A few nights ago, I had dinner at Sample Restaurant in Allentown. My group of three went at around 5:30; the restaurant was empty aside from a small group at the bar. Naturally, service was incredibly prompt, attentive, and smart. However, that’s something that could easily change with more than one table filled. And, while the atmosphere was clean and modern, the rather empty nature of the loft-styled space made it loud: laughter and glass clanging alike echoed off the walls. Overall, I saw distinct side of Sample and could easily imagine the atmosphere changing greatly given a later time and different night (Mondays aren’t a huge dining-out night.).

To start, we each ordered 2 or 3 “samples” – bite-sized versions of classic dishes (averaging $3 each). Pictured above are the Steak Frite, the Fish & Chips, and the Jambalaya Cake. While the former two were good, but average – the steak in need of more seasoning and the fish simply nicely done – the Jamabalaya Cake was a standout. The cake consisted of a ball of vegetable risotto covered in Panko breadcrumbs and then fried; it was a heavenly combination of creamy and crunchy, light yet filling.

We also ordered a platter of a Bok Choy Burgers ($8.50) – chuck burgers with braised bok choy and kimchi aioli encased be a black sesame seed bun. The “sliders” were complimented well by the Asian flavors but were nothing extraordinary; better burgers – and sliders – can be had at many other restaurants. The burgers were, though, more filling than any of the other samples; for the same price as a similarly portioned Steak Frite, they felt more appropriately priced.

Sample offers about four specials per night on top of its regular sample menu of about ten dishes. We chose the Stuffed Roma Tomatoes, which came with a “side salad” of quinoa, corn, herbs, and chopped tomatoes. They came filled with a rice, cheese, and vegetable mixture and topped with a charred slice of cheese. While they were as succulent as tomatoes can be, they could’ve used more texture – something like a breadcrumb to break up the constant creaminess. The quinoa salad – almost salsa-esque – though, was refreshing and delicious.

The real standout of the night was the Sweet Potato Bisque, topped with bacon and a maple cream “foam”. The flavors were – though out of season – spot on. The soup itself was vegetal and sweet with just enough salt, while the bacon and maple foam augmented the already-good broth. But for $3.5, the portion was nearly laughable – about 2 or 3 spoonfuls. In hindsight, I would’ve ordered the $5 bowl; it was by far the best dish of the night – something I’d definitely order again.

With room for dessert, we ordered two items off the dessert menu: the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake and the Doughnuts ($6 each). The Doughnuts, which were dusted with powdered sugar and served with coffee ice cream, were still hot from the fryer; but in the end, they benefitted more from freshness than being unabashedly good doughnuts. And, the coffee ice cream, like the honey ice cream in the other dessert, suffered a bit on texture: it was icy.

The former dessert – the Pineapple Cake – was the better dessert by far. In fact, each component of it was delicious. The triangle of pineapple cake had a crunchy, crispy exterior and a delicate, spongey interior: both very good things. It was joined by a raspberry gel, crushed pistachios, slices of candied pineapple, and a scoop of honey ice cream. Aside from the aforementioned icy ice cream, the dessert was great – a definite order-again.

Overall, our dinner at Sample was a positive experience. The concept of eating small dishes like this is exemplary: it’s fun and allows diners to try a lot of what the kitchen and chef have to offer. Sample’s execution of this concept could still use a bit of fine-tuning, but the whole experience felt decidedly more positive than Buffalo Chow’s nearly two years ago. And while I definitely do want to go back due to the positives, I wish there would be a bit more choice on the menu; a Sample Menu of even 15+ items instead of 10 would be a good improvement.

Sample on Urbanspoon


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