Coltivare is a bit of an anomaly in Ithaca. It’s a restaurant, a private dining room, an amphitheater, and a cooking laboratory/classroom that is affiliated with Tompkins Cortland Community College. Adjacent to the college campus in Dryden is a farm where, in season, produce for the restaurant is grown. The downtown Ithaca site is a complex that occupies the area that, up until 2014, had been home to a shop and tasting area that promoted Finger Lakes wines.
Coltivare’s atmosphere is modern-industrial with windows fronting on Cayuga Street and a ceiling that features hanging filament lighting fixtures and large open duct work. The walls are composed of bricks and white tiles. Restaurant managers who refer to their restaurants as “bistros” often save linen laundry costs by using uncovered table tops, as is done here. There are two types of tables: marble tops for the smaller tables and wood for four or more diners. The entrance to the restaurant is the bar area. The bar, itself, is formidable: large, with room for a dozen and a half chairs, and features a marble top, and soft pink under-lighting. The dining area, with capacity for 110 diners, is a wraparound format with a narrow line of tables that follows Cayuga Street and then makes a sharp left turn around Clinton Street.
The restaurant is promoted as a “Farm-to-Bistro concept.” I learned, from a dining room staff member, that the policy is to use produce from farms within 300 miles of the downtown Ithaca location.
The menu is divided into a half-dozen appetizers, three salads and about a dozen entrées.
One of the appetizers I enjoyed was sausage flatbread ($11): a savory thin crust pizza with sausage, apples, onions, and cheddar.
One of the entrées, seared salmon, is served with a basil pesto and lemon olive oil. I don’t normally order farm-raised salmon, so I inquired about its origin from my server. He didn’t know, and went to the kitchen to ask the chef. Surprisingly, in a restaurant that promotes fresh food, the chef didn’t know either and the server replied, “We don’t know, but it’s vacuum-packed, if that helps.” It didn’t, but I ordered it anyway and thoroughly enjoyed it as it was well cooked, tender, moist and flaky.
Plating, in the kitchen, is obviously preplanned and visually appealing and virtually all the food I’ve ordered has been well-prepared and tasty.
Although I find the servers to be cordial and eager to please, there can be inconsistencies in service, particularly on weekends when the restaurant gets busy, though not only then. A recent example: On an evening when only three tables were occupied, our server took our wine order, a bottle of Malbec, and appeared moments later with a bottle of Chianti. It is sometimes difficult to find a server when you want one.
I was also concerned with some of the pricing. On a recent evening, I ordered an entrée I would not have selected had I not been reviewing. It was called “Corbin’s Cauliflower,” with a price of $19. I was interested to see how Chef Corbin could assemble an entrée that cost that much if it consisted exclusively of cauliflower. When it arrived, I thought that it was, indeed, overpriced. The florets with stems were arranged in the form of a log, in a sauce with some “vegan cashew nut cheese.” Although I did enjoy it, the total size of the portion looked to be the equivalent of about three side orders that might have served as accompaniments to a meat, poultry or seafood entrée. Most of the non-sandwich entrées range from $22-32, while two of the three sandwich entrées are burgers and cost $16-17.
There’s an interesting and extensive selection of wines ranging from $25-75, with a strong representation from New York State. Coltivare offers a large selection of straight and innovative mixed drinks, (cocktails).
On Wednesday nights (“Wine Down Wednesday”), a complimentary bottle of wine is offered with the purchase of two entrées.
Our conscientious waiter didn’t “fire” (order chef to start cooking) entrées until we had almost finished our appetizers, avoiding multiple dishes arriving at the same time.
Other than Sunday, lunch is not served.
The restrooms are in the building but outside the restaurant. They’re large, modern and clean, and worth “checking out” even if you don’t have to “go.”