Taverna Banfi is the signature restaurant of the Statler Hotel located in the heart of the Cornell University campus. The word “Taverna” was officially added to its name in February 2007 after an extensive and expensive six-week remodeling that created an interior space that resembles restaurants in the Tuscany area of Italy. That’s where three Castello Banfi vineyards are located, owned by John Mariani Jr., a graduate of Cornell in 1954, and his family. You may be familiar with Banfi wines, many of which are served in the Ithaca restaurant. The Mariani family, consisting of several Cornell alumni, has contributed generously including during the refurbishment.
I attribute much of the success of Taverna Banfi to the stewardship of Swiss born Thomas Gisler. He was appointed Executive Chef in May 2005 at which time he brought many innovative recipes and presentation ideas along with consistency and reliability. He is currently the Director of Food and Beverages.
Lunch buffets are served, along with the regular menu, Mondays through Friday and cost $21. You can also opt for a Soup and Salad Buffet which includes a choice of desserts ($17) or just a dessert buffet ($9). A popular Sunday brunch buffet ($25) includes breakfast and lunch items as well as scrumptious desserts.
The lunch buffet is a better value than ordering from the menu. If we opt to utilize the printed menu we’ll have a choice of four salads ($10-$11, add $4-$10 to include a protein), a half dozen sandwiches, three of which are burgers ($14-$16), or a half dozen entrees ($16-$23).
The buffet which includes appetizers, soup, salads, entrees, vegetables and desserts, offers a creative choice of more than two dozen items which we can see before making a selection, and we’re able to help ourselves as many times as we like.
The food selections at the buffets are outstanding. Don’t expect a serving dish of carrots… that’s too mundane for Banfi’s. Rather, you can anticipate an offering of root vegetables which might combine carrots, parsnips and beets sprinkled with parsley and herbs. The meat at a recent carvery was roast beef with a rich creamy horseradish. If you weren’t excited by the roast beef, you could have chosen crushed pecan chicken with an apple bourbon sauce. On the same table was butternut squash mixed with Brussels sprouts, escarole gratin and pasta with creamy fennel and sundried tomatoes. I returned on a recent Friday to find a beautifully seasoned Cedar Planked Salmon adjacent to a tureen of Whole Grain Mustard Vin Blanc. Other recent carvery offerings include: Cider Brined Pork Loin with Whole Grain Mustard Demi-Glace and Balsamic Marinated Grilled Flank Steak with Rioja Aioli.
Since the buffet is not offered at dinner, I recently chose their signature Peking duck breast ($31) served atop a sweet potato hash with a white bean puree and Brussels sprouts. The potatoes were finely diced, the sprouts were halved and tender, and the pepper sauce was rich, but mild. Another evening I ordered a tasty short rib ragout, called on the menu Handkerchief Pasta ($27). I’m used to ordering short ribs on the bone; however, I enjoyed the tender pieces of beef mixed with a rich, tasty sauce for a change of pace. Sides cost an additional $6 and are imaginative and healthy. You’ll always find a chicken dish, steak, pasta, salmon and house made Mozzarella. I don’t normally order desserts, however, I couldn’t resist the generous sundae with sour cherries served with homemade whipped cream in a large bowl ($8).
A very complete wine menu is offered on a tablet which requires some scrolling, however, it’s useful for sorting by grape variety, vintage, country of origin and price. Totally there are 140 wines by the bottle from $34 to $2450. Twenty wines by the glass are served mostly between $10-$12. Here’s an amazing offer I have arranged for the readers of the Ithaca Times. Mention you read this in The Times and management will knock off $430 from the $2450 bottle making it $2020 and throw in a free entree as well. This is serious, and they do have the 2009 Chateau Lafite Rothschild bottles in stock!
The food is always fresh and expertly prepared.
Presentations are invariably attractive.
Lunch buffets are a better value compared to ordering a la carte from the menu.
Prices are moderate to expensive.
Tidbits: The majority of the line cooks, (usually 5/7) everyday are Cornell hotel school students supervised by two full-time chefs.
Gluten free, vegetarian and vegan items are clearly identified.
Parking is difficult on the Cornell campus unless you’re comfortable handing your car to a student valet parker.