February 28, 2012

INTERNATIONAL EATING: Foodie’s Tour of Ithaca

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Ithaca may be a small, rural town with a single-street Collegetown and squirrels and deer keeping you company in the wild. But if your appetite is up for an adventure, you can find diverse cuisines from around the world. So if you are ready to buckle your seatbelt, I will take you on some exotic food-ventures. Bon Voyage!

THAILAND: Tamarind

If you are ready for an Eat, Pray, Love-style trip to Thailand, Tamarind is just the place to go. With its small dining room, Tamarind creates a cozy atmosphere of home-made, authentic ethnic dining. Although its interior is not as fancy and spacious as Taste of Thai, it has gained a reputation as the best Thai food in town, even among the Thai students in Ithaca. You can select a spice level from one to ten (Caution: level ten is not for beginners).

Located near Walmart on North Meadow Street, the restaurant is best accessed by car. TAMARIND also offers take-out and delivery, but the service is known to be quite slow.

Highly Recommended: Curry with duck, tom yum noodles, Thai iced tea

MEXICO: Viva Cantina

In the quiet and empty “downtown” of Ithaca, you will be surprised to find the vibrant, atmosphere of Mexico and the heat of Mexican food just around the corner. Viva Cantina is a relatively authentic fast-casual Mexican restaurant constantly filled with the exuberance of college students and families. Its vivid decor, hipster waitstaff, creative cocktails and reasonable price make it a great place to hang out. When the weather is warm, you can also enjoy the outdoor seating as you gobble down some nachos. If only there was a tune of “La Bamba” or Mexican ska in the background, the picture would be complete.

The menu offers many choices of enchilada, fajita, burritos and quesadilla at a great price (around $10 each) and actually provides a portion that is just right for the average appetite. It is only a five-minute walk from the TCAT bus stop in the Ithaca Commons.

Highly Recommended: Enchilada tomatillo with beef, super nachos, mole burrito with tofu

ITALY: Zaza’s Cucina

I know you are sick at the sight of the pasta and pizzas in the dining halls. And after your long food-deprived hours in the library and overdose of coffee and Red Bull, your poor stomach is calling out for some true Italian food. So, let me take you to a hidden gem about fifteen minutes away from the Commons: Zaza’s Cucina is an avant-garde, fine-dining restaurant with two levels. With 22 choices of pasta, 15 choices of entrees and 8 choices of desserts, you will find yourself drooling at the sound of “pasta in a fresh clams, white wine and garlic sauce” and fantasizing about the Pear Apple Berry Buckle for dessert. Zaza’s is an excellent choice for a romantic dinner to impress your significant other or for a classy celebration with friends or family.

Highly Recommended: Lobster and shrimp risotto, flourless chocolate and orange torte


Foie gras with plum wine, pork tenderloin with roasted chili sauce and Thai basil and pistachio kulfi ice-cream accompanied by a Hot Sake-tini… Is this a dream come true? Just opened last year, Mia is a pan-Asian restaurant in Ithaca Commons that creates a beautiful fusion of ethnic Asian cuisine, western cuisine and chic-modern dining.With an elegant bar and an intimate atmosphere, Mia is a wonderful choice for a romantic date, a special dinner with your friends or to show visiting family “the posh side” of Ithaca (which is difficult otherwise). It is conveniently accessible, only a five-minute walk from the TCAT bus stops at the Ithaca Commons. Menu items are between $12 – 25, which is a great value for its price.

Highly Recommended: Foie gras with plum wine, Barbeque pork buns with pickled daikon, Roasted half duck in five-spice demiglace, lobster and shrimp with masala, chocolate marzipan cake.

ITHACA: The Boatyard Grill

Lastly, you cannot miss the one-and-only of Ithaca: The Boatyard Grill by the Finger Lakes takes you on a wooden ship for a seafood (and meat) getaway that cannot be experienced elsewhere in the city. With its creative decor reminiscent of a pirate ship, its beautiful view by the lake, its diverse ways of presentation, and its attentive waitstaffs, The Boatyard Grill will impress both you and your stomach. Its menu items have fulfilling portions and great value (around $20 per entree). If you are not 21, their drink menu still offers many interesting options.Only ten minutes by car from the Commons, The Boatyard Grill is perfect for a classy-casual get-together. They do not take reservations but do offer call-ahead seating, so be careful to plan ahead.

Highly Recommended: Seafood splash-down tower, cranberry grilled salmon, boneless short ribs (finished with a red wine-port demiglace), red velvet truffle cake

Original Author: Yilin Zhang