Having trouble getting in your daily source of vegetables? Head to Coltivare, located on 235 South Cayuga Street, to have your mind blown away by a cauliflower dish that tastes so good you would never imagine it’s just vegetables! Before we get to the delicious meals, let’s take a look at what the restaurant truly stands for. Coltivare comes from the Italian verb “to cultivate.” The restaurant cultivates in various ways: The land, since 60 percent of their ingredients are sourced from the local area; learning, through its dynamic partnership and innovative ‘Farm to Bistro’ program; and community outreach programs such as fundraising dinners and charitable giving in Tompkins County. Each month Coltivare offers a “Student Special,” which sets aside $5 with every order and donates the accumulated money to local schools in order to combat child hunger. This money is donated to students who owe money on their lunch accounts to ensure all are able to afford a nutritious meal at school.
Coltivare is a 17,000 square-foot culinary center that includes a full-service restaurant, culinary lab, amphitheater, wine cellar and special event space. The restaurant is owned by the Tompkins Cortland Community College foundation and acts as a satellite location for TC3. Housing three of the college’s four “Farm to Bistro” programs, Coltivare offers guidance in Hotel and Restaurant Management, Culinary Arts and Wine Marketing. As the central hub for hospitality programs at the college, Coltivare allows students to filter in through classes and internship opportunities with the hotel and restaurant management and sustainable farming programs. In addition, a beverage studies degree and a culinary arts degree are offered.
Students are able to hit the ground running and gain hands-on experience as they work alongside a professional staff of hosts, servers, line cooks, prep cooks and head chefs — training that will prepare them for a job in any hotel, restaurant or college dining hall. This intensive program requires a back-of-house practicum of 250 work hours a semester, or a front-of-house practicum of 125 hours. One of the largest and fastest-growing hospitality programs in the country, Coltivare’s culinary program currently hosts 60 students. In addition, the restaurant supports the college’s own TC3 Farm by sourcing fresh produce grown by its Sustainable Farming and Food Systems students and even returns composted food waste back to the fields.
This past week I met with Coltivare’Director of Operations Jason Sidle, who was able to give me an inside view of the restaurant. From our conversation, what blew me away the most was the various ways in which the restaurant is giving. One of Jason’s most memorable events was a fundraising dinner that raised over $1,000 to help students from the New Roots Charter School, in Ithaca, go back to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. The students visited their families and helped rebuild the community after a series of earthquakes and other natural disasters. Overall, Coltivare is a breath of fresh air in comparison to their egocentric competitors whose main priority is how much money they’re putting in their pockets at the end of the day.
Now, let’s get back to the good stuff — the food. Ever since opening in December 2014, Coltivare’s #1 dish has been their citrus and soy glazed salmon served over braised fennel, leeks, brussel sprouts and farro risotto. If fish doesn’t suit your fancy, try one of Jason’s favorite appetizers — the $11 vegetarian and gluten-free tempura buffalo cauliflower, which is tossed in a house-made blue cheese mousse.
At Coltivare, each dish is hand-crafted, ensuring customers are eager to come back for the unique cuisine. Take Corbin’s Cauliflower, an extremely successful take on a cauliflower steak that bursts with flavor in each bite. Named after Sous Chef John Corbin, this cauliflower is served with a choice of basmati rice or farro risotto, seasonal vegetables, leafy greens and topped with a scoop of creamy cashew cheese. Tossed in umami-packed marinade, this dish is always cooked to perfection and absolutely melts into your mouth. Although the restaurant changes their menu seasonally 4-6 times a year, Corbin’s Cauliflower is a staple that cannot be replaced.
In addition to being extremely veg-friendly, the menu can satisfy any craving since it features a large variety of options. There is everything from housemade fettuccine in a sugo rosa creamy marinara sauce to a meat-eaters meal like the farmer’s choice steak that is always sourced from a rotation of local farms. For all the nostalgic AppleFest lovers, Coltivare offers their famous AppleFest mac and cheese year round, served with smoked gouda bechamel, apple cider braised pulled pork, N.Y. State apples, caramelized onions and apple butter. Now that’s comforting!
Coltivare is not only unique in the flavor of their food, but also in their restaurant culture. On the second Saturday of each month, they offer cooking classes that range from everything between tacos and tequila to vegan cookery and BBQ sauces and marinades. Be sure to get your tickets fast because each class has been sold out for a year and a half now! In addition to the beautiful ambiance, Coltivare works to dispel the preconceived notions of the restaurant industry in which people imagine volatile chefs screaming and cursing as they struggle to get food out on plates as fast as possible. Instead, Coltivare is focused on keeping a professional culture that supports their staff, their customers and most importantly each other.
Fun Fact: For three years running, Coltivare’s wine cellar has been voted one of the top 10 wine cellar venues in the entire country. If that doesn’t speak for itself, come check it out! I promise you will not be disappointed.
Serves: Seasonal, locally sourced New American dishes
Vibe: Rustic-chic atmosphere