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The here is Tapas on Main and the there is Emeril’s Burgers and More, both in Bethlehem.

Let’s start with the there. We spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s bouncing around the house looking for reasons to get out in the Valley. My wife mentioned that some new outlets had opened at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem so I had the idea to grab a burger for lunch at Emeril’s. We’d been there once before, shortly after it opened, and our recollections were positive. Well, on this second visit, things didn’t start out strong. The hostess was nowhere to be found while 10 people stacked up at the doorway staring at a bunch of empty tables. The manager repeatedly noticed the lineup but continued delivering food to tables rather than alert the hostess or jump in to get people seated in the meantime. We were finally seated close to the kitchen and noticed how rapidly the food was stacking up under the warming lights. The place was definitely understaffed. Our drinks took forever to arrive (and we were never offered water), but the food was tasty. Though burgers and fries from Five Guys are more satisfying for half the price. The service was friendly, but the atmosphere was offputting – bright lights, dirty floors and chaos. One might chalk that up to the casino experience but somehow Vegas has figured out how to make even casual dining feel classy. Emeril’s feels like a fast food joint that sells $10 burgers. Total: about $50 for a burger, crabcake sandwich, fries, cole slaw, a beer and a margarita.

Two days later, we found ourselves in Bethlehem again to do a little ice skating. We were shopping on Main Street around 5pm and decided to fuel up before hitting the rink. We considered Mama Nina’s, a new Italian Place called Molto Pazzo, and the Brew Works. A shopkeeper recommended the new Tapas on Main and we figured a couple small plates and a glass of wine would be perfect for our purposes. We chose wisely. They offer a happy hour menu with a handful of tapas dishes, mixed drinks and glasses of wine for $5 each. We ordered the hand-cut fries (ideally crisp with a great aioli), the chorizo (with melted manchego cheese and an interesting chocolate balsamic drizzle), and the coca de calamari (perfectly cooked and flavored). We then shared a petite flourless chocolate cake for dessert. All of that plus 3 glasses of wine, tight service, and great ambiance for the same amount we spent at Emeril’s two days prior.

Some may say the comparison of a casino burger joint to a quiet tapas bar is apples to oranges, but if you’re in Bethlehem in the mood for something casual to semi-casual with a medium budget in mind, these are certainly two places you might have considered. And in the interest of keeping you away from Emeril’s (if wine and tapas aren’t your scene), check out Looper’s just down from the casino on 3rd street. Great casual food, good drinks and decent atmosphere.

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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

We got together with a couple friends to attend the Jim Gaffigan show at Easton’s State Theater on Saturday night. It was a 9:30 show which gave us plenty of time to gorge ourselves at Ocean. Neither of our guests had ever eaten at Ocean so we thought it would be fun to start with an assortment of tapas. We ordered 5 of our faves starting with the filo wrapped goat cheese with pumpkin seeds and honey plus 2 plates of “hot wings.” The chicken bone handles have been replaced by skewers for some reason – not as unique but maybe aesthetically more appealing to some customers. Or maybe  bones were just a pain in the ass for the chefs to deal with.

The we rocked a seafood triumvirate: calamari, tuna tartare, and lobster mac ‘n cheese. All great.

Our friends were still craving a bit more so we advised they split the burger and fries. One of the best burgers you’ll ever have. And I love their fresh cut fries.

Even after all the food and many beers (mostly Delirium Tremens), dessert was still beckoning to us. Crème brulée, cheesecake springrolls, and pear/cranberry cobbler with sweet cream ice cream. It was one course too many, really.

And the Gaffigan show was fantastic if you were curious. His set was maybe an hour and a half – 98% new material plus an encore of his infamous assault on Hot Pockets. Definitely check him out. But don’t let his tight jeans distract you from his continued paleness.

I’d heard that a Five Guys Burgers and Fries had popped up in the Lehigh Valley (there are 2 actually plus one up in Stroudsburg). I love a good burger and i’ve been intrigued by Five Guys since the Prez began drawing crowds to the DC franchise. We swung by the Airport Road location (next to the new Target just off Rt 22) to see what all the buzz was about.

The menu is pretty basic – burgers, dogs, fries and sodas. My wife ordered a “little” cheeseburger, i had a regular cheeseburger and we shared a large fries. The regular burger is actually 2 “little” burgers stacked. We both got ours with “everything on it” which included mayo, lettuce, pickles, grilled onions and mushrooms, ketchup, mustard and green peppers. Relish, raw onions, jalapenos, A-1, BBQ sauce and hot sauce are also available.

While we waited for our order # to be called, we shelled some peanuts – a nice distraction for a hungry crowd. It’s interesting to watch the noisy assembly line in the simple open kitchen just behind the counter. The vocal crew, basic menu, peanut shells, and no-secrets kitchen all combine to communicate one simple truth – it’s fun to eat real food.

Our number came up and we took our big brown paper bag out to a sidewalk table. As you can see, the buns were packed with sloppy goodness. The meat itself was tender and flavorful – the patties are loosely packed never-frozen beef and are always cooked well done. And the fries kick ass if you’re into “boardwalk” style.

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