What if Ithaca were in Sonoma?

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A regular conversation we have at work, when trying to pick a restaurant in the Bingamton area to impress customers or to send visitors from bigger cities to, is that P.S. is awesome, but is it ok to send those folks to a strip mall in Vestal (?), Loft at 99 is cosmopolitan, but the menu is limited, Remliks is gorgeous, but the food can be inconsistent. I'm not knocking any of these restaurants, and I eat at each of them frequently. But it's tough sometimes in these parts to put the whole package together.

In Ithaca, somehow, there seems to be just enough motivation/economy to push a few special places into that desired combo of atmosphere and great food. A new spot is swinging for the fences: Coltivare. 

Coltivare is part high end dining experience, part teaching facility, serving as a training ground for Tompkins Cortland Community College's culinary program students, supplied by a farm run for the school, and led by the department's head professor. So you can expect a youthful vibe, inventive, locavore food, and lots of creativity. 

What's unexpected is the utterly gorgeous space. If you've ever watched Fixer Upper, on HGTV, just imagine you asked Jo to design a Napa Valley-esque house for you. Coltivare is what would result. White subway tile, scraped wood, dark stained tables, exposed brick and ductwork, plus tons of windows and natural light to cradle you in an environment that is both cosmopolitan and utterly relaxing. The rustic-chic decor is completely different and unique for this area. Even the interior wine cellar/private dining room is idyllic.

Even better than sitting in this transporting interior is to sip a strawberry rhubarb mimosa in it. This drink was markedly less sweet than a lot of sparkling wine cocktails - the sugar content tamped down by the astringent rhubarb, but reinforced gently with the berry purée. We liked them so much, we ordered a second round.

Our brunch time bread basket was laden with miniature currant scones and pumpkin muffins. Each tiny scone was sweet, crunchy on the outside, with that dry, crumbly inside you want in a good scone. The muffins were highly spiced, tender and moist. I liked that these were diminutive, because they whetted our appetites without obliterating them. 

The pastrami hash had me tempted, but I went for the omelet of the day: (I can't even believe this exists) a goose egg omelet with lobster and bernaise sauce. I don't think I'd ever had goose egg before, so I wasn't sure what to expect from it. But it was delicate, tender, and light with rich flavors - just what one appreciates from a perfectly cooked chicken egg. The lobster meat leant sweetness, while the pale yellow bernaise was buttery and rich. Scallions saved it from going over the edge with their light sharpness. The one thing missing here was toast. Instead, it came with some kind of very scantily dressed carrot salad, which may have well just been shaved carrot, for all I could taste. Next to bernaise sauce, subtle flavors just don't cut it. In any event, when I eat an omelet, I need toast. I would have adored a piece of charred country bread with some tarragon-flecked butter to compliment the flavors of the dish. It felt naked without it.

Big Hungry Melinda, who was celebrating her last girls' day in Ithaca before tying the knot, loves a hearty burger. I hope that hasn't changed since she got married! So the bacon egg burger got the nod. Unfortunately, her massive patty of locally raised beef was a bit overcooked. That didn't detract from the rich, savory flavors at play here, but perhaps the overall effect was impacted by a lack of juiciness. The bacon had wonderful flavor, obviously. It was from BHS favorite The Piggery. And the chewy bun was delicious with the egg.

The fries were hand cut and double fried, in accordance with The Prophecy. Hallelujah.

Our waiter, a young hipster, fittingly, was friendly and kind of adorable, but our meals took an inordinate amount of time to arrive. Thank goodness for that bread basket and those mimosas to tide us over. Ladies can get the vapors, you realize, when not fed properly.

I'm not exactly ready to give Coltivare a rating yet. Brunch for two just wasn't enough to give us a wide sample of the food here. I can promise you I'll be back to Coltivare, and will provide a full report and a final judgement then. Meantime, during your next trip to Ithaca, you should hit it up and see what you think. If nothing else, this is a glorious place to while away the hours, and you're guaranteed some fun and different dishes. I always love eating in Ithaca, because the dining choices there are so varied and different from the 200 Italians restaurants we have to choose from in Binghamton. Coltivare is a somewhat stunning addition to that landscape, and I, for one, am welcoming it with open arms. My personality is big; my hunger is bigger! 

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