one of our new faves but it can be tough to find. And Wegman’s has a Gorgonzola Dolce that will knock your socks off.

My main interest now is possibly using their raw milk to produce my own cheeses. We buy a fair amount of fresh mozzarella when the tomatoes come in. Cubed and tossed with cherry tomatoes, lemon basil, olive oil and sea salt – it makes a great meal on some toasted semolina bread.

I found some easy mozzarella kits here, though the site is…well…cheesy. This guy has kits for brie and blue cheese, and the idea of aging my own cheese in the cellar is really intriguing. A nice complementary hobby to my winemaking for sure. Maybe i’ll start it in late fall when it gets too cold to make wine? I need a bit more research before i add yet another complication to my life.

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  • marbled banana bread
    Less than a week after I delivered the ostensibly completed manuscript for that my second cookbook (just 40 days now!), I received an email from someone was looking for a recipe for a chocolate-vanilla marble cake like the one her grandmother had made, one that had great texture and wasn’t too sweet. She said that no recipe she’d tried had achieved this, and […]

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