I have a confession, of sorts: I’ve been eating lunch at Taverna Banfi’s for as long as I can remember and have never ordered lunch from their menu. That’s because their weekday lunch, and weekend brunch, buffets, are so extraordinary.
Today, for example: I was tempted to order Shrimp Scampi ($21) from the menu. It’s served over angel hair pasta with herbs and pecorino and I’m sure would have been wonderful. However, for only a single dollar more, the Lunch Buffet ($22) included an appetizing, artfully displayed, and attractively presented selection of a soup, six interesting salad combinations, five hot plate dishes, rolls and butter, and a dessert table with eight hard-to-resist cakes and puddings.
If this sounds a bit overwhelming, you can opt for a Soup and Salad Buffet ($18) which also includes the dessert table – or, you may simply choose the desserts ($10).
The homemade soups are wonderful. I like all but the hot and sour chicken. The Cream of Mushroom has a lovely texture. It’s as if the cooks turned off the food processor at just the right time to leave tiny bits of mushrooms giving the soup the smooth texture of a bisque. Another noteworthy soup is New England Clam Chowder. It’s appropriately creamy and had just a hint of spiciness and was chock full of clams and diced potatoes.
Recently the carvery featured a beautifully seasoned flakey and moist salmon with a wonderful accompanying homemade dipping sauce.
Last Sunday the carvery offering was Herb Garlic Roasted Sirloin with a homemade Horseradish Cream Sauce. I’ve never had a better steak. It was cooked rare and was incredibly tender and juicy. Another weekday, another carvery item: Flank Steak, beautifully cooked, rare and tender, accompanied by a homemade warm citrus BBQ sauce. Incidentally, if you’re not enthusiastic about the daily carvery item there’s always a hot plate with another protein choice. For example, the day I opted for the Roast Sirloin there was an Herb Seared Salmon in a Red Pepper Coulis and a Lemon Vin Blanc.
Another of the more interesting hot plates was Lemon Risotto Arancia Paste Cream which was molded into balls, breaded and fried.
You can usually count on a perfectly cooked Vegetable Medley with seasonal vegetables. Recent visits I enjoyed al dente carrot strips with broccoli and cauliflower florets; roasted cauliflower with pistachios and golden raisins; and broccoli, carrots, and red peppers. A nicely textured, and unusual veggie was Spaghetti Squash and Quinoa Cakes with Crème Fraiche Herb Sauce.
Sundays can be crowded when college students are in town and to assuage that problem, two lines feed past the hot plates and carving table and two separate rooms are dedicated to several separate tables for salads, hot plates, and desserts. Many more items appear on weekends, too many to describe here, plus they change often. I’m always pleased to find smoked salmon and cocktail shrimp (cooked and seasoned).
It’s worth noting that Sundays there’s a separate room for typical breakfast items with crepes made to order.
Weekday dinners are available a la carte only. The summer menu features three salads. Tuscan Kale included amazingly tender kale mixed with currants, pine nuts, radishes, Parmigiano-Reggiano, lemon, and a very mild extra virgin olive oil and Balsamic vinegar dressing, $12. There are four pasta dishes: one of my favorites is Game Hen and Wild Mushroom Handkerchief Pasta, $28. It includes three pieces of tender hen with rappini, Boursin cheese, smoked mussel emulsion and natural jus. The hen was not “gamey”. Among the half dozen entrées I’ve always enjoyed Duck Breast. Many readers will recognize this dish by its French name, Magret de Canard used by many restaurants, although Banfi’s chooses to use its English name. It was served already sliced and accompanied a bed of quinoa with grilled peach, appropriately cooked al dente pole beans, red bell pepper, purple cabbage, parsnip puree and hibiscus agrodolce, $33.
The award-winning wine menu is impeccable. Note: it’s presented on a scrollable tablet, but if you’re uncomfortable with that you can ask for a paper version.
Taverna Banfi is serving some of the best food in the greater Ithaca area. The dish combinations are unique and creative, the presentations are always attractive, and everything is always cooked perfectly.
TID BITs: There are many Gluten Free, Vegetarian and Vegan items, all well identified.
The restaurant is owned and operated by Cornell University and is on the second floor of The Statler Hotel on campus. It can be accessed by a staircase or elevator. Reaching the hotel itself is more difficult. You can walk, if you’re already on campus, or try driving around until you find a legal parking space. If you get frustrated, your fallback position could be valet parking, (probably by a student) which is available at the main entrance to the hotel.
Taverna Banfi is located at 130 Statler Hotel Drive on the Cornell University Campus. It is open Saturdays and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.; and on Mondays through Fridays from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. You can make reservations online at https://www.opentable.com/taverna-banfi or call (607) 254-2565.