Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Cafe - Two Visit review!

First Visit:

Mr. P and I had the chance to try out The Cafe earlier this summer for our anniversary. We'd just moved, hadn't made any reservations, and decided to wander around the neighborhood in search of some good eats and a nice, air-conditioned environment. Not making any reservations was a bad idea, as we completely forgot that Restaurant Week was happening then. We walked up to the hostess who apologetically told us that the only table left was on their cute front porch patio, which, on any cooler day of the year, would have been fine. However, we were starving, so we took what we got (and with sad eyes asked to be seated inside if a table opened up, to which they kindly obliged). As our server poured the wine, we enjoyed live guitar music that evening, accompanied by a sultry Billy Holiday-esque jazz performance.

Situated in a lovely old Victorian home, The Cafe is an unusual mix of styles. The decor is turn-of-the-century romance featuring with gilded mirrors, burgundy and dark green walls, sparkly chandeliers, floral arrangements and antiques throughout. It actually reminds me of a British tea room. The menu, however, is authentic Thai and French. This is not to say that their dishes are necessarily fusion; the chef is Thai but also offers French preparations of his dishes. For instance, you might see something like, "Filet Mignon with choice of Green Curry or Dijon Cream". Odd, but also interesting.

Vegetable split pea soup (a special) seemed like a strange menu item but was surprisingly tasty (although anything with smoked bacon is difficult not to like), and a side green salad was refreshing with a delicious peanut vinaigrette (made with crushed peanuts, not peanut butter). Following this, we had the seafood dumplings in green curry - light, pillowy pureed fish and seafood quenelles lightly fried and cooked in a delicious, spicy green curry sauce of perfect consistency (too many places thicken their sauce into a goopy mess). The pad thai with shrimp, tofu and egg with beansprout salad was also very good. Rice noodles were properly cooked and still had a nice bite, while seasonings were well-balanced with sweet, sour, and spicy. Portion sizes are on the larger side, so we ended up bringing half our entrees home in boxes. Despite the horribly humid weather, we still enjoyed our meals and were moved inside for dessert. Once inside, we chose from a glass case filled with lovely cakes and tortes. A generous slice of yellow cake layered with hazelnut cream and dark chocolate called out to me and I had to give in. Mr. P, who didn't want dessert, ate probably half of my cake. Good thing it was a big slice. I'd say our first visit was quite good.

Second Visit:

We went as a group of four a week ago, on one of the rainiest nights of September. Only one other table sat in our dining room, and jazz music played quietly in the background. For our first courses, we all tried something different. Mr. P had the hot and sour vegetable soup, which was nice, but that was about it - it was nice. A light broth with sliced veggies, the flavors were too subtle and could have used some punching up. Perhaps the non-vegetarian version would be tastier. I had the calamari salad, which was excellent - tangy, spicy and tender rings of steamed/poached calamari with shredded carrot, cabbage, onion and greens. Mango salad was apparently delicious as well, served with a similar spicy, hot and sour dressing. Silver noodles were also a hit. By now, we were all getting quite stuffed, having overdosed on bread and salads. Then our side salads arrived, which were complimentary with our entrees, though a little too similar to my calamari dish (and mango salad and silver noodles). It would be nice if they adorned the first course plates with different salad items.

For our main courses, Mr. P made a good choice by returning to the green curry served with tender beef, giving it a thumbs up. Our other two diners both had a special - stir-fried mahi-mahi with basil sauce, which also received positive reviews, although I didn't taste it myself. One friend said the mango salad was the best part of their meal, so I assume the mahi mahi was fine, but not a stellar dish. I had the crispy duck panang curry, which unfortunately was disappointing. The sauce was fantastic, a sweeter curry with pineapple, eggplant, peppers and onions, but the duck was quite bad. For a menu item that emphasizes 'crispy', it was nowhere to be found on my plate. The disappointing dish may partly have been my fault; I assumed it would be slices of seared duck breast (given the $20 cost) and I asked for it cooked through (damn this pregnancy diet). Perhaps they gave me a less-than-desirable piece given how I ordered. My dish was made with bits of duck leg, the meat badly overcooked with good deal of fat still under the skin, all soft and chewy. No crispy. I enjoyed the rest of the dish and made a mental note not to get duck next time, or at least inquire what part of the duck I'd be served.

Overall, it was an OK visit, and it worked out that if your first course wasn't fantastic, your main course was, and vice versa. If I had been in a more foul mood, I could have let the non-crispy duck factor ruin my meal. However, I do plan to go back and try other items on the menu. The pad thai is probably my favorite, and one of the best versions I've eaten in the Lehigh Valley.

The Cafe
221 W Broad St

Bethlehem, PA 18018-5517
(610) 866-1686
Reservations recommended.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Breakfast at Blue Sky Cafe

The Insatiable Stomach is back! Hopefully a bit more frequently and reliably than we've otherwise been, we've got a small backlog of things to write about. The summer flew by just like that, and due to some grown-up life decisions (i.e. buying a house) we have been diligently trying to eat out a little less, which has put a cramp in our blogging intentions. Nonetheless. We still do eat out. Sometimes it's more about forgetting to bring the camera or being a bit too embarrassed to take photos at a nice restaurant.

Our review of the Blue Sky Cafe is long overdue...this is one of our favorite places in Lehigh Valley, a cozy, casual little cafe in South Bethlehem featuring quality seasonal, local produce and meats. We've probably eaten there at least a dozen times now, mainly for breakfast and lunch (although they do serve dinner), and it's always good food.

I can't even remember when we ate the breakfast in this particular photo. But it looks good, doesn't it? I'm salivating looking at it. It's the Southside omelet with fresh tomato chunks, sausages, pesto and fontina cheese - served with nicely seasoned home fries (not too greasy), choice of toast and a little cup of jelly.

Mr. P usually goes for old reliable - the standard breakfast with two eggs, bacon, home fries, and toast. Look how pretty the eggs over-easy are!

Other lunch favorites include the grilled cheese sandwich with bacon, the roasted veggie wrap, and the sliders to name a few. Breakfast and brunch are super popular, with a wide selection including omelets, frittatas, pancakes, waffles, sandwiches, wraps and more. This place gets packed on weekends, so go early! Haven't tried the biscuits with sausage gravy yet, which they make in limited quantity, but they look awesome and are next on the list to try.

Blue Sky Cafe
22 W 4th St
Bethlehem, PA 18015-1669
(610) 867-9390

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pi Day

03.14: Another mathematical holiday inspires even greater culinary heights. Happy Pi Day!

Yes, pie would have been the obvious choice, but it's been done. Plus we had extra cupcakes lying around.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Friday Lunch at The Other Fish

I absolutely love this hole-in-the-wall sushi joint, and wish there were more places like it. The tiny, cramped interior features just a handful of two-tops, a table for four and about 10 seats along the counter, which itself overlooks a narrow kitchen running the length of the room. There's so little space, in fact, that the Christmas tree has been irreverently hung upside down from the ceiling. It's a fun place to hang out. Friendly diners and staff bump into one another, and having the kitchen right there in the main room fills the space with delicious smells of miso, sizzling tempura and grilled teriyaki delights.

Incidentally, The Other Fish also makes some really decent sushi. We've been there about 4 times now and always enjoy what we get. It costs a tad more than we were used to paying when we craved speedy sushi in times gone by, but I suspect that's inevitable when you move from a city where there were 8 competing sushi restaurants on your block alone.

But back to the food... Over the past few months we've tried the edamame, agedashi tofu, several varieties of maki rolls, udon noodles, and gyoza. Finally, last Friday we put in our first lunch time visit, when P had the california roll lunch and I had the tuna roll lunch. Not particularly exotic choices, but tasty. The rolls were well-crafted and we were happy to find that the cucumber was cut into thin, precise strips, not the clumsy chunks of lazier chefs .

The accompanying miso soup was steaming hot, rich and flavorful, with plenty of silken tofu, green onions and seaweed (wakame?) floating about.

Service is always friendly and relaxed. I believe that they do deliver takeout orders - at least at certain times of day - but watching the chef work his magic from your own small space at the counter is strangely soothing; a reminder of sushi past and a promise of sushi to come. We'll be going back in person.

The Other Fish
59 E. Broad St.
(484) 821-1370

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Happy Square Root Day!

03/03/09 is Square Root day! According to the AP, this holiday, which occurs 9 times per century, inspires many to new culinary heights: "Some cut root vegetables into squares, others make food in the shape of a square root symbol".

Delicious, educational, and not at all geeky.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Wild times at the White Orchid

Before I share my thoughts on dinner, I would just like to say that Mr. P and I accidentally spent $88 on dinner at White Orchid tonight. A story of a Sunday night casual outing turned grocery-money-for-the-week.

We should have suspected. We should have known better. "Wow, we should order the Big Orchid family dinner, it's only $35 bucks for four - it won't be that much more for 6 people. What a deal!" Like taking candy from a baby...what kind of crazy restaurant would practically give away food? How could five uber-intelligent people could possibly have all had the same misled thought, I have no idea. The description was probably vague, but White Orchid is not a place you go for cheap food, so it was all the more unlikely that such a deal would even exist. The number of choices should have signaled us: 3 appetizers, 1 soup or salad, 2 entrees, 2 chef specials (including fresh market-price fish), and 3 desserts; but I guess we were too caught up in our delusion to notice. Anyhow, enough complaining about the cost. What's done is done, and we all learned our lesson - there's no such thing as practically free food.

Onto the review:

Dinner for six was ridiculously large, and the food just seemed to keep on coming. Our appetizers arrived first: crispy corn fritters, cabbage and carrot-filled golden spring rolls (seasoned heavily with black pepper), and tender grilled chicken satay served with a peanut coconut sauce and a strange, watery clear sweet syrup with bits of vegetable floating in it. Tofu lemongrass soup arrived shortly after, loaded with mushrooms, tiny tomato halves, and firm tofu cubes. Though a little on the luke-warm side, it was nonetheless tasty, spicy and delicious. Perhaps a tad sweet, but not a big deal.

With our appetites more or less sated, the onslaught of entrees that followed overwhelmed us. Steaming hot, garlicky, sweet-roasted salmon had enough minced garlic on it to keep away a coven of vampires - I would guess we were served about two 10 oz portions. It was a little more done than I'd have liked, but was still completely moist. Two large plates of veggie Pad Thai with ground peanuts and tofu were not bad at all; rice noodles were properly cooked and well-seasoned; though, again, on the sweet side. Spicy basil stir-fry with veggies and tofu was fragrant and appropriately saucy (great over rice!). The Pineapple curried duck had a delicious thick coconut sauce and lots of veggies, but slices of duck were a little stingy. A suggestion to the chef: please remove fatty duck skin - it should never be eaten unless it is crisp. Garnishes were strangely inconsistent, with some dishes decked out in orange slices, lettuce leaves and other dishes looking plain naked. Strangely, we also received two small dishes of raw vegetables that looked a bit dehydrated. A pickle maybe? It was unclear what we were supposed to do with them, so they ended up going home in the take out containers.

To finish the meal, we sampled the golden bananas with ice cream, two 2-inch segments of banana deep-fried in a prettily wrapped wonton skin. Others in our group had the pumpkin creme brulee and carrot cake, neither of which I sampled, but looked fairly generic and probably tasted fine.

Our service was okay, but not particularly impressive. Though our water glasses were conscientiously refilled by busboys, our server's somewhat grumpy manner was a bit off-putting. Let's just say I didn't think the automatically included 20% gratuity was necessarily warranted. All in all, we had a pretty decent meal, but I think the unexpected high-ticket price made for a more disappointing experience. This was our third meal at White Orchid, and on two other occasions we enjoyed ourselves quite well. Just remember: avoid the temptation of the family-style dinner, and stick to ordering a quantity you will actually finish. Your wallet and your tummy will be happier this way.

(Sorry about the lack of pictures in this post - I promise to take photos next time. You have to admit though, it's a bit embarassing to pull out the camera when you're dining with a large group of people you are just getting to know)

White Orchid
The Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley
2985 Center Valley Parkway, Suite 200
Center Valley, PA 18034
Phone: (610) 841-7499
Hours: Mon-Sat 11:00AM - 9:00PM
Sun 11:00AM - 8:00PM

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Friday Fish and Chips

Like bad dieters (but good Catholics) we indulged in a treat we’ve been putting off for a while: Friday fish and chips at McCarthy’s Tea Room in Bethlehem. These fish, haddock to be precise, elicit high praise around the area, and locals have on several occasions recommended them as good dinner companions of a week’s end. And thus, with Spring Break (if not spring itself) upon us and in the mood to celebrate, we made our way to McCarthy’s and requested a table for two.

McCarthy’s is attached to the back of a shop (or perhaps more accurately a shoppe) selling strange and expensive Irish wares. Rarely in the market for a knarled walking stick or a tartan (aren’t they Scottish anyway?), this is not precisely our cup of tea. Nevertheless, we have on several occasions navigated our way through the horrors of the shoppe to the pleasant little room at the back, where they do in fact serve cups of precisely that. The menu lists a wide-variety of teas to be brewed in one of the many colorful teapots adorning the wall behind the glass counter, itself adorned with plates of scones and other treats. Unfailingly boring when it comes to tea, we haven’t ventured beyond a fairly ordinary black tea, but rest assured that there are plenty of options for the more adventurous.

In any case, we digress because on Friday nights this room, by day a den of cozily-ensconced tea drinkers, turns into a den of cozily-ensconced fried fish eaters. We had been warned that the portions were more in the American than the British tradition (read generous or gluttonous as you will), and thus decided to split an order, served with a small salad. Like most every small restaurant in this peculiar state, McCarthy’s has a BYOB policy. We have not yet grown accustomed to this oddity and neglected to bring our beverages with us. As a result, we also ordered a round of sparkling Ribena (a blackcurrant flavored drink of British extraction).

The meal progressed as follows:

First the Ribena arrived. Next time I will remember to bring a hip flask - funnily enough, available for sale at the adjoining shoppe. Now if only they could sell the necessary contents.

Then the small salad, accompanied by a small eggcup shaped ramekin of excellent balsamic dressing. P commented that it was almost as good as his dressing (a proud family secret). C responded in a suspiciously cooing voice that it was “mm, sweeter”. Justifiably offended, P ate C’s tomato.

Finally, the haddock. Dipped in delicious beer batter, fried in sizzling oil and served in a paper cone. Batter to fish ratio just about perfect. Fish moist and flaky with perhaps a little more bounce under the tooth than C prefers, but all in all quite wonderful, especially when dunked in the accompanying dill-infused tartar sauce. Underneath, a nest of wedge fries, well salted. Spurned family secrets and stolen tomatoes forgotten, we devoured.

The portion as it turned out wasn’t enormous, and we would certainly have continued gorging had more been available. In an appropriately Lenten spirit, however, we restrained ourselves from ordering seconds and settled our account as an operatic waitress unleashed a remarkable voice.

McCarthy’s Tea Room, 534 Main St., Bethlehem, PA
Price = $11.99 per fish and chips with small side salad.