For such a small city, Ithaca, NY is overflowing with culture – from local art galleries, concerts and boutiques to street festivals and fine restaurants, Ithaca is as culturally sophisticated as some of the country’s largest cities. But with so many options available, it can be difficult to choose where to go, what to do, and especially, what to eat. While many of Ithaca’s restaurants offer terrific food, often accompanied by tremendous service and good value, there are a few establishments that simply can not be overlooked.
1. Renee’s American Bistro, 115 S. Quarry Street (607) 277-4047 (www.reneesfeast.com)
Once closed and recently reopened, Renee’s offers what many would describe as the best food in Ithaca. The menu is a modern interpretation of French cuisine, offering seasonal preparations of classics such as rack of lamb and grilled breast of duckling, as well as delicious renditions of steak and seafood. The wine list is continously updated with choices that compliment and enhance the menu, and the desserts are out of this world. Located in the bottom of an apartment complex, Renee’s may at first seem unimpressive, yet the inside is a warm and inviting, featuring paintings by local artists and fresh flowers on every table. Renee Senne herself is often available to speak about the food and recommend a bottle of wine. Pricing counters a decent meal in New York city, but the value is sensational. A meal at Renee’s will not soon be forgotten.
2. Just A Taste, 116 North Aurora Street (607) 277-9463 (www.just-a-taste.com)
It’s hard to decide which is better at this downtown Spanish tapas bar…the food or the wine. The extensive tapas lists offers a wide variety of choices, from eggplant-goat chesse napoleans with almond-red pepper sauce and asiago cheese to wasabi crusted swordfish with spicy slaw and mango aioli. Some classic favorites include warm brie with melon and crostini and shrimp sauteed with garlic and sherry. In addition to standard bottle service, they offer wine and beer flights, and even allow guests to customize their own wine flight, which is priced according to the wines selected. Just a Taste is a frequent winner of local and national wine awards and the food does not fail to please. Located in downtown Ithaca, Just A Taste is within walking distance of all the shops in the Commons. The atmosphere is casual yet eclectic, with artwork by local artists and a series of antique collectibles. Perfect for a date, family gathering, or large group dining experience…just make sure to reserve as space is limited.
3. John Thomas Steak House, 1152 Danby Road (Route 96B) (607) 273-3464 (www.johnthomassteakhouse.net)
Hailed as the best steak house in Ithaca, John Thomas can be trusted for a sensational meal, oustanding service, and one of the most romantic settings in town. The menu serves traditional steak entrees with a selection of family-sized side dishes which are more than generous. Favorite sides include the creamed spinach and sauteed wild mushrooms and the steak sauce is delicious. For couples, there is almost always a surf and turf option, splitting a steak and a jumbo live Maine lobseter. The dessert cart is not to be missed and there is always a fine selection of wines to compliment the food. The luxurious country-home atmosphere is only outdone by the sensational service…you’ll leave feeling like a king…and a full one at that. And make sure that each time you go each of your guests chooses a John Thomas playing card…a full hand of poker can win you anything from an appetizer to an entire meal.
4. Thai Cuisine, 501 S. Meadow Street (Route 13) (607) 273-2031 (www.thaicuisineithaca.com)
Perhaps the best Thai food available, in New York state, the fare at Thai Cuisine is a delight for both Thai-food lovers and novices. Traditional flavorings, ranging from coconut, ginger, peanut, sweet and sour, and curry are applied to a variety of meat, poultry and seafood dishes. Spiciness ranges from mild spice to jumping hot, depending on one’s tastes, and there are several spice-free options for those less brave, including some of the best tasting Pad Thai ever made. There are a variety of vegetarian dishes available and a wine list offering the perfect accouterment for every meal selection. Waiters are extremely knowledgable about the food and can often offer a detailed explanation of each dish, from its origin to the multitude of ingredients used. The casual atmosphere, highlighted with detailed salamander wall paintings and sunlit dining areas, is perfect for lunch, and with a slight change in lighting and some tealight candles, makes for a perfectly romantic dinner.
Other restaurants of note include:
Les Ducs, 113 South Cayuga Street (607) 277-8942: Traditional French fare with an impressive wine selection.
Willow, 202 East Falls Street (607) 272-0656 (ww.willowithaca.com): Continental menu offering an array of beautifully served, traditional as well as creative entrees, filling pasta dishes, and martini bar.
Kayuga, 416 Eddy Street (607) 277-7967 (www.kayuga.com): For true sushi lovers, a huge variety of chef’s rolls as well as traditonal Japanese dishes. Just make sure to bring your own beer or wine.