November 17, 2005

Caribbean Dream

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Last Saturday night, I decided to try something different, something exciting. Before I knew it, I was walking beneath a bright red portico, down a narrow flight of uneven steps and into the basement of 114 North Cayuga Street. No, I did not venture into Ithaca’s newest adult entertainment store. I discovered something even more exciting: a new restaurant. Since its opening in August 2005, the aptly named Yah’ Mon has brought a piece of the Caribbean into the frozen depths of upstate New York.

From the moment I stepped into this cozy, inviting nook, I felt like I was miles away from the hills of Ithaca. The restaurant itself seats less than 60 people, and coupled with the bright music and colorful decor, results in an atmosphere that is both intimate and casual. Unlike many Ithaca establishments that cater to a specific crowd, Yah’ Mon is a restaurant that you can take parents, friends, professors and young children to enjoy.

The service at Yah’ Mon is quite friendly and accommodating. Admittedly, my knowledge of Caribbean food is quite limited, but my waitress didn’t bat an eyelash during the battery of questions I asked about the menu: “Is the chicken served on the bone? – Is the oxtail fatty? – What does goat meat taste like?” I can’t blame myself for asking so much. I have never seen a menu filled with so many unfamiliar dishes. The appetizers were fairly self-explanatory. Most of us have tried coconut shrimp, crab cakes, jerk shrimp and chicken wings. However, other items such as the beef patty and the cod fish with scotch bonnet had me puzzled. In the end, I ordered the crab cakes as a litmus test. The worst crab cakes I’ve consumed were bready and greasy. The best crab cakes I’ve tasted hailed from Maryland and melted in my mouth. The crab cakes at Yah’ Mon fell somewhere in the middle, winning points for their golden brown frying technique and losing points for being filled with too much breading.

The list of entrees presented another conundrum. Should I stay safe and order the curry chicken, venture into the realm of Caribbean specialty and order a jerk dish, or jump off the deep end and order the oxtail stew? My dining partner chose to stay on the safe side and ordered a dish called Dunns River Falls, a combination of chicken and shrimp in red sauce over fried polenta. The chicken was blackened and crispy yet tender and juicy on the inside, and the shrimp popped at the slightest pressure. I however, decided to go wild: I ordered the curry goat. I have never tasted goat before and I must admit, I was expecting to gnaw on a lump of toughness. So imagine my surprise when a stew of tender, fall-off-the-bone meat was placed before me. The essence of goat sang on my tongue like no other meat I have tried before. Still unable to imagine the flavor? If you like lamb, you will probably like goat as well.

I still haven’t described the crowning moment of my dining experience at Yah’ Mon. One thing is for sure, the chef at this restaurant has perfected the art of frying, particularly french fries. My southern palate adores sweet potato fries. I have actually gone to restaurants in Ithaca for the sole purpose of trying the sweet potato fries, and alas, I have been disappointed on several occasions. Sometimes the fries are too salty while other times they are disgustingly soggy or horrifyingly crunchy (undercooked). However, the sweet potato fries at Yah’ Mon rivaled those served in southern restaurants in the heart of Georgia. The outside was perfectly crispy, the inside was moist and tender, and there was not a trace of grease on the plate.

The best part about Yah’ Mon is their operating hours. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. during the week and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. on the weekends, so no matter when you roll out of bed, you will never miss lunch or dinner. If you’re sick of eating on-campus or just want to try a new cuisine, head down to Yah’ Mon and discover this hidden corner of the Caribbean for yourself.

Archived article by Anna Fishman
Sun Staff Writer