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Two quick reviews from this past weekend:

Looper’s Grille & Bar in southside Bethlehem
We checked out the First Friday festivities in Bethlehem and the top item on the agenda was dinner. Looper’s on 3rd caught our eye with a huge white tent out back and a big specials board visible just inside the front door. We were disappointed to find out that there was a one hour wait but we spotted 2 seats at the bar and quickly grabbed them. I grabbed a Shock Top and my wife got the excellent house margarita. There were a half-dozen entrée specials which all sounded great. My wife ordered the fish tacos and I had the pulled pork tacos. The fish tacos were topped with purple cabbage slaw and came with chips and salsa. The pork tacos were topped with diced watermelon and had cornbread on the side. It was all great – and watermelon is my new favorite bbq pork accompaniment.

On The Border in the Airport Center shopping plaza off Rt.22
We were starving on our way back from a visit to the Lehigh Valley Mall and decided to try On The Border for a quick bite. The crowd was spilling out the door and my hopes for a speedy meal were dashed. Luckily most of the parties were 4 or larger and they had a table for 2 readily available. The menu wasn’t too different from Don Pablo’s or Chili’s and the quality was about the same as well. I had a combo platter of a pulled chicken taco, a pork tamale, and a guacamole tostada with rice and beans for only $9. Our server, Cory, was really on top of things so we were able to get in and out as quickly as I’d hoped. Nothing amazing but it worked for what we needed.

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Weighed the cheeks today and they’ve each lost about 15% of their weight after hanging for 6 days. I also made 12 links of saucisson sec, a basic French dry sausage, on Saturday night. Simply seasoned with black peppercorns and garlic, Ruhlman describes it as tasting “like the French countryside.” Sold.

I picked up 4 pork cheeks (along with some shoulder, fatback, and sausage casings for my next project) from Baringer Bros. meats at the Allentown Farmer’s Market last week. I’ll do 2 cheeks to start and the other 2 in a couple months. Apparently the flavor is intense and a little goes a long way. Here is a condensed version of my prep. Consult Ruhlman’s Charcuterie for detailed instructions.

Step 1 – The obligatory and clichéd wearing of the cheek on your face like Hannibal Lecter.

Steps 2-4 – Trim off the skin, any stray sinew and fat. Combine with salt, sugar, garlic, pepper and fresh thyme. Refrigerate for 6 days.

Steps 5-6 – Remove from fridge, rinse off seasonings and pat dry. Punch a hole near the top and loop a string through for hanging. I had seen a preparation where the cheek was trussed with a sprig of rosemary so I copied it. Looks nicer and smells better. You can see that they’re firmer as they’re not laying flat onto the cutting board. Each lost an ounce of liquid during the curing. We’re looking for an overall loss of 30% of the starting weight.

Step 7 – Hung in the cellar. I attached tags onto which i can write the weights every 4-5 days. The aroma is a little pungent right now but it will get better as the water leaves. I’m hoping these are edible by New Year’s.

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.

“Are you gonna have poi?”

Probably the question we heard most before our trip. I honestly think that if it weren’t for The Food Network, very few people would know about this purple mush of ill repute. But really it’s not that bad.

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Most people have either eaten or at least heard of taro in the form of chips. This source of chips and poi is actually a really interesting plant with an important culinary role in most tropical cultures. It’s toxic until processed and consuming the starchy stem in its raw form is apparently like eating fiberglass.

The box lunch below includes a serving of poi as well as a dish called laulau using the nutritious taro leaves. The poi is simply a neutral-flavored starch mainly intended to stretch out a meal – like white rice with Chinese food or West African fufu. The only negative i found was that the texture is a bit viscous. (Think puréed bananas without the flavor.) The laulau consisted of slow-cooked pork wrapped in taro leaves. I got to have a taste and i loved it. Not sure why i didn’t seek it out during the remainder of our week – probably cuz we were too focused on finding taco trucks.

LauLau

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