Finger Lakes: The Sequel

Last week’s Big Hungry must have been a crowd-pleaser, because we’ve had a ton of activity in the comments section, which thrills me to the gills. And I figure, if a little taste of NY’s premier wine-producing region gets your fingers tapping, then a second installment should spark a frenzy, right? Besides, since this past weekend was a holiday, chances are you had family parties and such, rendering you unable to plan that weekend getaway on such short notice.

So, if you’re planning on hitting Ithaca or the Finger Lakes this weekend or some other time soon, I have more ideas and tips for you! First off: my perfect day in Ithaca – land of hippies, gorges and really smart college kids.

When I spend the day in Ithaca, I don’t need a hotel, because I live just a little more than a half hour from The Commons. But should you need a place to stay, I have to recommend
La Tourelle. Right on Danby Rd, which is Rt 96B, La Tourelle is just outside town, and gorgeous. Each room here is different, the whole place seems stolen from the European countryside, they have great dining options (a steakhouse and a Simply Red outpost), and my favorite spa EVER. Check this place out for your next mini-break with your sweetie, and let me know how you like it.

For breakfast, you could stay right at the hotel and enjoy Simply Red’s bistro cuisine, but I like
Collegetown Bagels on Aurora St. This is one of the locations of the Ithaca Bakery, which is well known in the region for their homemade baked treats. One of the reasons you should go here is that they will put Nutella on a fresh bagel for you and let you eat it. Have you had Nutella? Holy chocolately hazelnut goodness, Batman! Nutella is a spreadable delicacy from our Italian friends; one of those things you don’t keep in your house because it has seven billion calories per tablespoon, but that you should always order in single serving portions when available. The other reason to go to C-town Bagels is the great people watching and sidewalk seating. Ithaca is a primo people-watching town, because the natives are diverse. So, start your day here with a terrific mochacchino and either your nutella bagel or a Brooklyn sandwich on everything (bacon, egg and cheese on an everything bagel). It’s a tasty and affordable starter to the decadent day I’m laying out for you.

A motley crew of my friends congregated outside Collegetown Bagels before heading off on an ’09 chauffeured wine tour. Best.Day.Ever. 

You have the entire afternoon open before you. Of course, you could hit the wine trail. Sheldrake Point and Lucas are less than a half hour out of town, and you know how I feel about it there. Alternately, you could hit Buttermilk or Taughannock Falls State Parks to hike off everything you’ve eaten so far and embrace some of the most beautiful little hidden spots around. There is the option of renting kayaks and paddling around that gorgeous lake. You could also stay right in The Commons, stroll around, shop and stop periodically for a cocktail. Ahhhh, sounds pretty perfect to me. I suppose you’ll want to pick up some local wine even if you don’t hit the trail today – check out Red Feet Wine Market on Franklin St. The folks there are friendly and super knowledgeable about their wares!

Tonight, we’re dining at
The Heights Café and Grille. If Trip Advisor is accurate, the cat’s out of the bag on how many people consider The Heights to be at the top of Ithaca’s dining scene. But don’t let the hype scare you away. This place is bona fide. It’s lovely inside – modern and serene, with neutral colors and white table cloths. They have a great wine list and serve the wine in huge, gorgeous goblets. They have a seasonal menu here, and it’s changed since my last visit, so it’s hard to give you specifics on what to order. I’ve been there twice, tasting my friends’ food in addition to mine, and everything has been to die for. In addition, every dish I’ve ever seen on the table of a fellow diner has looked good enough to pounce on. If they have anything with a semblance of the gnocchi, chicken, mushrooms and cream sauce feat of gastronomic delight I had there on my first visit – order it. I had scallops the second time I went, and made yummy noises throughout the meal – they were perfectly, perfectly cooked, with a great sear on the outside. I’m not sure what on earth is better than an expertly prepared sea scallop? Thick-cut artisanal bacon? Winning Mega Millions? A foot rub from Clive Owen? This question is above my pay grade, but I can tell you, not many things top great scallops. I can tell you what I hypothetically would order were I dining there tonight, based on the online menu: the truffled risotto appetizer with the runny egg on top, and the five spice beef tenderloin with balsamic sweet potatoes, bacon and cauliflower blue cheese fondue for my entrée. Unless I actually went tonight, when it’s hotter than Hades here, in which case I would be more likely to order the halibut and shrimp with watermelon salsa and feta cheese. It’s way too hot out to eat beef right now. Sorry.

If you can’t make it to the Finger Lakes this weekend, and are unfamiliar with their fantastic wines, stop in to a local wine shop and try a bottle at home! In Watertown, I recall The Wine Cellar, out by WalMart, to be a good place to get local wines. Here in the Southern Tier, the best place is in Endwell: Park Manor Wine & Spirits. Here are my favorite Finger Lakes wines; give one (or two) a try!

Sheldrake Point Vineyard – 2007 Riesling – crisp for a Riesling, and not as sweet as some others
Lucas Vineyards – Lucas Blues – a Finger Lakes table wine; sweet, but not too cloyingGoose Watch Winery – Diamond – very grapey; semi-sweet and pureThirsty Owl Wine Company – Pinot Gris – clean and crisp, with apple flavorsChateau Lafayette Reneau – Dry Riesling – the very first Finger Lakes wine with which I fell in love; elegant melon and citrus notes with a peachy bouquet
Glenora Wine Cellars – Pinot Noir Rose – Great served really cold in this hot, hot weather!

Jill and I pose with Lindsey, the best pourer in the West – the West side of Cayuga Lake, that is! This is the gorgeous tasting room at Sheldrake Point.

I hope everyone out there in Big Hungry Land is keeping cool this week! A weekend jaunt to the calm, breezy Finger Lakes would surely combat the wicked heat. And if you’re staying at home, you can still join my group on Facebook, or follow my new Twitter feed: @BigHungryShelby! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!!

Heights Café & Grill on Urbanspoon
Next up, head back up the road to La Tourelle, because you’ve been smart enough to book yourself a Finger Lakes Grape Massage at August Moon, the resort’s top-notch spa, and where I hope I go when I die. August Moon is on par with any big city day spa, but the prices are much more reasonable. Move over, Mirbeaux! I try to go to August Moon for a morning of pampering at least once a year, and I literally save pennies and dimes in a jar for this express purpose. August Moon is pure relaxation from the second you pass through the doors. The receptionist lets you pick which plinky-plonky music you’d like playing in your treatment room, then outfits you in a kimono and slippers and escorts you to your own locker in the ladies room, which comes complete with a steam room and sauna for your use. There also are two relaxation rooms in which you can wait for your treatment: a fireplace room and a waterfall room. The relaxation rooms are stocked with hot tea, cool lemon water, recliners, blankets and magazines, for your enjoyment. You’ll want to arrive early to take advantage of all these amenities, so get your nutella to go! I love the Finger Lakes Grape Massage here, which is $100 for 50 min. Also nice, especially after a long NY winter is the dry brushing to precede your main treatment. Every massage therapist I’ve encountered at August Moon has been talented and I’ve never had a bad experience here. On the contrary, after the appointments I had made for a friend and I last spring had to be canceled because of the nail technician’s schedule, the owners gave each of us a $25 gift certificate and 20% off our next visit in apology. It’s hard to find service like that anymore, and when you factor in all of the little things that make August Moon so special, you really can’t beat it.

After all that steaming, sauna-ing, kneading, sighing, groaning and tea sipping, you’re going to be starving! For lunch, head on back to Aurora St, to the
Ithaca Ale House. Yeah, yeah, I’m sending you to another bar for a meal. What can I say? I like fried things. The Ale House has great local beers and wines, sidewalk seating, and really, honestly great food. We like the buffalo chicken spring rolls, the ginormous burgers, the French dip and the great onion rings. And once again, because apparently I have something of a problem, I’m going to recommend the bloody marys. Spicy and delicious – great with the French dip and a side of onion rings! YUM. But lordy, are you gonna be messed up, bloat-wise, if you follow up a morning at the spa with that salty a meal. LOL. Oh well. That’s what weekend getaways are for: overindulgence!
Not feeling the pub grub? Walk across the street and around the corner to The Commons, Ithaca’s hang out for shopping, eating, hacky sack games and cocktails, and step inside
Simeon’s. This little bistro is just right for ladies who lunch, or a romantic and serene bite to eat with your honey after a couples massage. The kettle chip fondue is pretty special and unique here, and I’m recommending the Italian turkey panini to go with it. They do great sandwiches there.

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