I recently took a trip up to Ithaca, New York to visit my son and admire the fall foliage at its peak. I think I timed it pretty close, perhaps a week too late. On the way up I made my customary stop in Livingston Manor which is almost exactly half way for me. Livingston Manor has had an explosion in it’s young, hip population which began before Covid, and the momentum hasn’t slowed down a bit. There currently are several great spots to try for lunch including the Walk-In, Main Street Farm Market and what looks to be an inviting new Vietnamese spot Bà & Me. You should also try to pick up a treat at the Neon Croissant which is owned by the same folks as The Walk-In, and has delicious baked goods.
While those other spots were all appealing, I decided to head a little bit out of the center of town to check out Little North Kitchen + Market. The Rotisserie Chickens are what draw people in, but there are many other delicacies to round out one’s order. Owned by a young couple who left NYC during Covid, Little North has a really sophisticated yet approachable vibe. I think the mastermind behind the operation is Stacy, whose CV includes as stint as Editor in Chief of Saveur as well as a James Beard award for a cookbook she she co-authored. Both owners were present when I stopped in and couldn’t have been nicer or more enthusiastic. We purchased a 1/2 a chicken as well as some Brussels sprouts and several terrific gluten free peanut butter cookies.
I was driving while this feast was consumed so there are no photos- but trust me it was delicious and worth a detour. While we were perusing the offerings there was a steady stream of locals stocking up their larders for the weekend.
The Rotisserie in action!
The weather was spectacular when I arrived at Cornell’s Campus, and I immediately set out to capture the beauty of the leaves. Even having missed the peak by a week everything was still stunning. Of course there is more to Ithaca than Cornell’s campus, but in all honesty (and as an alumni I am a little biased) it is just beautiful.
We had a reservation at Moosewood that was quite a challenge to get. It was Cornell’s parents weekend, and many others had the same idea as me. I recently dined at Moosewood, and raved about it (you can read the review here), and my hope was that this meal would be just as good.
Sadly, dinner at Moosewood hovered just around average this time around. The restaurant was full, so perhaps the kitchen and servers were taxed, but the level of service and the quality of the food took a big step down from my last visit just six months ago. I was unable to photograph one entrée as it came complete with a short black hair in the first bite, and was subsequently whisked away with apologies. It was not included on our bill, but it cast a shadow on the rest of the meal.
I had enjoyed my polenta so much the first time I visited that I ordered it once again. This time though it didn’t even taste like the same dish, the texture was off, and the taste of basil was overwhelming. The New York Cheese Board was fine, though the temperature of the cheese was very cold. The Hot Ginger Toddy that was a special drink of the evening may have been the highlight. It may be that Moosewood needs a third visit to see which one of our meals was a fluke- the excellent one several months ago, or the more recent mediocre one.
One activity that never disappoints is the Ithaca Farmer’s Market, and this visit was no exception. The beauty, bounty of flowers and produce, as well as uber- friendly vendors is worth a trip to Ithaca alone.
While I couldn’t resist Mango Sticky Rice from Khmer Angkor (gone before I could photograph it) we also got an order of the Pork Momos (dumplings) at The Tibetan Momo Bar. Served with extra hot sauce, these were a winner, and there was enough to share.
Hazelnut Kitchen in nearby Trumansburg is also a favorite I have returned to year after year. When I learned that the restaurant recently changed hands I was a little apprehensive to see how the new owners would move forward. Focusing on local ingredients, Hazelnut Kitchen is definitely a step above Moosewood. While not vegetarian, it stresses fresh and local ingredients of the region.
Our meal was very good, certainly better than the night before, but not quite as good as it used to be, mostly because whoever was in the kitchen had a very heavy hand with the salt. The setting is lovely, and the service very professional. I will definitely return in a few months to see if the chef has fine tuned his salting.
I have a long history with both the Catskills and Ithaca. You don’t need to have a student at Cornell or Ithaca College to venture Upstate, there are loads of things to do, delicious food to eat, and natural beauty to admire. If you are visiting Cornell though, be sure to book your stay at The Statler Hotel, right on campus.