Some friends and I recently visited The Rook, a newly opened restaurant in Ithaca’s downtown, near the intersection of North Plain and West State streets, in Fine Line Bistro’s former location. The restaurant is named for a type of crow—Corvus frugilegus means “food-gatherer” in Latin—not the chess piece. The silhouetted image of the bird adorns the new sign on the storefront. The Rook’s culinary mission claims a modern take on old favorites, and it delivers.
Upon entering, the staff greeted us warmly as we took in the casual and inviting atmosphere. The new owners have completely redecorated the old Fine Line space. Directly in front, there is the seating section flowing into a nice-sized bar area that features a good selection of beer and wines, highlighted by some Finger Lakes sparkling wines, rosés and reds. The drink menu is creative and includes cocktails with intriguing and somewhat gothic names, such as “Birds of a Feather,” “Paradox,” and “Old Man Winter” There is even Negroni on tap!
The menu presents varied options: New York strip steak and oysters, grilled trout and ricotta gnocchi, to name a few. We decided to order from the smaller plate selections and shared some delicious grilled dates, smoked trout, salad and fries. The “dirty” option is also delicious. (For those not keeping up with this kind of thing, “dirty” means anything sprinkled with cheese, chopped meat and/or vegetables and/or spices.) The Rook also serves up a spaetzle (German egg noodle) dish made with Gruyere, cream and crispy shallots, which is a must try.
We selected a bottle of Sheldrake Point Winery dry rosé to accompany our meal. The return of rosé as a dry wine is a bonus for anyone who likes to pair wine with strongly flavored foods. Several Finger Lakes wineries are making it a permanent addition to their offerings.
Service was great throughout and the ambience very pleasant. The bar area started to fill up as we dined. It seemed that people were truly enjoying themselves with a gothic cocktail in the relaxed atmosphere.
The Rook’s owners include a lineup of experienced industry professionals. Head chef Gentry Morris previously served as sous chef at Le Café Cent Dix and was the chef/owner of Belly (the recurring pop-up restaurant at Lot 10). Lila Donaruma worked in the hospitality/restaurant industry for 15 years in various capacities and Autumn Greenberg, with more than 10 years in hospitality, most recently tended bar at the Argos Inn, which is well known for a drink menu that boasts numerous unique craft cocktails. •