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September 7, 2016

A Mixed Review

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When I heard that a new restaurant was opening in Ithaca, I was ecstatic. I get tired of arguing with my friends over where to eat, only to decide on the same restaurant we went to the week before. I love the Ithaca classics, but I was ready for something new.

The website for Mix made it sound promising; it seemed like the kind of restaurant you would find in a big city rather than the typical establishments Ithaca houses. Mix markets itself as “social dining,” with a “multi-ethnic” menu filled with small plates meant to be shared. I’m a huge fan of small plates. They allow diners to try a variety of options and provide the table with a shared experience. The online menu looked promising. Many of the dishes contained flavors and ingredients not typically found in other Ithacan restaurants. I was a little wary of the fact that the online menu didn’t list prices — I’m a big believer of the saying “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it” — but I figured a restaurant looking to do business in Ithaca wasn’t going to be outrageously expensive, so I grabbed a few friends and we went to Mix the first Thursday night of the semester.

Mix is located on Elmira Road — not very easy to get to for students without a car. The outside of the restaurant doesn’t look very inviting; in fact, one of the friends I was with said she had avoided it because she had thought it was a strip club. Mix’s website boasted pictures of an upscale interior featuring chandeliers and modern decor. Instead, the interior was a conflict between a posh local staple — with a few gold accents on the walls and large images of Cornell and Ithaca — and a sports bar. There was a television on the wall set to ESPN that proved distracting to our table the entire night. There are times when I want to watch TV while eating, but not when I’m at a location that promises “social dining.”

The menu also resembled that of a sports bar: a large, laminated sheet with dozens of dishes scattered in clusters of raw bar, pizzas, small plates, salads and large plates. My eyes didn’t know where to look, but I did immediately notice the prices. For a place that had ESPN talking behind me and bad Top 40 hits of the past decade playing overhead, the prices were outrageous. Our waitress had recommended each person get either three or four small plates or a large plate and two small plates. The large plates ranged from nineteen dollars to more than thirty, which is the upper limit of any of Ithaca’s nicest restaurants. The small plates averaged around ten or eleven dollars, bordering on as much as I would typically expect to pay for a full entree.

Two members of our dining party were vegetarian, while the other two of us ate meat, so we decided to split into partners for sharing plates. Deciding on dishes was difficult. The menu was loosely organized into main categories, but the plates contained flavors from all over the world and were not listed in any logical order. It would be easier for the diner if the plates were categorized by region or flavor to avoid the jumbled mess of “multi-ethnic” dishes on the menu.

My dining partner and I chose four plates to share, featuring Thai, Spanish, Mexican and Italian flavors. The food was brought out as it was prepared, and the restaurant seemed mindful to bring both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food out at the same time so that everyone at the table always had something to eat. The size of the dishes was pretty typical for small plates — that is to say, they were small — but for the price, I was hoping we would get a little more. The first things to come out were the crockpot guajillo short rib tacos. For around 10 dollars, we got three small tacos with a few pickled vegetables on the side. The presentation was nice, but the flavor was unimpressive. You could pay the same price at Viva and get a full meal and better tacos.

The flavors of some of the other dishes were better. The potato goat cheese perogies — topped with bacon, red onion marmalade and truffle crème fraîche — were the best things I had all night. The Thai-style purple sticky rice dumplings were unique if not slightly dry, and the Spanish chorizo hot dogs were spicy but fairly boring overall.

Since it was a new restaurant, I expected a few hiccups with the service. We had a couple mix-ups with the servers, but our cucumber dill water was always filled and our food came out at a reasonable pace. However, once we were given our bill, we sat around for 20 minutes waiting for someone to pick up our credit cards. The final service is the last impression you get from a restaurant, and it left me impatient and annoyed.

Overall, Mix had a lot of potential but fell flat. The actual food didn’t live up to the great menu writing, and the atmosphere didn’t match the prices. There were a few flavors that stayed in my mind, but the food generally was forgettable — I had to look up the menu again while writing this to remember what I had ordered only a day prior — and unimpressive.

Mix would benefit from choosing a specific direction and sticking to it, whether that be an upscale restaurant or a casual sports bar. If Mix hopes to attract the majority of Ithaca students and residents, the prices should either be cut in half or the portions should be doubled. Classifying a restaurant as “multi-ethnic” seems like a cop-out for not picking a culinary direction, so if Mix is going to feature dishes from around the world, they have to do so in an organized, purposeful way. Label each dish with a cuisine and group similar plates together instead of throwing everything on a laminated sheet of paper and deeming it a cohesive menu.

I truly do want to give Mix a second chance because I believe that the theme could fill a niche in Ithaca’s culinary scene, if executed correctly. Unfortunately, I cannot currently recommend it to anyone until they get they get their act together and undergo major restructuring. Mix is launching a brunch menu in September, which  looks very promising. But if my dinner experience is any indication of what the brunch might bring, I’m getting my hopes up over a great idea, only to be let down by poor execution.