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Archive for May, 2009

Now this may sound blasphemous, but my experiences at Sogo have proven more memorable than my dining experience at Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto‘s restaurant in Philadelphia.  I’ll be the first to admit, though, I didn’t order as smartly as I should have at Morimoto (I got some weird cold soba noodle appetizer, and I don’t even remember what for the entree.  Whatever it was, it must have been a dumb choice because I don’t even remember it!) so I’m sure I didn’t experience the restaurant’s full potential.  Sogo, on the other hand… I find myself daydreaming about their sushi rolls. So I decided I was long overdue for a Sogo lunch, and went there with a friend on a rainy Friday afternoon. I’m not sure if it’s any cheaper to go for lunch, but it is way less crowded (at the random hour of 2 pm, anyway) and I think the food actually tastes better during the day, for some reason.  We shared the following:

sushi

Split up into the 2 delicious, spicy sauce-covered piles you see to the left and right of the plate: the Hard Rock roll. Eel, shrimp tempura, crabmeat and avocado, wrapped in rice paper, topped with 3 kinds of spicy sauce. I order this roll all the time, and I simply cannot get enough of it. I’ve always been partial to rice paper, so I’m sure that plays a role in my obsession. 

Front and Center: Fire Mountain roll. I wish I could remember more about this roll, because it was tasty beyond belief. I think it contained fried oyster, and it was topped with tempura flakes, some kind of roe, and loads of other delicious goodness. It was definitely the most flavorful sushi roll I’ve ever had. With so many ingredients and toppings, it was basically a flavor explosion in my mouth. This one will go into my regular rotation.

Behind the Fire Mountain roll: the Osaka roll. Shrimp tempura topped with grilled eel and, in our case, avocado.  Something about grilled eel and avocado go so well together, so I always make sure to include grilled eel with my Monkey roll, or avocado with my Osaka roll. A bit on the simpler side, this roll was a nice balance between all the craziness going on with the rest of the meal.

The larger-than-life pieces all the way in the back: the Volcano roll. This roll was an experiment. I have always sworn I would never, under any circumstances, eat sushi that contains either cream cheese or mayo. These ingredients should never find themselves paired with raw fish and rice. The Fire Mountain roll contains mayo. My friend John talked me into trying it, and try it I did. After all, who am I to judge something I’ve never tried? Well, I’ve said it before (2 seconds ago) and I’ll say it again: Mayonnaise should never, ever find itself in a sushi roll!  It was gross! I’m sure that if any restaurant can manage to make sushi containing mayonnaise or cream cheese taste good, Sogo can. But it’s just not my thing, and I will never again give in to peer pressure in the case of putting gross condiments in my Japanese food. I can’t end on a sour note though, because, mayonnaise or no mayonnaise, overall Sogo offers up the best sushi I’ve ever had. And I’m sure any mayonnaise lover would love their Volcano roll.  

Sogo is located at 237 Northampton St. in Easton, by the way. Eat there! You won’t be disappointed – unless of course you’re avidly anti-mayonnaise and someone talks you into trying the Volcano roll. In that case you will be disappointed, so go ahead and stick to the non-mayo rolls.

One last note: I’m always on a search to find brown rice sushi, and Sogo, like every other sushi joint in the valley, doesn’t bother with it. Does anyone know of a place that does? Does such a place even exist? I had some brown rice sushi in Florida once, but other than that, I’ve never seen it anywhere. I’d feel far less guilty consuming mass amounts of sushi if it were made with whole grains.

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The Cafe, located at 221 W Broad St in Bethlehem, carries a mainly French menu with some random Thai dishes thrown in for some fun fusion.  It is set in an old Victorian house with lots of individual dining rooms, all with a slightly unique-themed decor. We chose to sit on the porch though – cute as the interior was, come on it was 70 and sunny outside! The menu offers a handful of Thai appetizers and soups and tons of Frenchy, protein prominent entrees. Curries (red or green) and Pad Thai complete the menu.

Mango Shrimp Salad
We each decided on the Mango Salad appetizer. Honestly, I thought this salad was a bit disappointing to look at. Sure it looks fresh and crisp, but I was expecting MANGO, dang it! There were like 3 bites of mango throughout the entire salad. The taste, however, did not disappoint. Every boring leaf of Romaine was perfectly saturated with a tangy dressing, very citrusy with a pleasant amount of heat to it. The dressing was so good that I was dipping bread into it after the salad was gone. The bread, by the way, is freshly baked and very good.  It was kind of weird to have bread before a Thai meal (we had both planned on ordering curries) but it was yummy anyway!

Red Curry with Tofu
I ordered the Red Curry with tofu and vegetables. The curry sauce was pretty good, nice and spicy, though it was a little on the watery side. The tofu tasted like Mori-Nu Silken tofu, which I think should only be used for mousses or smoothies. The texture just can’t stand up to baking or sauteing. It’s just too… well, silky! This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it, it just wasn’t by any means the best available curry in the Lehigh Valley.

Vegetable Green Curry
Denise ordered the Green Curry with vegetables. I think I preferred the green curry over the red; it was subtly sweet and fragrant with just a hint of heat to it. The vegetables were all very fresh, taste and texture-wise, but they weren’t really bursting with flavor. Overall our meals were enjoyable, our waitress was super-nice and helpful, and the atmosphere was charming. The food didn’t floor me, but hey, it was such a beautiful night and I was with such wonderful company that I loved my Cafe experience. Plus, there’s something about the natural lighting in these pictures that just made me forget every ho hum comment I had about the food. I want to go back and eat on the porch of The Cafe right now!

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I finally tried Aladdin, the cozy Middle Eastern restaurant on Union Boulevard in Allentown. They pretty much won my heart the moment I walked in the door; the decor is fun and exotic without being over the top.  Camel statues, plush comfy booths, and a Christmas light-adorned ceiling made for a pleasant dining experience indeed.  Apparently belly dancers are supposed to make an appearance at some point on Saturday nights, but unfortunately that didn’t happen while we were there.

the starry dining roomAfter much debate, we decided to go for the Deluxe menu for 3, our fourth diner opting for just a salad (blasphemy, I know)

AppetizersOur plethora of appetizers arrived: baba ganoush, warm, soft, yummy pitas, tabbouleh, falafel (which wasn’t part of the Deluxe menu, I ordered that separate. How could I go to a Mid East restaurant and not try the falafel?), hummus, grape leaves, arnabit, more hummus, and not pictured was a plate of olives and feta cheese.  After we destroyed all of these appetizers we were brought salads, which I took no photos of because salads never fail to NOT excite me.  Our waitress then brought out two fantastic spinach pies, and one meat pie for the carnivores.  

Veggie KebobsThen the entrees arrived: skewers of either grilled meat, seafood, or veggies with a side of rice, mushrooms, and onions.  Everything was nicely charred and full of garlicy-flavored goodness. Above: a half-eaten veggie entree. Our waitress offered to bring us some tahini sauce on the side in case we felt like smothering our kebobs in sauce. Good call – the tahini sauce added a nice tangy bite to the already delicious grilled veggies.

BaklavaFor dessert, baklava and a choice of Turkish coffee or tea. Of all the baklava I’ve ever tried, Aladdin’s was by far the tastiest (and that includes one European baklava, mind you). It was so incredibly fresh – the phyllo had a bit of a soft, just-baked bite to it. Outstanding.

After our fantastic meal at Aladdin we headed over to the TranquiliTea House in Easton, an adorable little cafe that sells loose teas and tea accessories, and also hosts art exhibits, poetry readings, and live music. The food and tea menus look very promising, though we were all, of course, way too full to considering eating anything. Our main agenda was art: the Tea House is currently hosting an exhibition called Ma Peinture (My Painting) by the super-talented Jason Lambert, an Easton local.

Jason uses mixed media along with comic book or newspaper clippings to create unique, captivating artwork with a bit of a fairy tale theme going on. Almost as if Alphonse Mucha and Roy Lichtenstein combined their forces to create artwork that Home & Planet would sell.


I tend to love collage pieces in general, and I have to say I was really impressed by Jason’s work. I recommend everyone go check out the TranquiliTea House immediately for the awesome artwork, crazy tea options and a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere. I definitely plan on returning, next time with Chocolate Mint Green Tea on the agenda!

-Carolyn

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