Saturday, January 31, 2009

Network of Young Professionals

One of my first gigs out of school was to run the young professional membership group of the Smithsonian. While it was not without its absolute pleasures (collaborating with Gourmet Magazine, lighting up the elephant during a gala at the Natural History Museum, seeing my FAVORITE MUSEUM, American Art, under renovation), it was a hell of a lot of work. And I was getting paid for it. Snap to my life now in the Lehigh Valley: there is a group of completely dedicated volunteers who pull off way more events than I ever did, and have toiled to make an area that has not historically had a whole lot in the way of young professional events, cool. According to the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, young professionals are the key to attracting and keeping top employers. Now, I'm not going to front and act like I go to a lot of NET YP events, but I have been to a few, and I have met a couple of the current and former leaders, and they are really nice, friendly people. I was disappointed to read that their former treasurer stole $17K from the group, and sad to hear that he can't pay it back. I believe there is a special place in hell for people who use their leadership position with a nonprofit organization to embezzle from it. Sick. Incidentally, Courtney sent an email this week with a few upcoming NET events: a cabaret-style performance April 11 at Zoellner Arts Center and Art After Hours at the Allentown Art Museum (!!!! Impressionist Masters!!!!!!!).

Friday, January 30, 2009

Ambre and The Cafe




I did not wear sensible shoes tonight, because I am sick of wearing my snow boots everywhere. I teetered across Broad Street into Ambre Studio (310 W. Broad St., Bethlehem), and found my parents near the piano inside an absolutely beautifully-restored row home-turned gallery: Ambre Studio. I admit, I mocked Ambre earlier for not having art on its web site. Inside Ambre, however, there is art everywhere - including both restrooms. Exhibits A & B:




The food was catered by Sagra, and the wine flowed freely into clever glasses that had places for your fingers just so. See this lady carrying her glass with ease? Robyn and Jim make a cheese thing (to call it a dip would be an insult) that makes my mouth water just thinking of it. I was interested in the gallery opening, but it was the opportunity to taste that sweet whatever again that sealed the deal.





The gallery's hostess asked me if I was one of the artists, and I apologetically replied I wasn't, then realized that the artists were some of the only people under 50 in the room. I am definitely not an artist, but I have a lot of respect for people who are, especially the person that painted this beautiful ceiling:
After we sniffed around the gallery for a while, Mom suggested we pop over to The Cafe (221 W. Broad St., Bethlehem), across the street again (uh-oh) to grab dinner.



I was feeling pretty tired after working 12 consecutive days, 6 of those at an altitude of 8200', so I agreed to a drink and said I'd be turning in early. The Cafe offers French and Thai appetizers and entrees, and a dessert showcase to rival any in the area. Dad and I had dinner there shortly after we moved to the area, and though I haven't been back, it isn't because I didn't like it. It's probably because it's too good and too close (dumb reasons). On second thought, I never think of it when we are planning to meet friends, since it's sort of a quiet place to meet for a romantic dinner, and because not everyone likes Thai cuisine (and it's good Thai too!). The building matches its neighbors: Victorian architecture, well-maintained landscaping and exterior, but one thing sets it apart: NEON.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Printmaking at Ambre Studio

Mom invited me to join her and my dad for a little gallery thing in Bethlehem on Friday. It's at Ambre Studio (310 West Broad St. Bethlehem). I laughed out loud when I saw the web site. There's not a stitch of art on it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Pennsylvania smoking ban

The smoking ban went into effect in September 2008, but some places are still not complying with the new rules. As a non-smoker who likes to go out, I was stoked to learn that PA was adopting the ban in all venues except those that make less than 20% of their revenue from the sale of food. Many places in Bethlehem, like the Brew Works, Apollo Grill, Edge, and Starfish Brasserie, were already smoke-free. What I found comical about today's Morning Call piece on the ban was that apparently the rules aren't enforced unless there are complaints. I can't imagine going into Oliver Shakewell's, observing someone smoking, and sending a flaming email to the state about it. I'm not sure whether those "activists," as they're called in the story, had spoken with management and were still not satisfied, or if they were just narcs, but it's just weird. I equate it to being seated next to a loud customer (like we were at Bolete) - I say, either grin and bear it, work it out with management, or leave. There are plenty of businesses in the area that would be happy to serve you in a smoke-free environment, and there are still quite a few that allow smokers to light up. There's a lively debate at the bottom of the story (258 comments at the time of this posting)!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bay Leaf


When we had first moved to the Valley, I heard about a place called Bay Leaf (935 W Hamilton St.) in Allentown that served "Sorta Thai." It's French, it's Thai, it's American, and it's reputably served by some of the Valley's snootiest servers. In those servers' defense, we had a series of friendly servers today. When I asked whether there were any specials, one smiled and sincerely replied that everything on the menu was special.

Katie and I had one of the only tables away from the window, but with a great view of Tim Kennedy at lunch with a friend. The restaurant wasn't full, but there were quite a few tables of patrons already eating when we arrived at noon this Monday.

We both started with soup - I am noticing a pattern here, must be the frigid temps outside - and I had a curried chicken dish. Instead of a soupy sauce poured over chicken and rice, Bay Leaf's preparation included some very tasty slices of chicken, marinated and grilled in a mouthwatering array of spices. A pickled veggie salad over romaine finished the dish. I admit I wouldn't have ordered the salad on its own, but it was yummy: very fresh and lightly dressed in a vinaigrette. Katie ordered ravioli that looked to be a perfect lunch portion, handmade and nicely presented. With a drink for me, soup and entrees for two, the bill came to about $21.00/each with a well-earned tip.

Bay Leaf is right on Hamilton, across the street from Allentown Brew Works. There was a lot of foot traffic on Hamilton Street today as I was leaving. I had parked on the same block as the restaurant and fed the meter (which had expired before I returned, but I didn't get a ticket. That's a first!). Katie mentioned she'd heard good things about Cafe Buon Gusto (at 19th and Hamilton) so maybe we'll check that out after I return from a business trip to Aspen.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Morgan's Restaurant

I know I'm not the only person who keeps a list of places I want to go (and pretty much never make a dent - as soon as I check one off, another place gets added). Morgan's has been on my list for a while, partially because I remember going to Appenino's (the building's previous tenant), and also because I almost never make it out to "Parkland," maybe because the name in and of itself sounds pastoral and downright far away. I saw their ad in Lehigh Valley Style a while back and was attracted to its logo. Not that employing a professional graphic designer makes a restaurant better, but it caught my eye anyway. I clipped it and stuck it to the calendar.

My friend Becky is always up to try new things, including running a 5K (a first for both of us this past December), and even skiing in Quebec over New Year's. So lunch at Morgan's was a piece of cake, except the getting there. She got lost, and from the direction I was coming, I encountered a detour which included A COVERED BRIDGE (!!!!!). See aforementioned pastoral reference.

I waited a couple of minutes for Becky in the lobby, and noticed the nice mix of clientele. One of the servers at the end of her shift joked with me that she'd lost her gloves and had resorted to wearing socks as mittens. The restaurant is inside a beautiful renovated stone house, like so many local restaurants, but it's set up for events too - I noticed a private room behind the bar that would be perfect for a special group dinner or shower. The reviews by Merge/Metromix and The Morning Call framed on the wall were very positive. I was already thinking, if this place is as good as everyone says it is, I can't wait to go.

Unfortunately (for us), both tables next to the stove were taken, but we got a nice four-top for the two of us. We ordered drinks - hot tea for me. When my cute little metal teapot and Morgan's branded mug arrived, I poured and... nothing. No tea bags to be found. Our server was mystified, since he could have sworn he delivered the tea. He brought them out quickly. Then we placed our order: We both ordered soups, which we were told later was the reason our order was taking so long - "they're making the soups fresh." I requested the roast beef club without tomatoes, and Becky got the grilled sirloin on an English muffin. The soups were okay. The chicken in my champagne chicken and vegetable soup (a daily special) tasted like it had been frozen. Becky said her French onion soup was okay. Then our entrees arrived. The grilled onions on my sammie were fresh out of the fridge and the Swiss cheese was not melted. Becky hardly touched hers. So the food wasn't fabulous. Our glasses were refilled but I wasn't offered more hot water. The ambience was great, and our server never rushed us. Our total came to about $20.00/person.

I debated whether to give a bad report to Morgan's, especially because everyone seemed so gosh darn nice and the dinner menu looked good. My blog's mission has been to highlight local small businesses, not to be a restaurant reviewer. But a few of you supported the idea of reading the good and the bad, so let's see what you think. Do you think it's worth going back to Morgan's for dinner or breakfast sometime... or shall we move on?

Dilemma

For the first time in the vast history of this blog, I have a dilemma. I've visited a place with the intention of telling you great things about it, but it was a real disappointment. How much do you want to know? Do you want to know the bad, or just the good?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Shepherd Hills Shoe Repair

When I was packing to return from Las Vegas, the zipper on my suitcase finally broke. I wrapped packing tape around it 1,000 times (should have taken a photo - it was comical) and the folks at the Continental desk gave me a big plastic bag to put around it when I checked it. It made it! But I'm leaving for Aspen next week, so I need to get it fixed, and fast.

Someone at work recommended I call Camody's in Allentown, but I thought I remembered a place in Wescosville did luggage repair. When I called Shepherd Hills Shoe Repair (5621 Hamilton Blvd, #1, Wescosville) yesterday, the owner kindly explained that once the zipper is gone, it's shot, and he'd rather I didn't waste my time driving my suitcase over there only to find out it can't be fixed. Might as well buy a new one, he said.

I really appreciated his honesty, because he could have said, "Sure, bring it in... we'll see what we can do," then charged me for labor and parts for something that would have been a temporary fix. I will definitely remember Shepherd Hills the next time I need a heel fixed!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Starters Riverport

This afternoon Melanie invited me out for dinner and a drink with her family and our friend Jackie, who's visiting Lehigh this week. Traditionalists love/d the "Old Starters" on Route 378, complete with its intimate and smoky atmosphere, sports memorabilia (oops I almost wrote crap) on the walls, good burgers, cheap beers and generally good service. If you like that place, you probably won't like Starters Riverport. You can't smoke, the drinks are pricey, the place is huge. And worst of all, the table service is reliably horrible. I don't know where they get these people. The food is not great, but I guess you're supposed to eat it while you're drinking a lot, so you won't taste the difference. I've tried a lot of things on the menu, and we've even been to brunch there. Melanie always gets the quesadilla so it must be good. John and Jackie both had salads. Grace had grilled cheese with fries of the kids menu and it came with ice cream. Ordering the ice cream was downright painful (see bad service, above).

Last night I just had a couple of beers, but had I been hungry, I would have gone with Brian Schneider's Sliders and fries. Brian caught for the Washington Nationals when we were in DC and now plays for the Mets, but he grew up in the Lehigh Valley (Northampton I think), and I'm sure he's honored to have rows of tiny burgers named after him. When I ordered the first Sam Seasonal draft, the server asked me if I wanted Oktoberfest (hope not - it might be a little... old) and whether I was 21...he asked...whether I was 21...if I weren't, would I say no?

Now, all of this criticism might lead you to believe that I don't like Starters, which in fact, is not true. I appreciate Starters Riverport for what it's good for - a nice selection of beers on tap, a smoke-free atmosphere, a place most people know how to get to, and covered parking. Plus you can almost always get a seat right away, which is more than you can say at most places. And there's entertainment: upstairs there are a few pool tables, and there's even an arcade downstairs. In addition to the 70 TV screens, sometimes Starter's has live music. And finally, it's a fun place for people watching, because it's pretty well-lit and a lot of people go for happy hour and on Saturday nights, even during a snow storm. Just be careful in the ladies room.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ethel's Chocolate

Luckily, I made it home last night just before the snow started to fall. It's been a long, weird week and I'm definitely jet-lagged and exhausted. Even though this blog tends to be local in nature, I just have to make a statement about airline food. It's always been bad, but now it's just horrible. I wish they would just cut the food altogether and make the tickets cheaper or seats a little wider. I felt awful for the big guy in the middle seat of our row, attempting to spread ketchup on a microwaved hamburger and then eat his tiny bag of mini m&m's. We give out better candy on Halloween. I missed the meal service - I almost always do, because I fall asleep often DURING takeoff, thanks to Dramamine - but it didn't look like I had missed much.

I'd picked up a ham and swiss on focaccia sandwich from a Wolfgang Puck Express in the airport, and had stashed a mini chocolate bar from Ethel's and a bottle of water. Ethel's is adorable. Kellie introduced me to Ethel's Chocolate Lounge in Chicago last May. You can get a VIP table for you and your girlfriends with a tasting menu (BYOB), or a party package for your daughter's birthday party, I kid you not. The airport version didn't include the lounge area, but the selection of chocolates, truffles and candies was every bit as large as the one we saw in Chicago. The prices are not outrageous - about $1.00 per item - so for a special treat, I picked up a 12-piece assortment to take home, including Earl Grey Tea truffles, and seasonally-flavored chocolates with maple, pumpkin pie and orange spice.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Upscale Lounge and Restaurant... in a Former Church!

The only thing I love more than finding fun new places is people who have a passion for creating them. I was really happy to hear that Bethlehem's City Council finally gave the green light to the upscale lounge and restaurant (yet to be named) that will occupy the former First United Church of Christ (15-19 W. Fourth St.). The fact that one of the co-owners has been a part of some other great places (Blue, Melt) is encouraging - hopefully with that kind of experience, it will be a great success, an asset to the neighborhood and a fun place for us to check out soon. :)

I noticed that there are a few projects in Bethlehem that are on hold, negotiating leases or purchases, and/or still finding financing. Despite the economic changes, entrepreneurs are still interested in opening in Bethlehem; we should all make a point to support our local businesses!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Stemie's 1818 Tavern

Alyssa and I went to an open house/birthday party for a dynamic, beautiful lady named Maggie on College Hill. Maggie's married to Alyssa's colleague Tony Rhodin. The party guests were a mix of smart folks, including many who have served our communities as social workers and juvenile parole officers, dedicating their lives to performing tasks that the rest of us regard with a combination of awe, fear, and gratefulness. That great group of friendly folks welcomed a party crasher like me and encouraged my ambition to taste a merlot called "Little Black Dress."

After the party, we wanted a quiet spot to get a drink and catch up, so on Jim Deegan's recommendation, we motored over to 1818 Tavern (2501 Seip Ave, Palmer Township). When we walked in, we sat at one of the only open booths, and were presented with some pretty impressive menus for 9:00 at night. Just drinks, we said, and our server asked for our IDs so she could SCAN them. I don't know what that was about because we're both obviously over 21, but that was a first. After our IDs checked out OK (!), she came around with our drinks quickly and checked up on us periodically, but didn't rush us out. The place was pretty full but not overcrowded. A couple of small TVs showed some sporting event or another but there wasn't any loud music. Most people (a good mix of young and old, men and women)were talking to their friends. Her bottle of cider was $4, my Harp draft $3.50.


Ally introduced me to the 1818 a couple of years ago. I'm pretty sure we sat at the bar and had some tasty wings and drinks after playing 9 holes at Riverview. I wanted to share with you decor in the ladies room: a hilarious poem, cute paint job and faux white picket fence.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Allentown Brew Works


It was our friend Nicole's 25th birthday so Cristie organized a posse to go out in Allentown on Friday night, to Allentown Brew Works (812 Hamilton Street, Allentown).

It's been open since 2007, so I figured that most people had been there already, but a bunch of people in the group hadn't been there at all. It was busy but not too crowded when we arrived at 7:30. Fran had heard it was a rough neighborhood, and yeah, I probably wouldn't leave my car unlocked with jewels and champagne in it, but it's nothing like Anacostia! We found a meter spot about a half block from the restaurant, on 8th Street.

We headed upstairs to the High Gravity Lounge, where our group was finishing up their meal. There were a few families with little kids eating at tables near us, and one of the Fegleys perched at the bar, watching the Tennis Channel on a TV behind the bar (a feature about Sam Querrey!! Go Sam!!). Pretty much everyone in the restaurant was dressed pretty casually, even for a Friday night. We ordered two beers, an iced tea, a Brew Works cheeseburger, and a French Dip, and the total was around $25.00. I had been 'upstairs' and 'in the bar' a few times before, but I had no idea the place had a basement lounge like Bethlehem Brew Works' Steelgaarden - they call the one in Allentown "Silk." Dark, spacious and mostly empty early in the night (though I hear it was festive later in the evening when the gay karaoke party started).

Steel Fitness


When we first moved to the Lehigh Valley, the area was abuzz with anticipation about Riverport. We had just moved from an apartment in DC so we weren't interested in condo living, so even though the units looked pretty awesome, we passed in favor of a high-maintenance older home. Joke was on us I guess.

In addition to the Riverport Condos, there was to be a gym and another Starter's. Fries and treadmills just paces from one another!

I joined Steel Fitness (15 West Second Street, South Bethlehem) pretty soon after they opened, on the recommendation of my high school friend Jon, who is a member of 5 or 6 different gyms I think. It features everything LA Fitness and many other gyms have: fitness classes (including lotsa spinning and yoga - yay!), cardio equipment with TVs, weights and nautilus equipment.

What it doesn't have is free parking. So in addition to my monthly fee, I pay $0.50 for an hour at the attached metered parking garage. When I'm motivated, I ride my bike, and that's free, but I'm kind of afraid it will get stolen. Oh yeah, that's another 'con' - the neighborhood is ok, but there have been a number of petty thefts and break-ins in the parking lot. So far I haven't had any problems, but I also lock my purse in the trunk when I go in.

All that aside, what it DOES have is a great environment to get fit. The trainers are not scary bodybuilder types. The equipment is clean and accessible. The fitness instructors are real people who have jobs or are in school. And they're damn good, too - the yoga instructor, Edit, is every bit as good as studio instructors I've practiced with. A spin instructor, Scott, is a friend of our friends Kim & Josh's and we ran into him at their wedding this summer. The cardio equipment is always available - no waiting lists. And the clientele is great: a good mix of Lehigh students, Riverport residents, young people, older people, all levels of fitness. Very welcoming and not at all judgmental or meat-markety. (Did I really just write meat-markety? yeesh.) They offer towel service, tanning, and smoothies too, though I've never actually taken advantage of them.

Courtney and I walked into spin class today at 9:30 a.m. and said hello to Mike Gausling. The class was about half-full and was a good balance of men and women, with a variety of ages and fitness levels. I hadn't taken a class with this instructor so we were hoping it would be a good class, and it was. She was very funny and really pushed us to have a great workout. It's the new year, so a lot of people are resolving to work out more. I guess I am too - if for no other reason than I want to look hottt in the gorgeous bridesmaid dress I'll be wearing in Courtney's wedding in September.

Ocean


Colleen and I usually see a lot of each other during the summer because we golf together (or rather, she golfs, I swing the club and pray it hits the ball, bonus if the ball moves forward - we are damn cute in our golf skirts though). We resolved to get together since we both had the day off, so I buzzed over to Easton to meet her for lunch.

She suggested Ocean (235 Ferry St. Easton), and I replied, are they open for lunch now? Yes - she informed me, Chip, the manager, recently bought out Mick Acquaviva (who still owns River Grille around the corner) and is now open for lunch. The restaurant is modern - just beautifully done - clean lines and a variety of seating options. There were a few other people in the restaurant, including Martye Cohen.

The "new to us" lunch menu offers a bunch of sandwiches, panninis (don't know why there's an extra "n" but that's how they spelled it on the menu), and salads. And it's cheap! Just 6 bucks for my Ocean Panini with Honey Roasted Ham, Sliced Bartlet Pears, and Brie Cheese. I ordered the Ocean salad too, which is a simple mix of Baby Greens, Walnuts, Apples, Honey Balsamic Dressing. (I asked them to leave out the Gorgonzola cheese.)


After Colleen ordered her Portobello pannini she remarked that she had not been there in two years, and I realized that it may have been that long for me, too. For no good reason - we loved Ocean's monthly wine dinner (thanks for the introduction, Melissa & Brian!) and have been there for cocktails a couple of times. There's a funky lounge in the basement where DJs spin kind of late, a place for people who have outgrown Drinky's. When we are hungry in Easton we tend to gravitate to Sette Luna, which I'm sure I'll write about soon. With two sodas, two huge panninis with chips on the side, and a side salad, our bill came to less than $20.00. Yeah, I'll be back, I was checking out their fabulous wine list. ;)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Bolete

We both grew up in Pennsylvania but lived in DC for close to ten years before returning to the Lehigh Valley. In the city, there are culinary adventures (and misadventures) around every corner. Just two blocks from our apartment, we regularly enjoyed an upscale Indian lounge, a Greek cafe that claimed to have daily deliveries by "the lamb truck," a schmancy wine bar, and a northern Italian restaurant with a menu and wine list that rivaled many of the places we loved in Torino. We were spoiled.

Last night we felt transported back to the fine dining we experienced in DC and other cities, thanks to the chef and servers at Bolete (1740 Seidersville Road Bethlehem, in Salisbury Township). You might remember the building as the much-loved Inn of the Falcon. It's a beautiful old stone farmhouse decorated with twinkling white lights, at the intersection of Broadway and Seidersville Road. The dining room seats maybe 40 people, and a small bar area in a separate room has a few extra two-tops. When we entered, we were immediately greeted and our coats were carefully taken upstairs (more on that later). The tables are a little closer together than average for the Lehigh Valley (not any worse than most Manhattan restaurants); you'll definitely hear the conversation at the table next to you, but you'll also get plenty of attention from the staff.

For New Year's Eve, Chef Lee Chizmar - who I must have met at a party at Chris Line's house at some point in high school - put together a beautiful seven-course menu, complete with two options for wine pairings for each course. For as much as we have eaten in nice restaurants, we don't always order dishes that include quail egg, foie gras, oysters, and escargot. The pre-fixe menu was a great chance to experience unique ingredients and preparations, and see how creative Lee's team is in the kitchen. We enjoyed each course immensely, but particularly the halibut with lobster butter and homemade gnocchi. We told Erin Shea, the restaurant's co-owner who resembles Katie Holmes, that we were impressed. To finish the meal, the chef prepared ramekins of chocolate souffle with a rosemary creme anglaise. Despite our full bellies we savored every bite.

As we prepared to leave the dining room, our coats were retrieved by one of the skillful busboys (we watched him instinctively catch a wine glass as it fell from a sideboard with amazing grace). We guessed that upstairs there must be a hook for each table. No "coat check tag" to hang on to. Another thoughtful touch that makes Bolete stand apart from the rest.