The first thing you’ll notice when arriving at The Strand Café is that you’re really not in a restaurant. Rather, you have entered the spacious lobby of a new downtown Ithaca hotel, The Canopy by Hilton.
The lobby includes the registration desk, an attractive backlit bar, a lounge and a restaurant, all virtually adjacent to each other. The entire area is attractively illuminated by a combination of pendant lamps and recessed bulbs.
As you look about, you’ll need to decide if you want to situate yourself in the lounge with comfy chairs and couches placed around a central fireplace or proceed directly to the dining area and select a table with chairs and divans.
I have friends who shun hotel restaurants, believing they don’t serve appetizing food. I don’t agree with this broad generalization as many restaurants in hotels do, indeed, offer well prepared, quality food. The Ithaca Canopy Hotel is one of them.
Although I like The Strand overall, I do have some reservations.
The menus are quite limited, though in fairness the restaurant is relatively young. Lunch, dinner and weekend brunch offerings are each confined to one side of an 8 1/2”X 11” size paper. There is only one burger available and it’s repeated on all three menus. “Burger” is a sandwich at lunch, a “main” at dinner, and listed in a general category at brunch.
Speaking of that burger, I didn’t like it very much as it’s neither original nor especially tasty. It’s topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato and onions, though I wasn’t permitted to order it rare—and not for health reasons. On different occasions, separate servers informed me that, no matter how I ordered it, it was going to be served medium to well-done.
The burger is not the only item that’s repeated from menu to menu. The same four salads ($10-$13): Simple Greens, Farro, Baby Beets, and Tuscan Kale are offered at lunch and dinner, all with the same description. And the same six pizzas ($12-$15) appear on both the lunch and dinner menus.
Although this repetition limits the choices of diners, it enables the cooks to concentrate on and perfect each item. And I’m happy to note that the prices of the repeated items are not elevated at dinnertime.
At dinner, a half dozen main courses are added. I’ve tried Scallops and Local Half Chicken and thoroughly enjoyed them both. With the scallop entrée you’ll receive four large sea scallops served with crunchy chickpeas in a roasted pepper sauce. The scallops, which are easy to overcook, were prepared perfectly… the word succulent came to mind. The chicken was a half chicken, beautifully seasoned and removed from the oven at precisely the right moment. The presentation on both entrées was very attractive; however, I thought the prices were a bit high, $32 for the scallops and $28 for the chicken.
I was surprised by the limited nature of the wine offerings. The lunch wine menu included only about a dozen total wines and the reds and whites were not clearly separated. Further, I usually choose a dry white and there were no Sauvignon Blancs or Pinot Grigios listed. Diners who prefer reds and were looking for a Merlot, a Cabernet Franc or a Syrah would have also been disappointed.
There are only a few bottles under $40, with most from $40 to $70. Prices by the glass range from $9-$11.
There are 10 interesting cocktails and more than a dozen beers by the can and bottle.
A server will find you in either area and you can order a drink from the bar and/or food from the kitchen in both locations. It’s a most congenial scene.
Because of its lovely open and comfortable atmosphere and the careful preparation and attractive presentation of many of the dishes, The Strand Café is a welcome addition to Ithaca’s downtown dining scene.
-The hotel is not really on the Commons - it’s tucked into a short alley just off the Commons opposite of Gateway Center.
-Valet parking is available - ask at the reception desk.