My review of Buddakan in Philadelphia, an Asian-inspired restaurant in the historic district, can be summed up in a single word: Yes! From the outside, Buddakan doesn’t appear to be anything special; however, as you step inside, you realize that it’s no ordinary Chinese restaurant. The dimly lit interior throbs with club music. The wooden tables are set with white plates, folded napkins, and lacquered chopsticks. And a giant golden Buddha overlooks it all. Not surprisingly, since the restaurant is part of the Starr group, the cuisine caters to foodies looking for unique takes on traditional dishes.
This week finds World Oyster at the Easton Public Market. Opened in 2015, the market is one of the newer attractions in this small eastern Pennsylvania city. It joins Lafayette College, the Crayola Experience, and the National Canal Museum as a local attraction.
Best Lunch: Mister Lee’s Noodles
Second-Best Lunch: Taylor Taco Shop
Decadent Treat to Go: Macarons from Chocodiem
Most surprising: The quality of the dining options
Most disappointing: The small size limits the number of stalls.
Parking: There’s a small parking lot at the back of the market, but it fills quickly. The best bet is to find street parking nearby.
Within easy driving distance from Bethlehem, Allentown, and New Jersey, the Easton Public Market is a fun way to spend an hour or so. Locals will grab a quick lunch or buy a few things for dinner that night. While the offerings are hardly expansive, the market does offer some gourmet options as well as more traditional fare.
Mister Lee’s Noodles
Chef Lee Chizmar is famous in the Lehigh Valley for his excellent farm-to-table French restaurant Bolete. A 2015 James Beard-nominee, Chizmar knows how to coax maximum flavor out of the simplest ingredients. The opening of Mister Lee’s Noodles in the Easton Public Market caused a lot of excitement. Despite knowing all that, I never would have guessed that ramen noodles could taste as rich and as flavorful as they do from this counter. Most hot bowls are topped with a “60-minute egg” — I assume sous-vide — but you can order your dish without one, as I did. Cold bowls tend to include hard boiled eggs.
World Oyster at the Easton Public Market rates Mister Lee’s Noodles as the best food by a slim margin.
Recommended: Hot & Spicy Ramen, cold Korean BBQ Beef noodles, whatever the daily special is.
Taylor Taco Shop
I love spicy food, one reason why I love the Hot and Spicy Ramen at Mister Lee’s, but that’s not the only spicy option at the Easton Public Market. Taylor Taco Shop offers customized tacos, burritos, and bowls. Although it’s modeled after Chipotle, the fillings are much more distinctive and delicious. You can customize or order one of their combinations. When I last visited, the options included two vegetarian (The Taza with falafel and the Fried Sweet Potato) and one meat (Roast Duck.) You can also dictate exactly what you want. Bowls with seared mahi-mahi and pork carnitas were excellent.
For those with a sweet tooth, World Oyster at the Easton Public Market must note Chocodiem. The glass cases display a fabulous array of Belgian chocolates and macarons, and everything tastes as good as it looks. Since I’m partial to French macarons, I can’t leave the market without a box of these. Yes, they are expensive, but oh-so-worth-it!
Chocodiem has two other locations, one in Clinton, NJ, and the other in the Bourse in Philadelphia.
Olive With a Twist
Olive With a Twist offers a selection of cheeses, olives oils, vinegars, and other gourmet items. The cheese selection is more limited than I’d like and offers nothing beyond what I can get at Wegman’s. Regardless, it makes a good stop if you are already in the Public Market.
Dundore and Heister
Although I haven’t shopped at Dundore and Heister myself, people rave about the meats sold here. It offers local, pasture-raised, and organic meats.
This small grocery store brims with produce and gourmet items such as local honey. The Highmark Farmstand‘s produce is pricey, but the display of it looks inviting enough to convince you to “strive for five” — or maybe six or seven. Pick up a jar of butterscotch peanut butter for a treat!
I’ve have never seen The Kitchen’s space used. As I understand it, you can watch cooking demonstrations, take classes, or attend a food-related education workshop. All I know is that I’d love to cook behind those glass windows.
Other Shops of Note
Silvershell Counter + Kitchen is another Lee Chizmar/Erin Shea venture. On my last visit, it had just opened and looked a little . . . not quite open. They offer freshly shucked oysters, fried clams, and lobster rolls as well as foods-to-go.
Eight Oaks Craft Distillers sells small-batch craft spirits from Lehigh County.
Full of Crepe (my favorite Easton Public Market name!) is a popular stop. You can get made-to-order sweet or savory crepes, plus salads.
Scratch uses a brick pizza oven, and it serves its own beer. I was annoyed when I tried to get pizza there during its supposedly open hours and found a “be back soon” sign. Not good on a Saturday. It did open about 30 minutes later, a little after noon.
Although I wish the Easton Public Market were larger, I still found the stop interesting enough to repeat. The dining options offer something for everyone, from traditionalist to gourmet.
Debbie Lee Wesselmann
On a brief trip to Auckland, New Zealand, my husband and I dined at some of the city’s best restaurants, from casual to upscale. Not surprisingly, we discovered that dining in Auckland New Zealand can rival that of any major international city. I named two of the restaurants below, The Grove and The Sugar Club, as two of the best restaurants I visited in 2019.
If a friend had not told me about Cascade The Restaurant at Durham Springs, I would have never tried it. Without this recommendation, I would have missed out on the finest dining available in upper Bucks County, PA. Located in the country amid rolling hills, this restaurant offers innovative dishes that change weekly, perhaps even nightly.
Recommended dishes: Everything. No kidding.
Most surprising: The location, seemingly in the middle of nowhere
Cuisine: Innovative American
Dress: Business casual to dressy
Décor: Modern rustic
Price: Expensive for the area
Under New Ownership, in rural Bucks County
I’m shocked that such a fabulous restaurant exists only a few minutes from my home, in the country no less. I’ve had comparable meals in major cities such as San Francisco, Auckland, and New York at higher prices. Of course, the rent/property costs are much more expensive in those areas. That’s not to say that Cascade the Restaurant is cheap.
Many local residents know the building as the Cascade Lodge; however, new ownership has transformed it and stepped it up to a new level. Its new name, Cascade the Restaurant at Durham Springs, evokes the past while signaling the change. Owners Dan and Ian are hands-on management. Chances are, one of them will stop by your table to inquire about your experience. Kudos to them for hiring chef de cuisine Jon McCain, who has a palate for interesting flavors and an artistic eye. After all, when you’re paying for an upscale meal, you want the food to look as beautiful as it tastes.
Service is unpretentious, attentive, but sometimes awkward. I attribute that the newness of the restaurant. Still, the wait staff could use some better instruction on the menu items.
Seasonal Ingredients, With Artistic Flare
We’ve been to Cascade the Restaurant several times now, and each time the menu has been different. Chef Jon McCain uses seasonal ingredients to highlight the freshest flavors available. For instance, at one visit, I had a blow-me-away sweet corn risotto with crabmeat and shrimp, topped with fiddlehead ferns. At another visit, my husband ordered seasonal wild-caught sockeye salmon with late spring’s rhubarb underneath. My beef filet was adorned with a pansy flower for an edible pop of color.
Although I’d recommend ordering anything on a given menu, some dishes don’t rise to the level of others. For example, on a Wednesday night pris fixe menu, my scallops were slightly overdone. The rosemary sugar under a full burrata didn’t add as much interest as I had hoped. Despite those disappointments, everything else over four visits has been delicious and perfect.
The Events Center
Owners Dan and Ian have preserved and updated the events center for weddings and parties. Just outside the doors and next to the brook, they have graded a two-tier lawn area that extends to the duck pond.
Although I have not been in the events center itself, I’ve looked into it via the windows in the dining room. It carries over the same décor theme from the restaurant in a larger, open area.
Cascade the Restaurant at Durham Springs offers free valet parking in a gravel lot just across the road. Recently, they’ve announced the upcoming opening of a roof top café with lighter fare and more casual atmosphere.
The restaurant has a full bar. Although the cocktails are excellent, the wine list is limited, particularly in the by-the-glass offerings. Given the caliber of the restaurant, I wish they’d employ a Coravin to offer better wines by the glass. A Coravin allows restaurants to serve wines at per-bottle prices (that is, bottle price divided by five) without risk of a wine going bad over time. Even without a Coravin, however, the bottle list should be larger.
Make a reservation. Although the dining room hasn’t been completely sold out on our visits, accolades and word-of-mouth might change that. You don’t want to drive into the country, only to find out that you cannot get a table. Most of all, though, prepare yourself for an elegant and unpretentious dining experience.
— Debbie Lee Wesselmann
Two and a half days in Alexandria, Virginia? For me, that’s about perfect, especially when it comes to dining in Old Town. Since the DC metro stops right at the end of King St., you can easily combine visits to both Alexandria and Washington. Below I’ve reviewed some of my favorite restaurants in Alexandria, VA. The historic section may be small, but it has plenty of dining options. We stayed at the Kimpton Lorien Hotel & Spa, and everything below was within walking distance.
My favorite meal, hands down, was at Vermillion, a small, cozy restaurant on King Street. You won’t find white tablecloths here, although the food certainly deserves them. The chef creates dishes that sound simple but are really a complex melding of flavors and textures. Even the butter is house-made.
The menu changes with the season, so you can’t expect everything to be the same; however, you just know from the first bite that you can’t go wrong with anything.
Cocktails are excellent, and they have a wide selection of draft beer. The wine list is limited.
Recommended: roasted Wellfleet oysters; anchovy toasts (two tiny pieces); prime New York strip steak; Skuna Bay Salmon; Marcona almond tart.
Hank’s Oyster Bar
We lunched at Hank’s Oyster Bar, also on King St. and my second favorite dining experience in Alexandria. The restaurant has a typical long, dark bar in one room and a small, bright dining room in the other. You can eat in either room.This casual restaurant has a large selection of oysters — 7, the day I ate there — so of course we had to start with oysters on the half shell. (My favorites were Glacier Point and Salty Wolf. )
Neither one of us could resist the Maine lobster roll with Old Bay-seasoned fries. Yum! Stuffed with sweet Maine lobster meat, easy on the mayo, they were worth every penny.
In a distinctive touch, Hank’s serves a small bowl of chocolate chunks when the bill arrives.
Recommended: oysters any way you like them; Maine lobster roll.
We stayed at the Kimpton Lorien Hotel and Spa on King St. Their brasserie, Brabo, is a hopping place. For convenience, we ate there twice, for Happy Hour and for dinner before we left for home. We thoroughly enjoyed both the food and the drinks. My husband was a huge fan of Le Burger, a hamburger topped with gruyere, black truffle aoili, and pickles. The only dish I wasn’t wild about was the roasted cauliflower with capers. The flavors just didn’t meld.
Recommended: mussels mariniere; cheese and charcuterie board; Bartlett pear and goat cheese salad; Le Burger.
After a full morning and early afternoon of sightseeing, I turned once again to King St., this time closer to the waterfront. I had wanted to try The Warehouse because of its excellent reviews; however, the day was so gorgeous that I couldn’t bring myself to enter the darkened interior. Instead, I opted for The Wharf and its sidewalk seating area. (They also serve inside, in a dark and clubby space.)
I ordered a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc and a crab cake. The food and service were competent, good without being excellent. Of course, what I really wanted was to enjoy the day, and The Wharf gave me that.
Recommended: Sidewalk seating for lunch.
One of my favorite restaurants from past visits to Alexandria was Bastille. I had high expectations, and I was disappointed. The restaurant has located to a more traditional building that makes it feel somewhat staid and like any other French restaurant. Gone are the exciting, modern vibes of a farm-to-table restaurant.
The chef offers a Monday pris fixe bistro menu of three courses for only $29. They also offer $29 bottles of wine. Both are great deals. Still, the waiter actually asked me how I would like my duck confit cooked. (Duck confit is a dish slow-cooked in fat to preserve it.) The dishes were flavorful and artfully plated, but all far too salty, as if prepared by a smoker.
Recommended (if you don’t mind salty food): duck confit with roasted pear, greens, and potato chunks; filet of beef with fries; arugula salad with salmon rillette, radishes, and cucumber
Debbie Lee Wesselmann