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• Just saw the new lobster sandwich at the Panera near my office in Jersey. 17 bucks! WSJ has the scoop.

• The blog’s been slow since we’ve been grillin’ more often. My new favorite cookbook.

• And we’re psyched to visit Paris next month. Got a couple strong recos to visit Berthillon. Can you decipher their specialty?

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 The chicken bone handles have been replaced by skewers for some reason – not as unique but maybe aesthetically more appealing to some customers.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 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.

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.

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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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