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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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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.

I packed a lot into my weekend (as usual), so come Sunday evening I was ready to just relax and have someone fetch me large quantities of food and alcohol. Thanks to the slight break in the heat wave, I blissfully anticipated sitting at one of Sette Luna’s sidewalk tables and sipping Nero d’Avola until closing time. Then we drove down to 3rd Street…

People everywhere! No place to park! Roads blocked! And cafés packed!

This was not good for my state of mind. I have a bad habit of setting up expectations and wigging out when things don’t go according to plan. Especially when it comes to food. I get grumpy when I’m hungry – most people do it seems. My wife worked as a hostess at a diner when she was in her teens and vividly recalls the contrasting moods between arriving and departing customers.

We swung around Ferry Street to see the crowd at Sette Luna and ended up parking in the circle near Valenca. We headed over to Ferry, past Pearly Bakers and saw signs for Heritage Day – that explained it! Then I felt bad about living in such a bubble. We get our info on Easton current events from the newsletter that accompanies the monthly utility bill. Not exactly “current.”

As expected, there was a long wait for a patio table but there was an indoor table for 2 ready immediately so we snagged it. Some Belgian beer, a little Italian wine and awesome food as usual. My wife had the pasta special – fettucini with their fantastic shrimp and fresh cherry tomatoes. And I had the pizza special – bianca with figs, goat cheese and shaved prosciutto. (I highly recommend you try sweet fruits/veggies on pizza – figs, squash, grapes. Caramelized apples and onions with gorgonzola is one of my faves.)

We heard some murmurings about fireworks and looked around to find that most of the packed dining room was suddenly empty. We quickly paid as we heard the first few explosions. To our good fortune, the corner of Ferry St. by the Post Office a few feet away was a perfect spot to watch the show. I’m guessing they launched from a barge in the river or along its banks. You can see how close we were from the huge wall of smoke.

We hadn’t gotten dessert at Sette Luna, but this ice cream truck looked a little (or a lot) too sketchy to risk the botulism. And I’m sure Marvel wouldn’t be thrilled with Spidey’s implied endorsement…as tastefully executed as it was.

It turned out to be a pretty good night. Maybe I don’t have to have everything go according to plan.

It’s been a while since we’ve been to Sette Luna down on Ferry Street – maybe 2 months? The problem with having favorite restaurants is that you can get bored with the menu really quickly. Their daily menu hasn’t yet changed, but we can always count on Sette Luna for some decent seasonal specials. Some massive shrimp and pasta for my wife, while i enjoyed another great pizza with figs, goat cheese, and prosciutto (added after it was taken out of the oven).

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Their pizza crust is seasoned perfectly, with just the right amount of chewy and crunchy, and is thin enough to let you appreciate the delicate combination of flavors. And even after i devoured the entire thing, i still had room (barely) for dessert. My wife was just going to have coffee, but i convinced her to go for the chocolate mousse. She was glad she did.

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I opted for the special: a blend of ricotta, whipped cream, orange zest and mint (it had a technical name but i couldn’t really comprehend the pronunciation) set in a pool of chilled rhubarb soup. Damn, this picture looks disgusting, but i’m a sucker for anything rhubarb. It was OK – some nice flavors but the textures weren’t that pleasing. Bolete’s goat cheesecake with strawberry-rhubarb consumée was much more successful.

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