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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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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.”

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