Family weekend is hours away. Ithaca offers a tempting array of upscale restaurants to sample that you normally wouldn’t dream of entering but now can thanks to mom and dad’s credit card. However, premium prices and posh atmosphere do not guarantee a quality food experience. But don’t let this excuse land you in the dining hall for each meal with your parents. Below are some of my tried-and-true top picks:
Best Funky Atmosphere: Lost Dog Cafe
This is an example of a restaurant that successfully combines a hip atmosphere, live music and great service. The menu focuses on American fare and offers some of the freshest, most innovative salads and sandwiches in Ithaca. Lost Dog is also one of the few restaurants that can transform chicken into an appealing entree: the scallion and wild mushroom encrusted chicken is topped with a burgundy plum tomato sauce and asiago cheese, all served over basmati rice and spinach.
Best Ethnic: Taste of Thai
Offering a one to five scale of spiciness to accommodate your family’s varying preferences and a curry that makes your taste buds dance, Taste of Thai on the Commons is by far one of the best restaurants in Ithaca. Crowd pleasers include the fried calamari appetizer, Thai noodle wrapped shrimp and Pad Thai. The curry at Taste of Thai is one of the most delicately balanced and complex in existence. If you have never tried curry, order the yellow one at a lower level of spiciness. And don’t forget dessert: the fried ice cream is served with raspberry and chocolate sauce.
Most Famous: Moosewood
If your parents collect recipes, they probably have a 1977 edition of the Moosewood Cookbook hanging around the house. The menu at this world-renowned vegetarian restaurant changes daily for lunch and dinner and incorporates only the freshest of local ingredients. Offerings somehow manage to be meaty without including meat. The only catch: this cozy outpost in Dewitt Mall doesn’t take reservations, so it’s best to arrive around five o’clock to avoid crowds.
Best “Nouveau American:” The Heights
Located in the Community Corners shopping center, this restaurant boasts a unique dinner menu with an even more breathtaking lunch menu. Don’t let the complicated descriptions scare you away – the fare is inventive but ingredients are deliciously balanced. Some of my favorites include: the sauteed gnocchi with shrimp, the Portobello mushroom stack and the smoked salmon with Brie pizza, among a few others.
Best Italian: ZaZa’s Cucina
Upon entering ZaZa’s, you might think you’ve made a mistake and walked into whimsical dreamland. The ceiling is cluttered with billowing sheets that resemble clouds, the tables are set close together European-style and the open atmosphere encourages lively chatter. It will take you at least 20 minutes to peruse the enormous Italian menu. My mother still gushes about the pumpkin ravioli in brown butter sage sauce that she ordered two years ago. Eating the white chocolate semifreddo dessert with roasted almonds is like tasting a piece of heaven. Also, this restaurant boasts a separate kids menu. Somehow, ZaZa’s manages to pull off a charming, sophisticated setting and maintain a family-friendly environment.
Best “Wow” Factor: Madeline’s
It is difficult to find words to describe Madeline’s. Every dish I have ordered at this restaurant has left me speechless. The cuisine is roughly Asian-American fusion, and you will not find these creative menu items anywhere else. Sesame-encrusted tuna carpaccio, blue crab cakes with Thai basil and shrimp in a roasted chili coconut milk sauce are all offered on this perfectly executed menu. If you can’t make it to Madeline’s for dinner, you must go for dessert. Madeline’s offers, hands down, the most fabulous array of desserts in Ithaca, displayed in a seemingly endless case. Visit www.madelinesrestaurant.net for photos, details and a drool-fest.
The restaurants listed in this article are by no means the only dining options in Ithaca. John Thomas Steakhouse, the Boatyard Grill and Miyake are other traditional family weekend favorites. No matter which restaurant you select, make sure to call for a reservation. Take this opportunity to really impress your parents. Sure you’re a college student, but you are responsible enough to make dinner reservations at a restaurant that does not serve chicken wings.
Archived article by Anna Fishman
Sun Staff Writer