Coltivare is one of the area’s largest restaurants, not to mention the classrooms and meeting rooms that make it a unique teaching restaurant.

Coltivare is different from other restaurants in Tompkins County in several ways: The restaurant is affiliated with Tompkins Cortland Community College, has meeting rooms and classrooms that are open to the public, and is larger than most other venues.

It's the only restaurant, I’m aware of, that I sometimes have to make three 90-degree turns to reach my table. It’s that big! Virtually all the food here is homemade and most of it is produced locally, some on their own farm.  Even the interior atmosphere is different. A large air vent snakes its way across the ceiling and the walls are home to huge glass containers of wine corks and large vertical wine racks holding 18 wine bottles each. The floors are stone and wood so diner noise can carry.

Among the seven “Sharables” are three flatbreads. To choose something different I ordered Buffalo Cauliflower ($15) mostly out of curiosity about how an entire meal could be constructed out of cauliflower. There were cauliflower pieces coated in a mildly spicy, gluten free crust which was made out of flour, eggs, and water and then coated in the Buffalo sauce which consisted of a sauce, much like the one you’d find with chicken wings in other restaurants, and also made with ketchup, butter, and vinegar.  A blue cheese mousse was a welcome accompaniment for dipping the cauliflower and three carrot sticks.

One evening a special was mussels.  About two dozen tender, mussels, in their shells, came in a large bowl with a white wine and butter base along with two-inch fennel strips, diced bacon bits, cherry tomatoes, shallots, and some baguette slices to be used for dipping in the sauce. It could have been an entrée or a Shareable and was filling and enjoyable.

Entrées are referred to as “Larger Plates” and there are only a handful. Short Rib ($34) is a large portion divided into two hunks of meat. It’s braised in red wine and served over a smooth portion of whipped Yukon gold potatoes. It also has a small amount of greens, the composition of which I assume change with the seasons. It’s not tender, however it’s not tough either.  Often the short ribs I’ve received in other restaurants achieve tenderness by being cooked and presented with a lot of fat to make them so: fortunately that doesn’t happen here.

Another entrée is “Market Fish” (Market price).  On a recent visit it was Mahi Mahi ($30). Mahi Mahi doesn’t have a fishy flavor so it’s often cooked with a sauce.  This one was prepared in a puttanesca sauce with a tomato base and was surrounded by a grilled veggie salad composed mainly of summer squash and zucchini.  Puttanesca sauces can be pungent because they are made with garlic, anchovies, black olives, capers, parsley, and tomatoes. At Coltivare these ingredients all blend beautifully resulting in a tasty yet mild sauce. The fish and the veggies were cooked perfectly.  Mahi Mahi is a white fis that can be bland, however this one was full of flavor because of the sauce and accompaniments.

There are four desserts ($9), all homemade, and I very much enjoyed Seasonal Cheesecake. It was made with vanilla beans, and I think it was seasonal because it was covered with a strawberry compote. And I always appreciate whipped cream that is made in the kitchen instead of being squirted out of a can. The sorbets are thick and creamy and the fruit flavors, e.g., honey dew, make their presence known.

The beverage selection is impeccable.  All the appropriate red and white wine varietals and regions, including NYS, are represented. Prices for a glass range from $13-$19.  There are plenty of beers to choose from both draft and in bottles and cans at $9 and $10.  A feature at Coltivare that’s rare in our area is a long marble bar with eight beer handles that connect to eight kegs through a circuitous underground passage.  When I lived in England, I used handles like these to “pull a pint” at my local pub. At Coltivare they’re used mostly for either half-pint or pint glass servings. The pulling handles are supplied by the beer makers and are affixed every time a new keg is tapped. It makes for an attractive and authentic experience. There is also a fun selection of cocktails and “mocktails”.

There are many things to contribute to an enjoyable evening at Coltivare:  The food is fresh, high quality, and local. It’s always prepared well and attractively presented.  The ambience is unique and fun with a wine-based theme. And I’ve always found the service to be attentive and efficient.

Tid Bits: Many items are gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan all of which are clearly identified.

The restrooms are outside the restaurant proper and are clean to the point of gleaming.


235 S Cayuga St, Ithaca

(607) 882-2333

Weds-Sun. 5-9 p.m.

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