by Cathy Kiley

It’s very difficult for me to believe that it has been nearly six years since the historic Easton Sweet Shop was transformed into what is now Valenca. In its first rebirth, the original owners concentrated on a menu of Portuguese fare, which developed a small local following, but did not impress Tom and me to the point where we would dine there often. We were and remain huge Portuguese foodies and have been back to Portugal a couple of times since my last review in 2009.

Now, Valenca has new owners, Lee Kelechava and Meryl Cooper-Kelechava as well as a new chef, Abe Lopez who are diligently working together to bring new and exciting things to devotees of this establishment.

valenca4One thing that has not changed about Valenca is its fabulous location. Set on Easton’s Centre Square, it is a perfect place to enjoy the great patio and share a half-priced bottle of wine on Wednesday nights; listen to Friday night music on the square or people watch on any given evening during the warm summer months. It’s a fabulous spot to spend time with friends – and it is pet friendly too! Tom and I have often said, and still believe, that Valenca is one of the most attractive restaurants in the Lehigh Valley. The bar, with its gorgeous mahogany woodworking, wide plank flooring and pub tables lining the windows is always busy and very inviting. Amanda was the mixologist on tap the evening we visited and was happy to serve up a wonderfully icy Cosmopolitan for me and a Manhattan for Tom while we chatted.

Previously at College Hill Tavern and Moricis, Amanda adds a friendly, feminine touch to the masculine bar which seats about 15, with room for another 16 or so at the high tops. The alabaster-looking chandeliers and sconces that add soft lighting to the bar are carried into the main dining room. Wooden wall panels and recessed ceilings add to the rich interior of the thoughtfully decorated dining room with upholstered banquettes and well-spaced wooden tables.

It is a beautiful place to dine, it has one of the most incredible patios in the Valley and you simply feel at ease when you walk through the doors.

We were shown to a window-side table and our server, Laurie (who’s been at Valenca since the original reopening), quickly came to talk about the menu. The “Spoon” menu offers Valenca’s Soup of the Day as well as Crab Bisque. Salads are shown on the “Fork” menu and include House and Caesar Salads; an Iceberg Wedge and a Baby Spinach Salad, which I chose as my appetizer. The fresh baby spinach was very chilled, served with wine-poached pears and topped with fried goat cheese and toasted sunflower seeds in a champagne vinaigrette. I truly enjoyed this salad. It was deliciously crisp and a perfect choice to start.

Tom chose the Portuguese Sausage from the “Taste” menu. Grilled in the kitchen, the chorizo was flambéed tableside to finish it off in a very cute pig-shaped utensil, which I have seen before but only in Portugal and in restaurants in Newark’s Ironbound section. The chorizo was very tasty and flavorfully served with a zippy garlic chili oil. Chorizo is notorious for not being the leanest of sausages, so keep that in mind when ordering it anywhere. However, this flavorful appetizer is sure to please any chorizo fan.

valenca3The next time we visit, Tom and I decided we will try two other items from the “Taste” menu – Crispy Asian Calamari tossed with scallions, peppers, cilantro and toasted Sesame seeds in a chili sauce, and Filet Mignon Carpaccio with baby arugula, parmigiano reggiano and pickled shallots in a truffle vinaigrette. Also listed on this menu are Risotto Balls filled with mozzarella and prosciutto served in homemade tomato sauce; Crispy Beer Braised Pork Belly with sweet and spicy Japanese eggplant, saffron and cilantro; Spicy Sticky Chicken Wings with pickled cucumbers, scallions and cilantro as well as Garlic Shrimp with tomato and cilantro in a white wine garlic sauce, served with grilled bread.

Although a few items remain from the previous menu including Paella Valenca; Steak and Salmon on a Stone and Picadinho (sautéed pork, filet mignon tips and shrimp served over potatoes and black olives in a red wine garlic cilantro sauce), the current choices at Valenca have moved away from traditional Portuguese preparations to include a more eclectic influence. On the menu is a Pan Seared Chicken Breast with cauliflower purée, wild mushrooms and asparagus in a black truffle cream sauce; Roasted Hanger Steak with blue cheese potato au gratin & haricot verts in an au poivre sauce; Double Cut Pork Chop Mignon with sweet potato purée, grilled asparagus and crispy prosciutto in a peppery apple cider reduction as well as Bouillabaisse and Pan Seared Tilapia.

For our entrees, Tom chose the Crispy Chicken Thighs with roasted winter root vegetables and housemade sausage in a bourbon orange glaze; and I decided on the Bacon Wrapped Monkfish “Osso Bucco” style with butternut squash risotto and green beans in a red wine veal demi- glace. Both dishes were nicely presented.

Tom’s chicken was very moist and delicious but not as crispy as he expected. He enjoyed the savory house made sausage that was served alongside of the chicken. It was very lean and flavorful. My monkfish was very fresh and prepared perfectly. The sides were well prepared but a little heavy for monkfish for my taste. I rarely order “Osso Bucco” because it is always such a heavy meal. So, anyone who enjoys a substantial meal would enjoy this selection. For dessert, I tried the Chocolate Pinwheel which was very good and, along with fresh coffee, sweetly topped off our night.

valenca5As we finished our bottle of J. Portugal Ramos, Vila Santa Loios Vinho Red, Alentejo 2011, one of the few remaining Portuguese wines on Valenca’s interesting and moderately-priced wine list, we decided that the next time we visit we will do a tasting of smaller plates which will allow us to try more of what Chef Lopez has on the menu.

Valenca also has a very interesting Brunch menu which is served both on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Choices include their amazing Breakfast Pizza with Gruyere cheese and asparagus topped with poached eggs; Chocolate Chip or Banana Pancakes with choice of bacon or chorizo; Cinnamon Challah French Toast with walnut brandy maple syrup, bacon or chorizo; Greek Yogurt Parfait; omelets; three choices of Eggs Benedict; sandwiches, burgers and much, much more. Entrees are a la carte or a flat $25 price includes an entree choice plus a two-hour bottomless glass of Mango Bellini, Mimosa or Sparkling Sangria. Tom and I attend church downtown so we are planning to visit Valenca for Sunday Brunch in the future.

Valenca has only been open a short while under the new ownership and Chef Abe Lopez is still creating and tweaking his menu. A graduate of Peter Kump’s Culinary School in New York (now known as the Institute of Culinary Education), Chef Lopez has studied with many fabulous chefs including Chef Sam DeMarco who owned First in the East Village (before he moved on to Bellagio in Las Vegas) and Chef Jeremy Marshall at Aquagrille in Soho. Lopez came to Valenca from Pacifico at the Promenade. Abe Lopez also reigned victorious on the Food Network’s “Chopped” a few years ago. He described it as a challenging and fun culinary experience. Chef Lopez is diversely experienced and I cannot wait to see what he will bring to diners at Valenca.

I think Valenca has a lot to offer. It is a beautiful place to dine, it has one of the most incredible patios in the Valley and you simply feel at ease when you walk through the doors. Visit Valenca on Monday for their $19.95 three course, Prix Fixe menu or Happy Hour Monday to Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. with $6 drink and food specials. And, if you are looking for an amazing setting for a private party, keep in mind that Valenca’s gorgeous Wine Cellar on the lower level seats 35 and the beautiful private dining room (adjacent to the main room) will seat up to 50.

Valenca is open Monday thru Wednesday from 4 – 10 p.m.; Thursday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Call 610.829.0360 for reservations. Or, visit for complete menu and other information.

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