September 4, 2013

Treat Yourself (and Your Taste Buds): Where to Splurge in Ithaca

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Maybe you have a big birthday or occasion coming up, or maybe you’re just looking to blow some big bucks on an upscale meal. Whatever the reason, Emily Foster ’16 thinks Madeline’s is the perfect spot in Ithaca to splurge.

It’s a relatively quiet Friday night at Madeline’s, the high-end American fusion restaurant in the Commons. The lighting is low, which makes for a calming atmosphere, and we’re seated near to the front of the restaurant by a window overlooking Aurora Street. From this vantage point, I can take in the entire restaurant, from the bar (both your standard kind of bar, as well as a dessert bar) that lines the back of the room to the tasteful décor that lines the right of the restaurant. Back-lit art-deco paintings of nature cover the right wall, which makes up for the lack of windows on that side. It is definitely a step up in classiness and fanciness from your average Ithaca eatery, making it a great place to splurge on a meal for a birthday or other special event, or even for no particular occasion.

The menu offers a mix of classic American fare and more creative, contemporary dishes. We ordered the lemon grass chicken potstickers with ponzu and beef samosas with mango chutney as appetizers. To tide us over as we waited, the waiters gave us delicious rosemary and sea salt focaccia with olive oil to munch on. The appetizers were colorful and elegantly plated. The samosas were flavorful and savory, and served with two very unique and beautifully displayed dipping sauces as well as the mango chutney. The crispy outer wrapper gives way to a rich, thick filling of beef, corn and peas that blurs the line between American, Mexican and Indian cuisines. The potstickers are deliciously simple and simply delicious. The accompanying ponzu sauce has a slight kick which works well with their simple flavoring. The chef also took a chance by putting corn in the potstickers  — a risk that could have turned out badly, but made them even more delightful. Little touches like these make Madeline’s more elegant, innovative and tasteful, and therefore worth the extra money for a classy night out.

The menu offers a grilled caesar salad with an Asian Caesar dressing, which we naturally had to try out of curiosity. The grilled pieces of lettuce were delightfully crispy and smoky tasting, and the salad in general was refreshing, but the dressing was strange and the flavor of the slightly blackened lettuce and the fishy taste of the dressing clashed in an odd way. From there, we ordered the grilled statler chicken breast (no relation to the Statler Hotel, according to the waitress), and the filet mignon (because we ARE splurging, here!). The chicken was served with a peppercorn dijon cream sauce which was intriguing to the taste buds, with a myriad of tastes, textures and after-tastes. It took a second to get used to, but after sorting through the flavors and enjoying the tenderness of the excellently cooked chicken, we decided that we liked it. The filet sauce that topped the filet mignon was equally interesting: a mirepoix of what tasted like tomatoes, carrots, onions and perhaps even mango. This proved a very adventurous combination that was perhaps a bit heavy on the tomato but that was nonetheless appetizing. Both of these entrees came with sides of roasted potatoes which were perhaps my favorite part of the meal — sometimes it’s the little things that are the best.

Madeline’s is famous for its aforementioned dessert bar. You’re celebrating or splurging anyway, so you might as well spring for dessert. The treats are all beautifully displayed in the case, which makes decisions especially difficult.  After you order them, you return to your table while the staff heats them up (if need be) or serves them a la mode. While I love the idea of a restaurant that actually lets you look at your dessert before you eat it, herein lies a problem. The desserts are not made per order, which means that if you want a hot dessert, Madeline’s has to heat it up for you, and they are not made fresh. We ordered the chocolate peanut persuasion, the apple caramel crunch, the tiramisu and the chocolate strawberry molten lava cake. The tiramisu was delicious and was served beautifully in a Italian coffee cup, and the chocolate peanut persuasion was delightfully rich (though being a peanut-butter lover myself, I could have done with more peanut taste and less chocolate). The apple caramel crunch was lovely and I would certainly recommend it for people who prefer desserts sans chocolat; however, because it had to be reheated it perhaps didn’t taste as wonderful as it could have. My expectations were high for the molten lava cake and unfortunately were not quite met — another problem arose from reheating and the cake was not as molten as the name suggested.  You should take my criticisms with a grain of salt, however, because I’m a dessert snob (and because despite all that I just said, we ate all of them).

Madeline’s is a lovely place to go and splurge if you’ve been saving up and looking to take a break from the quick, cheap cuisine of Collegetown. Treat yourself to Madeline’s upscale and delectable cuisine if you’re looking for a relaxing atmosphere, awesome and original food and an (always) necessary sugar rush.

Original Author: Emily Foster