Moving back to Ithaca can be frightening. Many anticipate the hours of work and long nights spent in Uris. Others, like me, dread trading the variety of food a city like NYC has to offer for Cornell Dining and CTB every day. By no means am I complaining about CTB though — I can eat their Santa Fe bowl every day. But still, as a foodie, I have a desire to try out new restaurants and cuisines every week, and Ithaca has limited options. It is always a treat to find food that reminds me of NYC-quality restaurants, so I didn’t mind the trek to Boatyard, where superb seafood and juicy steaks are served in an inviting, marine-themed setting.
Inside are hints of life at sea — ship wheels, fish plaques and a bait sign. However, we sat outdoors, where our table had a beautiful view of the Cayuga lake inlet. It was picturesque, with the sun setting, boats passing by and a cool breeze blowing. The sprawling back lawn gives the impression of openness and the boats parked outside fit the restaurant’s name perfectly. Still, I was not enthralled by the mint green tablecloths outside. For a restaurant with a marine atmosphere, the color didn’t feel natural — a minor pet peeve.
To start, we got the spinach and artichoke fondue. We ate it quickly, because like all fresh foods, it comes to the table piping hot and cools down fast. The balance between the spinach and artichoke was perfect and the dip was thick enough that it would stick to the plate when I pulled it out, like cheese on a fresh slice of pizza.
Boatyard is unique in its menu options in that, in addition to standard items like steaks and pan-roasted black cod, you have a choice to have your fish prepared however you like. Between four types of fish — salmon, tuna, mahi-mahi and shrimp — and four types of preparation — pan-asian, creole, naked and mango salsa, you can’t go wrong. Your options don’t end there, however, as you can pick from several dishes made in Boatyard’s wood-fired oven. If an intense, juicy and fiery flavor is on your mind, go for the mahi-mahi tacos or the sizzling garlic steak.
I appreciate when chefs have no fear in using ingredients common folk typically reserve for holidays as part of their main menu items. The scallop-stuffed shrimp would have been delicious enough if scallops and shrimp were the only ingredients, but the inclusion of a Thanksgiving staple — stuffing — was a bold choice and a tasty addition. Like the shrimp, the scallops were fresh and had no fishy taste, but could have had more of a crust. The stuffing melted in my mouth and its savory flavor blended perfectly with the scallops and asparagus. My friend ordered a steak, which was cooked as requested, and the lobster tail that accompanied it was sublime — juicy and just the right shade of red.
Boasting a menu like this isn’t easy, but all of the dishes were cooked well and to order. With seafood, it is especially important to be confident in the sourcing and preparation of the food. I have had more than enough experiences with low quality, frozen fish that ended with my stomach growling at me. Fortunately, Boatyard prepares everything fresh according to our waitress, so we had nothing to worry about.
Finally, to fill the last bit of room in our stomachs, we needed dessert. From the small list of sweets our waitress listed, there was one that sounded a class above the rest — a chocolate chip cookie shaped like a cake slice, served on a sizzling pan with a warm caramel sauce. We heard the sizzling of the pan before we saw the cookie, which was deceptively shaped like a cake slice. Not too sweet, crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside, the dish was a perfect end to our meal.
A diverse menu is challenging, but Boatyard Grill ensures that all of its dishes are fresh and prepared perfectly. Dining here is not just a good date idea or family outing, but also a real Ithaca experience. Expect to come for top-quality dishes and to leave with a full, satisfied stomach. Overall, Boatyard Grill provided a relaxed atmosphere, exceptional service, and its food gave me another reason to return.
Serves: Refined American seafood
Vibe: Chill yet classy