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 The chicken bone handles have been replaced by skewers for some reason – not as unique but maybe aesthetically more appealing to some customers.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

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.

Just heard on the radio this morning that, in addition to the new restaurant planned for the old Lipkin’s building at 3rd and Ferry Streets, the Easton zoning board has granted permission to put a health food store in the Suzie’s Mixing Bowl location on N 2nd Street. My wife will be bummed that we procrastinated and never checked out what Suzie’s had to offer. We didn’t even notice they were out of business!

Both are slated to open in the beginning of 2010. We can’t wait for the restaurant (informally being referred to as “Third and Ferry”) since we heard it would be seafood-centric. We always wondered why Ocean, just a few doors down, doesn’t offer more seafood just based on their name? Every good restaurant in downtown Easton has a couple of seafood options, but sometimes you’re just in a seafood mood and it would be nice to have a full menu to choose from.

Took our friends Ami and Chris to Ocean last night and had a great time. I was much more conscious of the details considering it was my first visit since starting the blog. Much darker than I remembered which didn’t bode well for my goal of taking impressive photos. (I really don’t want to use the flash – they annoy us so I’m gonna assume the feeling is universal.) The manager alerted us that a booth would be open soon and we could have it if we waited a couple extra minutes. The heads up was appreciated. Grabbed a couple drinks – fruity drinks for the girls and a Hoegarden for me (with an orange slice so i fit in).

We got the booth and ordered a bunch of tapas to start. I cranked up the levels but this is as good as the pic would get.

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Clockwise from the top: Hot Wings; Arugula Salad with Figs, Feta and Prosciutto; Lamb Tenderloin with Peas and Pancetta; and the Lobster Mac ‘n Cheese. It was a good array. Everyone tried a bit of each. For the main course Ami and Chris shared the Filet Mignon and the Potato Leek Soup. Janet had the crab cake from the tapas menu and I went with the special – Veal Cheeks with Black-Eye Peas. We all started eating and i forgot to take a pic. And food just doesn’t look appetizing when it’s half-eaten.

Our server had earlier taunted us with the promise of an interesting dessert special so we inquired. White chocolate risotto with gooseberry chutney. I was sold.

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That’s it on the right, followed clockwise by the Apple Dumpling with Honey Gelato, Chocolate Mousse Tart, and the Peanut Butter Trio.

The risotto was good, a bit al dente. The gooseberries were surprising. My in-laws have a gooseberry bush and the look and taste differs greatly from what Ocean served me. They were almost like tiny apricots really. Not better or worse, just different from what i expected.

We left very satisfied and pretty much passed out in front of the TV before hittin the hay. We got up and figured we’d grab breakfast before they had to split so we walked over to Tracy’s Cafe on Cattell St on College Hill. Another place i think i’m gonna add to my Easton’s Best list at some point. We haven’t found a tastier omelet and homefries anywhere.

More friends may be in town next weekend, so i’ll try to get another review up. Maybe Valenca? (Yikes. Their website is cheesy. That’s a flaming chorizo in case you were wondering.)

This is the first 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.

I’ve already mentioned Ocean a bit here and here. My wife may be getting tired of the menu but the variety of tapas options give me a chance to mix and match to fit my mood. The list of appetizers spans everything from yellowfin tuna tartare to chorizo & root vegetable soup to lobster mac ‘n cheese.

They had an amaaaazing angus burger and fries on the app. menu for a while but they must have received “complaints” that the platter was just way too voluminous to not be an entrée so they upgraded it. I highly recommend it (rare), but make sure you bring your appetite. An egg yolk slathered burger and hand cut fries don’t hold up well as leftovers. When we do go for an entrée, it’s generally one of the specials. They usually have maybe 2 specials a night if i remember correctly. Portions are good and the plating is excellent.

The dessert choices are all delicious, though the fact that i know that indicates i’ve had them all – so they could probably afford a shakeup. They have a lot of great mixed drink options, a sophisticated wine list, a nice bottled beer selection (i go with the Framboise Lambic in the champagne flute when i want to feel fancy) and a talented head bartender.

Apart from all the consumables, the experience is very enjoyable. The manager is extremely personable and bends over backwards to make sure you have a good time. The staff is very amiable and professional as well. It’s a small restaurant – i’d estimate that the front room seats 2 dozen and the rear section a bit more. There’s a lounge downstairs, though I’m unclear if there’s any food service. In the few years we’ve been going, Ocean’s popularity has steadily grown so reservations are highly recommended at this point. The dining room bar area can get very crowded due to its close proximity to the tables and, with waitstaff having to fight through the crowd, it’s not the most comfortable place to stand if you can’t get a barstool. The vibe is modern and urban. It’s got good energy which is tempered effectively by relatively low lighting.

So that’s my topline review of Ocean. Got reservations for this Saturday and I’m really looking forward to it. My next review will be for a place just a few doors down – Sette Luna.

Friends are visiting Saturday evening and we’re thinking of taking them to either Ocean or Sette Luna. Both have great atmospheres, service and menus. I’m leanin’ toward Ocean. I always do. In this case, it’s due to the uniqueness of the menu and the more urban feel. Sette Luna is a bit noisier, especially in the big dining room with the open kitchen. I love their bar though. When they took over the other half of the building they were able to add the bar, a cozier dining room and a wine cellar available for group dining (i think). It gets a little hairy when it’s busy as the bar becomes a bit of a bottleneck between the 2 dining rooms. I’ll save more details for my Sette Luna synopsis next week.

Gotta make the Ocean reservations tomorrow. M U S T R E M E M B E R.

Seriously. I once again ate a big lunch and decided to go with just a grapefruit for dinner. Now it’s 10pm, and my stomach is grumblin. But I will resist. Damn I wish I didn’t know about the stash of Girl Scout cookies in the cabinet.
Got the word earlier that I should make Friday reservations for Ocean down on Ferry Street. We’ve had luck as walk-ins but it’s getting tougher for sure. Last time (a Friday), we were fortunate to get there before the rush and the manager found us a spot at the end of the long center table. Their menu offers a large selection of appetizers which you can treat as tapas (that’s generally how i roll) and maybe 8-10 official entrées. I try to pick 3 apps, making one my appetizer and the other two for my meal. Last time i started with the “hot wings” and then had the calamari and yellowfin tuna tartare. The wings are a surprise on the menu and an even bigger surprise when you see the dish. Cooked chicken is puréed and placed within a wonton shell. A delicate wing bone is placed into the chicken and held in place by the edges of the dough creating a sort of chicken lollipop once it’s fried. You receive about 5 of them on a long platter, painted with a triptych of colored sauces: bleu cheese, buffalo and herb (basil if i remember right). There’s a great contrast between the crunchy shell and the tender, savory chicken. Combine that with the classic wing flavor experience without the messy fingers and you get one of my favorite dishes ever.

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