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The here is Tapas on Main and the there is Emeril’s Burgers and More, both in Bethlehem.

Let’s start with the there. We spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s bouncing around the house looking for reasons to get out in the Valley. My wife mentioned that some new outlets had opened at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem so I had the idea to grab a burger for lunch at Emeril’s. We’d been there once before, shortly after it opened, and our recollections were positive. Well, on this second visit, things didn’t start out strong. The hostess was nowhere to be found while 10 people stacked up at the doorway staring at a bunch of empty tables. The manager repeatedly noticed the lineup but continued delivering food to tables rather than alert the hostess or jump in to get people seated in the meantime. We were finally seated close to the kitchen and noticed how rapidly the food was stacking up under the warming lights. The place was definitely understaffed. Our drinks took forever to arrive (and we were never offered water), but the food was tasty. Though burgers and fries from Five Guys are more satisfying for half the price. The service was friendly, but the atmosphere was offputting – bright lights, dirty floors and chaos. One might chalk that up to the casino experience but somehow Vegas has figured out how to make even casual dining feel classy. Emeril’s feels like a fast food joint that sells $10 burgers. Total: about $50 for a burger, crabcake sandwich, fries, cole slaw, a beer and a margarita.

Two days later, we found ourselves in Bethlehem again to do a little ice skating. We were shopping on Main Street around 5pm and decided to fuel up before hitting the rink. We considered Mama Nina’s, a new Italian Place called Molto Pazzo, and the Brew Works. A shopkeeper recommended the new Tapas on Main and we figured a couple small plates and a glass of wine would be perfect for our purposes. We chose wisely. They offer a happy hour menu with a handful of tapas dishes, mixed drinks and glasses of wine for $5 each. We ordered the hand-cut fries (ideally crisp with a great aioli), the chorizo (with melted manchego cheese and an interesting chocolate balsamic drizzle), and the coca de calamari (perfectly cooked and flavored). We then shared a petite flourless chocolate cake for dessert. All of that plus 3 glasses of wine, tight service, and great ambiance for the same amount we spent at Emeril’s two days prior.

Some may say the comparison of a casino burger joint to a quiet tapas bar is apples to oranges, but if you’re in Bethlehem in the mood for something casual to semi-casual with a medium budget in mind, these are certainly two places you might have considered. And in the interest of keeping you away from Emeril’s (if wine and tapas aren’t your scene), check out Looper’s just down from the casino on 3rd street. Great casual food, good drinks and decent atmosphere.

I finally had a chance to sort through all 1800 pics (!) to share our French gastronomic experience. These won’t mean much to anyone here looking for Lehigh Valley restaurant reviews, but who doesn’t love looking at photos of great food?!

Our first meal – a French breakfast and an “English” breakfast. The omelet made it “English.” We’re big breakfast people so we had to get used to the limited selection. You quickly learn to love a toasted baguette with a slathering of butter and jam.

Our first dinner. The steak haché (chopped steak) with a fried egg is a very common menu item. And the first of many plates of pommes frites.

The day trip to Champagne is highly recommended.

Two ever-present elements – sandwiches made for walkin’ around and Orangina.

Gotta love the veggies steamed and served in the mason jar.

A disappointing dessert – fromage blanc with honey. It was more acidic and clumpy than expected. And my strawberry milkshake was really runny and really expensive.

Lunch at The Louvre. My wife didn’t capture the cool little prawns or the slab of gelatinized seafood on the far side of the plate.

My beef bourguignon was amazing but it looks like crap in this pic – literally.

A visit to the Mouffetard market to assemble a picnic meal.

Does including the feathered head make this bird more appetizing?

Stumbled upon a nice Italian restaurant near the Trocadero across the river from the Eiffel Tower. A pile of seafood – my wife’s favorite. And a disassembled lasagna with smoked salmon for me. Fantastic.

A delicious banana and Nutella crêpe and a perfect waffle.

I’d seen this “flan natur” at a few patisseries and finally got one on a walk around Montmartre where we had another picnic outside Picasso’s studio.


One of our favorite meals just off the Champs-Élysées. The French cook steak much more rare than Americans are used to, and our waiter asked me if I wanted it “medium” – our “rare.” I surprised him by requesting it “bleu” – the descriptor for super-rare that i’ve been waiting to use for 15 years. I’d guess they cooked it maybe 30 seconds on each side. I loved it.

A common dessert option is the “tarte du jour.” Today’s was pear – simple and perfect.

Another banana and Nutella crêpe. Not as good as the first.

I had my eye on these enormous meringues near our hotel. This one was raspberry. Not as good as hoped.

We finally made our way over to Berthillon and waited in a looong line to get my hands on some rhubarb sorbet. Then they ran out of it when we were 10 feet from the counter.

We ended up with hazelnut, chocolate-orange, pear and almond. Don’t you love these double cones?!

Duck confit and frites in disc form. So great.

A kinda OK backdrop for our last picnic. A selection of Italian meats and cheeses plus a rhubarb-raspberry tart.

A return to Berthillon in search of rhubarb. Also coconut, nougat and dark chocolate.

For our final dinner, we tried to find a brasserie with the 3 French dishes we’d not tried all week – then we ordered all of them! Steak tartare, escargot and onion soup. Seems like a weird combo but it all worked together somehow.

In general, we found the food to be rather simple and straightforward. Flavors were fresh and clean without a lot of seasoning. We visited only moderately priced bistros, choosing not to splurge on any of the pricier restaurants where you’d likely find a greater level of complexity in their haute cuisine. Not surprisingly, due to the simple prep, the bistro food often arrived within 4-6 minutes after ordering. Impressive. The one downside was the amount of smoking in the outdoor cafés (and everywhere else for that matter). If you want to people-watch and absorb some Paris atmosphere be prepared to absorb a bit of secondhand smoke as well. You get used to it after about a week. Then it’s time to fly home. sigh

I recently took a 2-day trip to Chicago for a some meetings in one of our Chicago facilities and snapped a couple pics of the two substantial meals I had.

My first morning, I grabbed breakfast at my hotel’s restaurant – David Burke’s Primehouse. The hotel really hyped the place up but, because a $50 steak on the expense report isn’t generally well-received, I figured i’d at least grab breakfast to get a sense of Primehouse’s quality. I ordered their signature omelet with filet tips, mushrooms and caramelized onions. It all looked great as you can see, but it was so flavorless! Just a little salt and pepper would have been nice. I could have added it myself, but it’s just not the same, so i slogged through it as presented. Who needs all that sodium anyway, right?

That evening, I was looking for a lighter dinner and remembered a place we passed a few times on our trip last October, ENO. They offer a wide range of wines, cheeses, cured meats and chocolates. I decided on a flight of Côtes du Rhône paired with the server’s cheese flight reco. They were all hard cheeses – i prefer soft – so i should have clarified. They were good nonetheless. Overall, an amazing selection, decent prices and a nice atmosphere. And little cards explaining everything!

Got a copy of the cookbook last week and i think it turned out great! Here’s a shot of the final cover (which you won’t see on Amazon), a chapter opener and a recipe. The recipes are broken down into four seasonal chapters that correspond with the grape growing seasons and the fresh ingredients available in California wine country. It’ll make a great xmas gift – i know i’ll be giving them to any cooking-inclined family and friends.

Just got word that the cookbook I designed has finally been printed. I was nearly finished when i first mentioned it way back in March, but a last minute reordering of the recipes required that I turn the design over to Chronicle’s in-house team for finalization. We also had some difficulties getting an approval on the cover design. The cover on Amazon is one of the twenty-or-so i created, but I know it was further revised by Chronicle after i turned over the files. Regardless, it was a nice change of pace from packaging design, and i can’t wait to get my hands on a copy this week!

From the Amazon description:

Seasons in the Wine Country brings the flavors of the Napa Valley and the expertise of instructors at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone into your home with over 100 seasonal recipes. Beat the winter blues with a hearty helping of Cabernet-Braised Short Ribs with Swiss Chard and Orecchiette and distill the fresh flavors of spring with Lemon-Glazed Pound Cake with Rosewater and Strawberries. With simple step-by-step instructions from the world’s foremost culinary authorities including suggestions for wine pairings as well as primers on culinary techniques and equipment Seasons in the Wine Country is the ultimate resource for those who desire to live the good life and cook like master chefs!

Since it always seems so difficult to pick out birthday presents, going out to a nice meal has become our default gift. My wife chose Emeril’s Chop House at the Sands casino in Bethlehem to celebrate her birthday last weekend. They’ve removed the phone number from the website – instead directing you to OpenTable.com to book your reservation. While it’s always reassuring to make a reservation with an actual person, web reservation sites let you see what times are available. I originally tried to book a table for Saturday but nothing was available between 5 and 10pm. Yikes. Friday’s options were 6:45 and 9:15. We went with the 6:45. That Emeril’s was so booked up was a fair indication that the food would to be good. We’d heard from a friend who attended the restaurant’s opening that the food was so-so. We optimistically assumed they just hadn’t worked out all of the kinks. Then my mom chimed in that the food was “too salty” at the Emeril’s in Las Vegas, though my dad said otherwise. We were undeterred!

We forgot the camera but snagged some inferior pics on my wife’s phone. I’ll post them if I can clean them up in Photoshop.

They started us with some toasts covered with a mouthwatering mushroom paté. I ordered a half-bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and my wife had their sangria – a delicious mix with a subtle taste of cloves. It took a while for the waiter to return to take our food order, but that was our only criticism of the night. We started with salads – the iceberg wedge slathered in Pennsylvania blue cheese for me and the grilled peach and chevre salad for my wife. Both were great – fresh and flavorful. And mine was so filling that I got a bit nervous knowing I had a 22oz ribeye on the way! My wife had the shrimp arrabbiata for her entrée.

Their steaks are accompanied by 3 sauces including bearnaise, Worcestershire, and horseradish. They were good but the steak was seasoned and cooked so well that I used the sauces only sparingly. Side dishes must be ordered separately, but I wanted to save room for dessert.

I was excited to see Penn State Creamery ice cream on the menu and was definitely going to get the Bittersweet Mint if it was one of the selections. It wasn’t (though they did have Peachy Paterno) so we shared the coconut cream pie. Yummm.

We had a great night and highly recommend it. The decor is great, the waitstaff was professional and the food was top notch. It was one of the pricier meals we’ve had in a while (though my steak and wine threw off the curve) but i can confidently say that we got our money’s worth.

My folks drove up Saturday to hang out and we decided to go out for an early dinner. They’d never had Thai food and I wanted to try Touch of Thai again to make sure it was worth my strong reco. We were the first ones there, but the dining room was half-filled by the time we left – a better crowd than they had the Friday evening when we first stopped in.

My folks had a bunch of questions about Thai food, but the menu had brief explanations of the dishes to make things easier. While we pondered the menu, we got to work on a couple bottles of wine. A white from Franklin Hill Vineyards flavored with kiwi and strawberry and a Mondavi Riesling. We have to try Franklin Hill’s more traditional offerings cuz they’re specialty fruit blends are too sweet. The Riesling was very good.

We started off with some vegetable spring rolls, fried crispy with a sweet chili dipping sauce, and the chicken skewers we enjoyed on our previous visit. My folks were liking everything so far. For the main course, my dad had a sweet and sour pork dish, my wife a curry, my mom the pad thai, and i had what was basically the pad thai with glass noodles. It was a huge plate of food, but i hadn’t eaten since breakfast and i wolfed it down. In fact, i don’t think anyone had leftovers – which is unusual for my mom and my wife.

touchthai-dinn-4-4

Amazingly we still had room for a little dessert – but little is not what we received. We figured we’d share the triple ice cream dish, though my pops went rogue and ordered the sticky rice and custard. Daring. The scoops of mango, ginger, and toasted coconut ice cream were ginormous, and the flavors and texture were top notch. I’m wondering if they get a local place like Purple Cow to mix them up special. The coconut was packed with toasted coconut and was the clear favorite.

touchthai-dess1-4-4

My dad was a bit stunned by the custard – it was a large slab with an odd yellow color. He had an eye on our ice cream so i decided to help him out and let him in on our frozen awesomeness. The custard wasn’t half-bad – kinda like a coconut custard but a bit more textural. Half the portion plus a scoop of ice cream or dollop of whipped cream would improve the dish.

touchthai-dess2-4-4

As we were finishing up, PA state rep. Robert Freeman arrived with a small group. He’s a lifelong Easton guy so he would know all the best spots – and i have to agree with him on Touch of Thai.

Picked up a few of these wine bottle totes a few years ago on Amazon to give as xmas gifts. A nice way to add value to a $10 bottle and skip the cheapo gift bag. The neoprene pouch holds a bottle snugly and cushions it from any accidental collisions. I also dig the integrated handle. It was the product BUILT® was founded upon, but they’ve really expanded their product line. Check ’em out.

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