During approximately twenty years of reviewing restaurants in the Greater Ithaca area, I have been asked the same question, repeatedly, and I’ve successfully deflected it every time. The question: “What’s your favorite restaurant in Ithaca?”. My deflection: “I really can’t answer that because there are so many culturally diverse restaurants in Ithaca and so many different price ranges, it would be like comparing apples with oranges.” However, I do think it’s fair to say that among all restaurants in this area, Mia certainly belongs in the top five. And, without hesitation I can add that this restaurant, located on the Commons, ranks first in their offering of Tapas, (small portions). Fully half their total offerings are on their “Tapas Menu” with about four dozen items to choose from. Not only are they cooked perfectly, they come to the table with attractive visual presentations and marvelous accompanying sauces. More about the tapas later.
Mia is the latest of the five restaurants opened in downtown Ithaca by Chef/Owner Lex Chutintaranond who has subsequently sold all of them. He opened Mia in June 2011 and most of the eighty seats are often filled by 7 PM. The site used to be the former Plantations Building that has been extensively remodeled and is now quite attractive with an understated orange/salmon colored motif and an attractive bar with soft underlit blue lighting.
I believe that one of the reasons for Mia’s popularity is that it offers two separate and distinctive cuisines. Look at one side of the long paper menu and you’ll see the Tapas Menu. Flip it over and you’ll be looking at a “Large Plates Menu.” In effect, if there isn’t something for everyone, there certainly are enough choices to make most people happy. In response to my queries, servers tell me that patrons order a bit more from the tapas side, but not by much.
An equally important reason for Mia’s popularity is that the food is beautifully prepared and replete with creative and tasty seasonings. Although management purports to offer Asian food, particularly from China, India, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam, I find offerings that could come from several parts of the world, including the United States.
Here are some notes I made from the Tapas menu.
Sautéed Asian Greens: seemed like a combination of bok choy and broccolini or broccoli rabe however server said they’re Chinese Broccoli. (Chinese Broccoli is sweeter, thicker, more tender and less fibrous than broccoli rabe) Generous portion in wonderful mushroom soy sauce with garlic accents.
Thai Baby Wings: tender, succulent chicken; large; fried basil; tasty tamarind-chili sauce on the side.
Kolhapuri Chicken: four large drumettes in a somewhat spicy masala sauce. Tender, fell off the bone.
Prawns: four large and tender, perfectly cooked. In Kerala Indian curry sauce. Not as spicy as I had feared.
Lobster tail: two small ones open in shells. Wonderful mango chutney and Indian mint raita on side.
And from the Large Plate Menu.
Roast Duck: perfectly cooked, tender, juicy, half duck with well flavored crisp skin; atop fresh mixed greens, mostly bok choy; subtle shitake mushroom sauce;
(There’s a second duck possibility, a half duck served in a “spicy-sweet garlic tamarind chili sauce” which I haven’t had the opportunity to try, but doesn’t it sound interesting?)
Beef Tenderloin: tasty; tender; consistency of a stew; meat stir fried and served with red peppers, scallions, baby corn, and mushrooms. Sauce not “gloppy”, didn’t suffer from too much corn starch as many gravies do.
Chicken Tikka Makhani: four boneless tender pieces with sprinkled almonds. Beautifully seasoned sauce.
New Zealand Rack of Lamb: eight small ribs with perfect peppery seasonings. Came with fresh salad greens and ramekin of raita (mint and cucumber in yogurt).
It’s difficult for me to define what I mean when I say “The ingredients tasted fresh” but they all do. Much of the produce is, in fact, trucked in from local farms.
Tapas prices range $6.50-$13.00. Very reasonable. Large plates: $15-$32, also very reasonable.
Two desserts I’ve ordered: daily special of homemade Mango Mousse was rather ordinary. Crème Brulee Trio had three small ramekins of Tahitian vanilla, espresso and dark chocolate whips. Consistency was more mousse-like and I was happy I indulged in this rich decadence.
Tidbits: There’s a steep staircase that leads from the main dining area to the restrooms. However, there is also a convenient elevator that will lead you to the very same destination.
Many dishes are already, or can be prepared, gluten free, vegan, and vegetarian – so designated on menu.