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When people talk about food “value” they’re usually referring to a fast food menu or discount grocery store – low price and low quality. Sorry, but I don’t see how paying an appropriate price for the quality you receive is the definition of a good deal. Real value comes from getting high quality food for a great price. And considering the huge financial costs incurred later in life by consuming low quality ingredients year after year, finding food value can help your future bank account even more than your current one. Personally, I find value in organic milk and eggs which are proven to be dramatically more nutritious than their conventionally-produced versions. I also make my own wine, grow a garden, can the garden surplus, and grind quality cuts of meat for hamburgers and sausages. Recently, I’ve collected and cleaned a few hundred black walnuts for winter eating and baking. Part of the value in home food production is due to the fact that you don’t pay for the labor. So when you go out to eat it’s a challenge to find an all-around good experience without spending at least $50 per person.

This summer, we were excited to find a great dining value in the Lehigh Valley. Northampton Community College’s Hampton Winds restaurant offers a fantastic prix fixe dinner for $30 per person. The entire meal is prepared by students in the school’s culinary arts program which is supported in part by the restaurant’s earnings. The menu changes seasonally and includes a broad variety of choices. For example the June/July menu had 7 appetizers, 4 soups, 3 salads, 10 entrées, and a dozen desserts. The following pics are from our July visit.

Fresh rolls

Beef Tip Tostada

Grilled Salmon

Roasted Pepper and Tomato Soup

Watermelon Gazpacho

Fresh Peach, Apple and Watermelon Salad

Spinach Blueberry Salad

Citrus Granita (palate cleanser)

Seared Diver Scallops

Ratatouille and Goat Cheese Tart

And then when you’re completely exhausted – they wheel out the dessert cart. It has two tiers and is covered in way too many mouthwatering options. I had the cheesecake and my wife went with a dark chocolate tart. Both amazing.

The Hampton Winds is open Monday through Friday for lunch from 11-1 and dinner from 5-7:30. It’s BYOB and reservations are required for dinner.

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I wanted to squeeze a quick post in about The Promenade’s Asian fusion restaurant, Komé, before we head out to Bolete’s New England lobster bake. We grabbed dinner at Komé the other weekend just before seeing Inception at the Rave theater. This was our first visit – it was either too crowded or I wasn’t in a sushi mood the other times we considered it. We chose the dining room rather than hibachi since the sushi mood had struck us this night. The first thing I was excited to see was Hitachino Nest Ginger Brew on the drink menu. I first tried it on a recent business trip to Seattle and fell in love. It’s not too gingery and has a fair amount of citrus flavor. It’s also much lighter in body and flavor than the deep amber color and opacity might indicate.

My wife started with an assorted mushroom dish – served in a bubbling hot sour glaze. Really nice but a touch too salty.

I’d been talking about fried chicken earlier that day and coincidentally discovered “Fried Chicken” on the appetizer menu so I had to go for it. It was a sizable portion of cubed white meat served with flavored salt and curry powder. The flavors were all great but some of the chicken was pretty dry. Dark meat would work much better in this dish.

We moved on to a couple rolls – salmon and avocado for my wife and crispy salmon skin for me. Both very good and simply presented – nothing elaborate like Sogo. We considered trying the house-smoked salmon per the waiter’s recommendation but decided we were in salmon overload and would try it next time maybe.

Then mochi ice cream for dessert. We chose chocolate with strawberry mochi and coconut with dark chocolate mochi. If you’re unfamiliar with mochi, it’s a rice flour dough that’s wrapped around ice cream and then re-frozen together. Soft and chewy. I’m thinking of trying to make these at home some time soon.

Overall, we enjoyed the food, service and ambiance regardless of the few quibbles we had with the appetizers. Definitely try Komé. And see Inception!

Nice little slideshow on HuffPo highlighting the best and worst seafood choices. I get so mixed up about which farmed species are safe and which aren’t.

U.S. farmed catfish= OK

Farmed salmon= very bad

Sitting at gate 2 at the Lehigh Valley airport about to embark on a business trip to Seattle (via Chicago). I can’t believe there are this many people flying this early in the morning. And it seems like many of them do this on a daily basis. Ugh.
Let’s see if I have the motivation to update this post with all of my eating experiences over the next few days…

Update 1: Breakfast at Chicago/O’Hare – Little place called Berghoff in terminal C. Mushroom/onion/jack omelet. Not very fancy but really good and sustained me for the long leg to Seattle. I won’t buy preservative-filled plane food.

Update 2: Dinner at Txori (pronounced chor-ee) – A great Spanish tapas restaurant the team took me to Tuesday evening. We tried a little bit of a lot of stuff. I snagged a menu cuz there was no way i would remember what everything was.

The best dish of the meal was unfortunately the first – octopus, red potato, olive oil and smoked paprika:

chorizo with shaved chocolate:

garbanzo beans in cumin/tomato sauce:

piquillo peppers stuffed with codfish brandade:

veal/pork meatballs:

The day’s cheese plate (our waitress did a poor job explaining the choices):

Update 3: Breakfast at Boka – This is Hotel 1000’s restaurant. Don’t know about lunch or dinner, but the breakfast was tight. Smoked salmon/apple/potato hash with poached eggs and Hollandaise.

Update 4: Dinner at Umi – I was in the mood for sushi and my hosts took me to this great spot on 1st Ave. Amazing sushi. Huge rolls. Cool space. Interesting conversation. It was a bit dark so please pardon the picture quality. Spotted real Ginger Beer on the menu. We’ve loved the soft drink (Bermudian not Jamaican) for years, and now we can get drunk from it! Gotta figure out where to find a case.

Mackerel, yellowtail, tuna belly, and salmon sushi; and lots of rolls – each one different but all equally huge. Definitely would give Sogo a run for their money:

Final Update:  Breakfast at Bigfoot Food & Spirits at Sea-Tac airport. I only had a few minutes before my plane started boarding and the meal was way bigger than expected. A huge croissant sandwich with roasted potatoes and a big bowl of yogurt, fruit and granola. Followed by some Five Guys gloriousness at Washington/Dulles before my flight back to the LV.

Just found some pics we took a few weeks back. We took my pops out for a belated Father’s Day dinner and decided to meet up at the new Sands Casino in Bethlehem. My folks had just been to Vegas and had eaten at an Emeril’s restaurant out there (“too salty” my mom declared) so we chose St. James Gate for a little Irish fare.

We approached the casino complex from Rt 412 and were guided directly into the parking garage so we didn’t get much perspective on the entire steelworks complex. But based on a 3D mockup in one corner of the casino, it looks like the plans are pretty ambitious. I haven’t studied the socio-economic pros and cons or the politics involved but it looks damn cool.

Our timing was spot-on and we ran into my folks in the parking garage. We made our way to the casino floor and walked the perimeter to the restaurant at the opposite corner. On the way we passed by Emeril’s which looked impressive – though I heard from a Lehigh Valley restaurant-junkie that the food’s not so hot. We’ll give it a chance though. St. James Gate doesn’t take reservations so we put our named down – “45 minutes.” Super! Just enough time to lose $40 in the slots. After 45 minutes our wait was magically reduced to 20 minutes. Wuh?

Jump ahead to the food. My dad started with the seafood chowder and my wife and i planned to share the stuffed mushroom which turned out to be kinda small. The chowder was good and the portion was generous.

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It took forever for us to get our entrées. My dad had the fish ‘n chips, my mom had the prime rib sandwich special, my wife went for the salmon, and i had the corned beef and cabbage – though they brought me a reuben by mistake. In hindsight, I should have kept it. My beef and cabbage was kinda blah. Same goes for my wife’s salmon. You can tell by the plating that their style is no-frills. If the food was amazing, I wouldn’t care about the lack of flair. My beef was rubbery and the cabbage-in-a-warm-bath added little flavor to the dish. Thank jeebus for the mustard. The pic below looks like it tasted.

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We skipped dessert. I think we got to the casino starving at 5:30 and didn’t finish eating till around 9. We were tired of the whole eating process. Dropped a few more bucks in the casino before parting ways. We’ll try Emeril’s some time soon – thankfully they take reservations.

We just had our 3rd wedding anniversary and wanted a known quantity when it came to choosing a place for dinner. It had to be Bolete. Since i just posted about Bolete from our Mothers Day visit, I’ll keep it brief and let the pics do the talking. Actually, i was scolded not to take pictures since it kinda interrupted our special occasion. But then everything looked so great that my wife gave me the green light without my having to say one word.

Apps: Black angel hair pasta with mushrooms and caviar. And asparagus salad with a panko-crusted egg. That egg was so cool.

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Entrées: Seared scallops with linguini and mushrooms. And seared Sockeye salmon with spaetzle and roasted beets.

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Dessert: Goat cheese cheesecake with strawberry preserves and micro-basil surrounded by strawberry-rhubarb consumée. My wife had the lemon sorbet but it actually wasn’t that interesting to look at and the pic turned out poorly in the low light.

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Installing a dishwasher isn’t the most fun way to spend a Saturday. The major headache (and legache and neckache) was getting the water pipe precisely lined up with the input on the bottom of the appliance. I had to pull the thing out from under the counter 9 or 10 times to readjust the pipe before it was perfectly lined up. And even then, attaching the compression fitting was beginning to feel impossible after a solid hour of twisting. The nut just would not catch onto the threads. All the while my wife kept asking about dinner. 6 o’clock. 7 o’clock, 8 o’clock. “I’m not going anywhere till i get this thing hooked up!” She came into the kitchen after 9 to inform me that Sogo was open until 11. I gave it one last effort with what little strength i had left. It seemed to catch. I kept pressure on the fitting and turned it a bit more. I finally had it! Since i could only turn the wrench about 5 degrees at a time, it took me till about 9:45 to get it about 95% tightened. I’d finish in the morning when i had my focus back. My new priority was food so i hopped in the shower and we got downtown to Sogo by 10:15.

I got a Sapporo immediately and we ordered an appetizer special, the “Summer Fusion” salad – a tasty blend of greens, avocado, mango, tomatoes and grilled black pepper tuna belly.

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I had to order another Sapporo by the time our entrées arrived. My wife ordered the “Sweetheart Roll” and I had the “Tiger Roll.” Tasty as usual. Forget the soy sauce and wasabi.

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It was too late for dessert so we just chilled for a few minutes before heading back up College Hill with my wife behind the wheel. I was out like a light as soon as i got in bed, but i got up bright and early (sore neck and all) and finished the dishwasher hookup. It’s glorious.

The plan was to hit Valenca the other Friday night, but we pushed it to Saturday. Then the weather was so nice that we chose to hang in the yard and throw a couple burgers on the grill. Sunday would be it. But we sorta remembered Valenca being closed on Sundays? Sogo would be our fallback just in case.

Parked on 3rd near our old apartment and found Valenca to be open as we entered the square. The patio tables were tempting, but the sun was setting and the temp was already borderline too cold. We grabbed an indoor table by the window and stared at the menus for a while before our server showed up. The service has definitely been my biggest problem with Valenca. It’s easily the weakest of any of the better downtown restaurants. We’ve been there about 5 times, and obviously haven’t encountered every server, but there always seems to be something lacking. And it’s not like any of our visits have been during peak hours, so that excuse doesn’t apply.

Sunday was no different. Maybe 10-20% full. Our server took our drink order – had to get the red sangria– and then strangely asked us if we wanted any “entrées.” I figured he meant “appetizers” so I ordered the flambéed Portugese sausage. He paused and awaited more input. Umm…ok let’s just order our entrées too i guess. I got the salmon and my wife combined a salad with the steamed clams appetizer, asking to have them together as her entrée.

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The sangria took a while to arrive, but it was goooood. We noticed the table next to us ordered the sausage as well. Turned out it was mine and it went to the wrong table. It came our way after the brief confusion, joined by my wife’s salad – the one she wanted as her entrée. When all of the grappa burned off, the sausage was moved to a dish and sliced before coming my way. It was fantastic. Make sure you have some bread to soak up the juices. My wife didn’t mind having the salad early… but it was another one of those little things.

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The roasted salmon was served with crisp green beans and flavorful mashed potatoes – nothin fancy, but really good. The littlenecks’ white wine broth had “a lot of butter” – not sure if that was good or bad.

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I had half of my meal wrapped so i could save room for dessert. I’d wanted ice cream earlier that day but the coffee/gelato shop on College Hill was sand gelato for another week-and-a-half. WTF? It’s always killed me that people don’t think anyone eats ice cream between October and April… but i’ll save that rant for another day.

I ordered the dark chocolate cake with canoli filling, and i convinced my wife to get the chocolate hazelnut ice cream. Cake and ice cream is a perfect combo. We dug in so fast we forgot to take a pic. Oops.

We had 2 full glasses of sangria remaining even after dessert. I’d guess you get about 6 glasses in a $21 pitcher. Good deal. Definitely one of Valenca’s good points – in addition to the decor, the large patio area, free valet parking, and many unique menu options. They just need to take a few lessons from Ocean and Sette Luna on how to run a tighter ship.

Patio dining at Valenca, anyone? Haven’t been there since the fall. The dining room is fine but the patio is so much more relaxing – if you can ignore the crackheads in the square. (Just don’t feed them and they’ll leave you alone.)

If you visit, I recommend the salmon or the codfish gratin. And you have to get the red sangria. I still haven’t tried the flaming chorizo (so beeeeautifully animated on the website). The paella is their featured item but it didn’t thrill me – a decent amt of seafood but i can only take so much rice. I got bored after a few bites and we had tons leftover. “What am I supposed to do with all this Paella?!”

Besides getting a lot of work done around the house – inside and out – we made yet another visit to Sette Luna and took my folks to Touch of Thai.

Sette Luna had the sidewalk tables available but there was a chill in the air and it looked like rain so we chose the dining room. Started off with a quartino of Sangiovese and a glass of Belgian blonde ale (Carmelita i think it’s called). Light and smooth with warm spice. For appetizers, my wife went with the blood orange salad and i had the wood oven shrimp over a bed of marinated white beans. Sette Luna’s shrimp are amazing – perfectly cooked, meaty and smoky.

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For entrées, my wife had linguini with olives and anchovies, and i had the Norwegian salmon with white beans and spinach. Cooked medium-rare in their miracle oven, it was perfectly seasoned, smoky and moist.

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Our server (Gabrielle – one of their best) told us about a dessert special – Nutella rice pudding with raisins and hazelnut brittle. Sold. They did forget to put the whipped cream on top, but Gabrielle fetched a bowl of it in a flash.Getting it on the side was perfect anyway since my wife doesn’t dig whipped cream, and it avoided being melted by the warm pudding. We usually share a dessert, but this is one case where we could have easily polished off 2 (or 5) servings. Hope they have it again. And that they make it bigger. 😉

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I’ll post about our second visit to Touch of Thai within the next day or two. Spoiler alert: It was goooood.

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