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The unseasonably beautiful weather last Friday demanded that we find some outdoor dinner downtown. My wife has been bugging me to go back to Valenca in Centre Square but I’ve weaseled my way out of it for the past year or so. We’ve had way too many odd experiences there – mostly problems with the service. But they have a nice patio setup and tasty sangria so I was ready to give them another shot.

We started with the “meat and cheese plate” – more meat than cheese, but it was good nonetheless. A nice variety of meats and, simple presentation, and tasty candied walnuts to balance the saltiness of everything else.

My wife went with the Greek Salad and Margherita Pizza, and I had the Chorizo Penne. Everything was fresh and well-prepared.

We saved room for dessert and decided to share the lava cake with hazelnut chocolate ice cream (from The Purple Cow Creamery – excellent).

We weren’t surprised by the quality of the food – that was never our problem. The service was our concern and I’m happy to report that we had a great waiter. He was attentive and friendly without being overly chatty. We’d had one server there previously who wanted to have a conversation with every visit to the table. Awkward and frustrating. It’s too soon to be sure that Valenca has upgraded its waitstaff overall, but this visit has definitely recolored my opinion of the place. Plus it’s hard to resist the vibe of their patio and the great light as the sun sets on the square.

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I wanted to squeeze a quick post in about The Promenade’s Asian fusion restaurant, Komé, before we head out to Bolete’s New England lobster bake. We grabbed dinner at Komé the other weekend just before seeing Inception at the Rave theater. This was our first visit – it was either too crowded or I wasn’t in a sushi mood the other times we considered it. We chose the dining room rather than hibachi since the sushi mood had struck us this night. The first thing I was excited to see was Hitachino Nest Ginger Brew on the drink menu. I first tried it on a recent business trip to Seattle and fell in love. It’s not too gingery and has a fair amount of citrus flavor. It’s also much lighter in body and flavor than the deep amber color and opacity might indicate.

My wife started with an assorted mushroom dish – served in a bubbling hot sour glaze. Really nice but a touch too salty.

I’d been talking about fried chicken earlier that day and coincidentally discovered “Fried Chicken” on the appetizer menu so I had to go for it. It was a sizable portion of cubed white meat served with flavored salt and curry powder. The flavors were all great but some of the chicken was pretty dry. Dark meat would work much better in this dish.

We moved on to a couple rolls – salmon and avocado for my wife and crispy salmon skin for me. Both very good and simply presented – nothing elaborate like Sogo. We considered trying the house-smoked salmon per the waiter’s recommendation but decided we were in salmon overload and would try it next time maybe.

Then mochi ice cream for dessert. We chose chocolate with strawberry mochi and coconut with dark chocolate mochi. If you’re unfamiliar with mochi, it’s a rice flour dough that’s wrapped around ice cream and then re-frozen together. Soft and chewy. I’m thinking of trying to make these at home some time soon.

Overall, we enjoyed the food, service and ambiance regardless of the few quibbles we had with the appetizers. Definitely try Komé. And see Inception!

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 dropped by Ocean, one our Easton faves, on a recent Saturday evening sans reservation. It seems we’ve built up some cred with the manager as he overruled the hostess to give us a better table than the one she’d found for us. (I’m sure it was that he recognized us as semi-frequent patrons – not that he’s aware of the vast influence of The Fork City.) His gesture made me feel a little bad that we hadn’t visited since March, but we’d tried most of the menu by that point and wanted to branch out a bit for the blog.

We immediately noticed a bunch of new dishes (maybe 20% of the menu?) and were excited to check them out. They’ve also changed up the complimentary dish from hummus and crackers to a black bean dip and tricolor nacho chips – a bit less premium but tastier I thought.

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For my appetizer, I had the phyllo-wrapped herbed goat cheese with honey and pine nuts and my wife had the stuffed scallop with braised cabbage and red beet cream. Both were great. I’ve been in love with the combination of honey and goat cheese ever since i encountered it maybe 5 years ago in Bermuda.

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I combined two tapas dishes for my dinner. I sometimes attempt to combine complementary dishes but i failed this time. English pea soup with lobster and potato hash and Korean braised pork belly with house-made kimchee. The portions were more generous than i was ready for. And even though the flavors didn’t work very well together, the sweet soup help put out a bit of the fire from the kimchee.

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My wife had the fish special on a bed of root vegetables and lobster. We can’t recall the kind of fish, but it was great as usual.

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We barely had room for dessert but we had to try the new stuff. I had the mini carrot cake with cream cheese ice cream. My wife had the dessert special which she wanted mainly for the honey gelato (which in fact is the only part that i can recall – we think the garnish was a peanut brittle but the type of cake escapes us). The cakes were rather dry – almost like someone kept them in a warm oven too long to reheat them before serving.

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We can’t wait to go back and try some of the other new dishes. I have my eye on the panko fried prosciutto wrapped mozzarella salad, the lemon risotto, and the shortbread & blueberry napoleon.

Since it always seems so difficult to pick out birthday presents, going out to a nice meal has become our default gift. My wife chose Emeril’s Chop House at the Sands casino in Bethlehem to celebrate her birthday last weekend. They’ve removed the phone number from the website – instead directing you to OpenTable.com to book your reservation. While it’s always reassuring to make a reservation with an actual person, web reservation sites let you see what times are available. I originally tried to book a table for Saturday but nothing was available between 5 and 10pm. Yikes. Friday’s options were 6:45 and 9:15. We went with the 6:45. That Emeril’s was so booked up was a fair indication that the food would to be good. We’d heard from a friend who attended the restaurant’s opening that the food was so-so. We optimistically assumed they just hadn’t worked out all of the kinks. Then my mom chimed in that the food was “too salty” at the Emeril’s in Las Vegas, though my dad said otherwise. We were undeterred!

We forgot the camera but snagged some inferior pics on my wife’s phone. I’ll post them if I can clean them up in Photoshop.

They started us with some toasts covered with a mouthwatering mushroom paté. I ordered a half-bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and my wife had their sangria – a delicious mix with a subtle taste of cloves. It took a while for the waiter to return to take our food order, but that was our only criticism of the night. We started with salads – the iceberg wedge slathered in Pennsylvania blue cheese for me and the grilled peach and chevre salad for my wife. Both were great – fresh and flavorful. And mine was so filling that I got a bit nervous knowing I had a 22oz ribeye on the way! My wife had the shrimp arrabbiata for her entrée.

Their steaks are accompanied by 3 sauces including bearnaise, Worcestershire, and horseradish. They were good but the steak was seasoned and cooked so well that I used the sauces only sparingly. Side dishes must be ordered separately, but I wanted to save room for dessert.

I was excited to see Penn State Creamery ice cream on the menu and was definitely going to get the Bittersweet Mint if it was one of the selections. It wasn’t (though they did have Peachy Paterno) so we shared the coconut cream pie. Yummm.

We had a great night and highly recommend it. The decor is great, the waitstaff was professional and the food was top notch. It was one of the pricier meals we’ve had in a while (though my steak and wine threw off the curve) but i can confidently say that we got our money’s worth.

One of the most anticipated treats was the Hawaiian shave (not shaved) ice. It’s a much more pleasurable eating experience than a typical mainland sno-cone with its huge gritty crystals that fail to hang onto any of the flavored syrup. They literally shave a spinning ice block with a blade creating a snow-like texture. The flavors we found tended to range from the more exotic (lychee, guava, salted plum, honeydew melon) to the standard (cherry, vanilla, coconut, blueberry). Every location we visited offered a combo of shave ice and ice cream. We’d heard that rainbow ice with macadamia nut ice cream was the best combination but I took issue with that reco after our first stop at Paradise Shave Ice in Hanalei. To achieve the rainbow effect, they used four syrups, overlapping them substantially, whch meant there was a lot of syrup at the bottom of my dish. They also gave me very little ice cream, though i thought that might be the custom until i tried a couple more vendors.

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We’d been trying to stop by Wishing Well, also in Hanalei, but they’re only open from noon to 5 each day and only if the weather is good. Since it rains daily on the north shore, we didn’t catch them open for business until maybe our fourth day there. The line was long but so was the menu. They had a good variety of flavors, ice creams, and special combinations. Wishing Well also had a special ingredient i’d been hoping to try – azuki beans. As you can see in the pic below, they were basically like mini red kidney beans in a sugar syrup. They added a great textural component to the experience, though my compadres weren’t keen on the bean. On top of the beans, i had pineapple ice and good amount of macadamia nut ice cream.

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Toward the end of the week, as we stuffed ourselves with some amazing tacos at Pat’s Taqueria near the pier in Hanalei Bay, we noticed a small shave ice cart just across the road and figured we’d be even more gluttonous and give it a try. Sips of Paradise was manned by a super nice guy who we found out used to run tugboats on the Schuylkill River. I went with a combo of lychee and li hing mui (salted plum – sounds strange but it’s fantastic) on top of vanilla ice cream (his only flavor). It was a good combo.

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I inquired about the beans but he felt that if he offered extras he’d have to offer a few, not just one, and he didn’t have the space in his little red cart. He seemed like a dude who likes to keep things simple – the most endearing trait of Kaua’i culture in my opinion.

My mom’s birthday falls within a week of Mothers Day so I usually use that as an excuse to only give her one gift. Parents are impossible to shop for, so we tend to just go out for a nice “meal of food.” I’ve been raving about Bolete since last fall and finally had the perfect occasion to take her there. Bolete is in a great building with a strange location, at the intersection of Seidersville Rd and Emmaus Ave in the Fountain Hill section of Bethlehem. Frankly, the historic farmhouse looks like it was just plopped into its suburban neighborhood. That uniqueness is reflected in the food – an innovative (though short) menu utilizing as many locally sourced, seasonal ingredients as possible. Note: Take the menu on their website as an indication of Bolete’s typical range – not what they will be serving on a particular evening.

Saturday’s menu had a number of compelling choices. Tough to decide. For the first course, my wife went with the mixed green salad with goat cheese and blueberries, my mom chose the calamari (not local obviously, but it’s amazing), and i had to choose between the steak tartare and the roasted quail. Since I was leaning toward beef for my entrée, I went with the quail. Plus, I’d never had quail and I was curious to see what the dish would look like.

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We convinced my wife to go for the softshell crab with fingerling potatoes for her entrée. My mom chose the house-smoked pork chop with polenta cakes and I had the braised beef shank with grit croquettes and oyster mushrooms. I ended up eating the body of the crab. The guts freaked my wife out a little. Totally understandable. There’s no way I would eat that junk out of a steamed crab, but somehow i trusted that Bolete’s chefs wouldn’t feed me anything that would taste bad. Their smoked pork chop is great. You really gotta brine and smoke pork to keep it moist – farmers are breeding them way too lean nowadays. Bolete seems to offer the chop year-round. They just change the prep and the side dishes seasonally. My beef shank was tender and tasty. And i loved the grit croquettes – crispy and creamy and perfect for soaking up sauce.

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We were stuffed but i made a strong case that we absolutely needed dessert. Seeing the dessert menu sealed the deal. Some sharing was considered but quickly abandoned. Fresh doughnuts filled with lemon custard, coated with lemon sugar with a scoop of blueberry sorbet. Lime custard in a macadamia nut pastry shell with spearmint sorbet. Chocolate hazelnut ice cream with white chocolate cream and grapefruit. We appreciated the plating for about half a second before we attacked. Too good.

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Oh, and i forgot to mention the drinks. Bolete has an excellent wine list and some nice beer choices but we went with the mixed drink specials. My wife had the strawberry sangria and i went for the berry margarita with cucumber juice. My mom loves Corona but it wasn’t on the menu – at least not as a stand-alone drink. The Lehigh Valley Lemonade blended Corona, fresh squeezed lemonade and Ketel One vodka. It might be my mom’s new favorite drink.

Needless to say, we had a great time and my mom was really impressed with the food. Can’t wait to go back. Fathers Day is comin’ up right?

The plan was to hit Valenca the other Friday night, but we pushed it to Saturday. Then the weather was so nice that we chose to hang in the yard and throw a couple burgers on the grill. Sunday would be it. But we sorta remembered Valenca being closed on Sundays? Sogo would be our fallback just in case.

Parked on 3rd near our old apartment and found Valenca to be open as we entered the square. The patio tables were tempting, but the sun was setting and the temp was already borderline too cold. We grabbed an indoor table by the window and stared at the menus for a while before our server showed up. The service has definitely been my biggest problem with Valenca. It’s easily the weakest of any of the better downtown restaurants. We’ve been there about 5 times, and obviously haven’t encountered every server, but there always seems to be something lacking. And it’s not like any of our visits have been during peak hours, so that excuse doesn’t apply.

Sunday was no different. Maybe 10-20% full. Our server took our drink order – had to get the red sangria– and then strangely asked us if we wanted any “entrées.” I figured he meant “appetizers” so I ordered the flambéed Portugese sausage. He paused and awaited more input. Umm…ok let’s just order our entrées too i guess. I got the salmon and my wife combined a salad with the steamed clams appetizer, asking to have them together as her entrée.

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The sangria took a while to arrive, but it was goooood. We noticed the table next to us ordered the sausage as well. Turned out it was mine and it went to the wrong table. It came our way after the brief confusion, joined by my wife’s salad – the one she wanted as her entrée. When all of the grappa burned off, the sausage was moved to a dish and sliced before coming my way. It was fantastic. Make sure you have some bread to soak up the juices. My wife didn’t mind having the salad early… but it was another one of those little things.

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The roasted salmon was served with crisp green beans and flavorful mashed potatoes – nothin fancy, but really good. The littlenecks’ white wine broth had “a lot of butter” – not sure if that was good or bad.

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I had half of my meal wrapped so i could save room for dessert. I’d wanted ice cream earlier that day but the coffee/gelato shop on College Hill was sand gelato for another week-and-a-half. WTF? It’s always killed me that people don’t think anyone eats ice cream between October and April… but i’ll save that rant for another day.

I ordered the dark chocolate cake with canoli filling, and i convinced my wife to get the chocolate hazelnut ice cream. Cake and ice cream is a perfect combo. We dug in so fast we forgot to take a pic. Oops.

We had 2 full glasses of sangria remaining even after dessert. I’d guess you get about 6 glasses in a $21 pitcher. Good deal. Definitely one of Valenca’s good points – in addition to the decor, the large patio area, free valet parking, and many unique menu options. They just need to take a few lessons from Ocean and Sette Luna on how to run a tighter ship.

My folks drove up Saturday to hang out and we decided to go out for an early dinner. They’d never had Thai food and I wanted to try Touch of Thai again to make sure it was worth my strong reco. We were the first ones there, but the dining room was half-filled by the time we left – a better crowd than they had the Friday evening when we first stopped in.

My folks had a bunch of questions about Thai food, but the menu had brief explanations of the dishes to make things easier. While we pondered the menu, we got to work on a couple bottles of wine. A white from Franklin Hill Vineyards flavored with kiwi and strawberry and a Mondavi Riesling. We have to try Franklin Hill’s more traditional offerings cuz they’re specialty fruit blends are too sweet. The Riesling was very good.

We started off with some vegetable spring rolls, fried crispy with a sweet chili dipping sauce, and the chicken skewers we enjoyed on our previous visit. My folks were liking everything so far. For the main course, my dad had a sweet and sour pork dish, my wife a curry, my mom the pad thai, and i had what was basically the pad thai with glass noodles. It was a huge plate of food, but i hadn’t eaten since breakfast and i wolfed it down. In fact, i don’t think anyone had leftovers – which is unusual for my mom and my wife.

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Amazingly we still had room for a little dessert – but little is not what we received. We figured we’d share the triple ice cream dish, though my pops went rogue and ordered the sticky rice and custard. Daring. The scoops of mango, ginger, and toasted coconut ice cream were ginormous, and the flavors and texture were top notch. I’m wondering if they get a local place like Purple Cow to mix them up special. The coconut was packed with toasted coconut and was the clear favorite.

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My dad was a bit stunned by the custard – it was a large slab with an odd yellow color. He had an eye on our ice cream so i decided to help him out and let him in on our frozen awesomeness. The custard wasn’t half-bad – kinda like a coconut custard but a bit more textural. Half the portion plus a scoop of ice cream or dollop of whipped cream would improve the dish.

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As we were finishing up, PA state rep. Robert Freeman arrived with a small group. He’s a lifelong Easton guy so he would know all the best spots – and i have to agree with him on Touch of Thai.

Just got back from Sogo on Northampton St. It’s Asian cuisine – mostly sushi but a number of cooked Chinese and Thai dishes as well. I plan on writing synopses of each of our 5 or 6 favorite area restaurants later so i’ll save the full description for then.
What’s great about Sogo is the combo of taste and portion size. I think mgmt realized they weren’t gonna get away with NYC portions in eastern Pennsylvania. Not when you have f’n Olive Garden and Ruby Tuesday’s competing for the big bellies of the Keystone State. This seems to be true of all of our faves actually. We’ve never left any of them anything short of stuffed just from an app, an entrée and maybe dessert.
Apart from our first visit there, we always go with the sushi. Tonight we went with our favorite appetizer and 2 of the special “rolls.” I use quotes cuz they’re rarely that traditional.
Our app. was The Monster, a mixture of an assortment of raw fish, mango, thin noodles and a blend of sauces amidst an eyecatching arrangement of fried rice paper, all placed on a small bed of mixed greens. Fun to eat and really filling.
I then had the special Tuna Dumpling. I saw the description but had no clue what expect visually – as is generally the case. It turned out to be a blend of cooked tuna belly, crab and avocado formed into a ball and wrapped in sashimi tuna belly. It sat in a pool of their mysterious sauce mixture (does that sound creepy?) and was sprinkled with micro-greens. Fantastic.
Janet got the Garden Roll – mostly lobster salad wrapped with lots of avocado. Really good too.
I still had a lot of Sapporo left – plus we were trying to shake off a rough week at work – so we went for dessert. They have a big selection of pre-fab fancy desserts (tiramisus, parfaits, etc) which taste great but feel kinda disingenuous since they’re mass produced offsite. Janet’s been on a hazelnut kick so she chose some hazelnut ganache thingy and i went with a big scoop of coconut ice cream (followed by most of the hazelnut thingy). Not a bad start to the weekend.

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