The warm, dimly lit entrance of ZaZa’s Cucina served as a welcoming oasis from the frigid, subzero Ithaca temperatures over the weekend. I rushed through the doors, leaving my three dining companions in my wake, eager to claim our OpenTable reservation and warm up my exposed ankles — I’m still unsure why I insisted on wearing sockless loafers rather than my Timberlands in the snow. We were led to our table by the smiling hostess and thus began a delightfully long meal full of tasty food and great conversation worthy of writing about in the paper.
Unlike many of the other eateries I have had the pleasure of dining at for The Sun, ZaZa’s Cucina is a restaurant I have visited many times. In fact, this was probably my fifth or sixth time eating here during my four years at Cornell. Although I have always found the meals to be pretty good, I wanted to truly make an assessment this time around and decide once and for all whether or not ZaZa’s deserved to be in my starting rotation of the best restaurants in Ithaca.
With a two-tiered dining room, the restaurant’s interior is quite large. Some tables are in a sunken area in the middle, while the majority of tables surround the perimeter of the space. The atmosphere is upscale but intimate, with dim lighting, warm colors and all-white linens. We were seated at an oddly large, rectangular table that sat four but easily could have fit more. The ambience was inviting, and the warm bread on the table smelled delectable.
To start our meal, our table decided upon one order of both the fresh burrata caprese ($12) and the Prince Edward Island mussels ($14). Some might remember from my previous articles that I happen to be lactose intolerant, but burrata is one of my absolute guilty pleasures. While I was not necessarily disappointed by the dish, the serving of burrata was not as large as I would have hoped, and certainly was not the best appetizer to share with more than one other person. The mussels were good, served in a garlic and white wine mixture, with an ample amount of the tasty mollusks to go around the table. While they were not the best mussels I have ever had, I would not hesitate to order them again in the future.
When it came to ordering our main course, we could not resist choosing from the many pasta dishes offered, made in-house with fresh pasta daily. After much debate, my girlfriend and I split the pumpkin ravioli ($21) and the red seafood misto ($25). The pumpkin ravioli was decent, but nothing to rave about. There was a mealy consistency, with an oily coating on the raviolis. Were it not for the pumpkin seeds (which admittedly created a crunchy texture contrast), I’m not entirely sure I would know there was even pumpkin in this dish. I was much more impressed with the red seafood misto, which was full of shrimp, clams, mussels and calamari. The fresh spaghetti was delicious, slightly al dente and far tastier than normal store-bought pasta. The ratio of spaghetti to seafood was perfect, and the serving size was also satisfactory. Although I was unable to finish the entirety of my meal, the red seafood misto in the to-go container was just as good for a late-night snack a couple of hours later.
Overall, my dining experience at ZaZa’s was quite enjoyable. While I wouldn’t consider it to be in the upper echelon of Ithaca restaurants, it is definitely a solid eatery worthy of a visit for a date night or merely on a night you want to treat yourself to a tasty and reliable Italian dinner. However, I am obligated to warn all readers to be careful when ordering, as it is quite easy to run up a hefty bill, especially when ordering any of the more expensive non-pasta dishes or alcoholic beverages. And as Billy Joel would confirm, this is especially the case if you order a bottle of red, a bottle of white or perhaps a bottle of rosé instead.
Serves: contemporary Italian dining
Vibe: upscale, intimate