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 The chicken bone handles have been replaced by skewers for some reason – not as unique but maybe aesthetically more appealing to some customers.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

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.

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.

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.

Sogo-App-5-9

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.

Sogo-Roll1-5-9

Sogo-Roll2-5-9

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.

Just got back from Sogo on Northampton St. It’s Asian cuisine – mostly sushi but a number of cooked Chinese and Thai dishes as well. I plan on writing synopses of each of our 5 or 6 favorite area restaurants later so i’ll save the full description for then.
What’s great about Sogo is the combo of taste and portion size. I think mgmt realized they weren’t gonna get away with NYC portions in eastern Pennsylvania. Not when you have f’n Olive Garden and Ruby Tuesday’s competing for the big bellies of the Keystone State. This seems to be true of all of our faves actually. We’ve never left any of them anything short of stuffed just from an app, an entrée and maybe dessert.
Apart from our first visit there, we always go with the sushi. Tonight we went with our favorite appetizer and 2 of the special “rolls.” I use quotes cuz they’re rarely that traditional.
Our app. was The Monster, a mixture of an assortment of raw fish, mango, thin noodles and a blend of sauces amidst an eyecatching arrangement of fried rice paper, all placed on a small bed of mixed greens. Fun to eat and really filling.
I then had the special Tuna Dumpling. I saw the description but had no clue what expect visually – as is generally the case. It turned out to be a blend of cooked tuna belly, crab and avocado formed into a ball and wrapped in sashimi tuna belly. It sat in a pool of their mysterious sauce mixture (does that sound creepy?) and was sprinkled with micro-greens. Fantastic.
Janet got the Garden Roll – mostly lobster salad wrapped with lots of avocado. Really good too.
I still had a lot of Sapporo left – plus we were trying to shake off a rough week at work – so we went for dessert. They have a big selection of pre-fab fancy desserts (tiramisus, parfaits, etc) which taste great but feel kinda disingenuous since they’re mass produced offsite. Janet’s been on a hazelnut kick so she chose some hazelnut ganache thingy and i went with a big scoop of coconut ice cream (followed by most of the hazelnut thingy). Not a bad start to the weekend.

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