February 23, 2006

Tastin' Around

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I poked my head inside the little wine and tapas bar on North Aurora Street four years ago. However, at the age of eighteen, I lacked the fake ID necessary to enjoy the complete experience. I spent one year away from Cornell and returned in the fall, thinking I had already tried the best that Ithaca had to offer. I had forgotten about the tiny restaurant with eleven tables that was sandwiched between the slew of pizza, sandwich, and steak restaurants near the Commons. My memory was jogged after receiving a recommendation, and I decided to take the largest risk a food lover can take: dining out on Valentine’s Day. When one eats out on Valentine’s Day, the lines are long, the service is atrocious, the food is cold and ill-timed, and the fixed price menus are not exciting. But this stereotype was nowhere near applicable to my dining experience at Just a Taste.

First, there was no wait at the restaurant. We were seated immediately at a cozy two-top. The atmosphere was inviting, with warm-hued walls, casually undressed tables, and mouth-watering scents wafting from the kitchen. The service was absolutely amazing. Our waiter, attentive, friendly and helpful, also carried an extensive knowledge about the menu and the wines. The wine menu, though not the most extensive I have seen, offered an interesting approach to sampling. Wine could be purchased by the bottle, the glass, or the “taste.” The taste option for $1.75 immediately appealed to me, as I’m usually good for only a couple sips. My dining partner ordered a “flight” of wine, which included five “tastes” for eight dollars. The flights are themed and include a “light red flight,” a “white flight,” and more.

The menu, which changes everyday, was fantastically varied. To clarify: Just a Taste does not serve Spanish food. The menu is eclectic, and it is served in tapas style in small portions for sharing. It is difficult to gauge how much food to order. Since I hate leaving a restaurant hungry, my friend and I selected five entree dishes plus two dessert dishes to share, all of which ran between $4.50-7.00. All seven plates at Just a Taste were superb. We started with a fried russet with chili aioli. A French fry for grown-ups, this perfectly fried potato was served satisfyingly thick with the sharp, tangy aioli. The flatbread topped with a basil pesto, chili flakes, mozzarella, ricotta, and romano had a warm, chewy crust with a slight yeasty taste. The baked stuffed salmon with romesco sauce was cooked to perfection-the salmon was moist, and the crab stuffing was perfectly balanced. We also decided to take a risk and ordered a savory bread pudding with roasted garlic, carmelized onion, hazelnuts and gruyere. I know, bread pudding for dinner sounds a bit frightening, but this was a glorious combination of nut and cheese in a crispy-moist package, highlighted with a lemony parsley pesto. Last was the panang curry duck leg with coconut rice. It was difficult to believe that such a variety of well-prepared dishes appeared on one menu!

Naturally, I never skip dessert. Though the offerings at Just a Taste vary daily, they always carry a chocolate souffl