Revisiting an old Downtown Ithaca favorite at Just a Taste

This week we’re returning to an old favorite in Downtown Ithaca. Just a Taste wine and tapas bar is often near the top of our lists, and the food quality and creativity, surprising value for your dollar, excellent service, and ever-changing menu are among the reasons why.

Summer squash, if you're lucky!

Summer squash, if you’re lucky!

Just a Taste is easy to do as a vegetarian or carnivore, so it’s not hard to find a variety of dishes for a group to enjoy sampling. Since “tapas” is a tradition of selecting multiple small dishes, with an eye toward sharing, it’s also a great way to do away with the inevitable “Oh, I can’t decide between this, and that, and the other thing!” syndrome at a restaurant.

Squash is in season, so the sauteed sliced summer squash with brown butter, romano cheese, and pecans was a perfect start on our latest visit; this is a seasonal variation on the Brussels sprouts and asparagus we’ve enjoyed on past visits made the same way. At the same time, we sampled the fried salt cod fritters, crisp and creamy with a garlic aioli.

Warm brie with apples and crostini.

Warm brie with apples and crostini.

The spicy shrimp sautée is bursting with juicy shrimp, plus chunks of tender tomato and onion. Add some starch with the russet potato wedges with chipotle aioli, or keep it simple with garlic-braised greens. The warm brie with apples and crostini is a good way to edge toward dessert.

A friend on a gluten-free diet turns to those russet potato wedges to make up for the fact she can’t enjoy any of the tasty bread options, such as focaccia served with a roasted whole head of garlic. She also loves the tortilla española, a baked egg, potato, and onion dish with no flour crust. If your diet or food preferences lean in another direction, don’t be shy about asking your server what’s suitable, or whether a dish can be made without a certain ingredient.

The inviting dining room at Just a Taste on restaurant row.

The inviting dining room at Just a Taste on restaurant row.

If you’ve never been the sharing or sampling sort, many dishes at Just a Taste are available as a racion, a larger portion of the same thing. The menu changes so frequently, though, that you’re best off trying a few things while they’re still there! “We decided that we would be bored if we didn’t change the menu frequently,” says Jennifer Irwin, who with husband Stan Walton took over Just a Taste over twenty years ago from its previous owner. The constant refreshing of the menu, including seasonal swings, is informed by heavy use of produce and ingredients from local farms.

Try some wine with your meal, with an unparalleled selection available by the glass, including some great Finger Lakes selections and wines from around the world. The various flights, small tastes of four or five wines at a time, provide a wonderful way to try a few things you’d otherwise never even hear of. There’s also beer available, or spend a warm evening on the patio with a glass of sangria.

"Chocolate soufflé" doesn't really do it justice. You should probably go eat some.

“Chocolate soufflé” doesn’t really do it justice. You should probably go eat some.

Last but not least is dessert, and in fact sometimes I find myself at Just a Taste just for dessert, with a glass of sherry or an espresso, after dining somewhere else. I’m a bread pudding fan, so I loved the quince-pecan bread pudding on one recent visit, but it’s hard not to keep coming back to the melt-in-your-mouth chocolate soufflé, adorned with white chocolate shavings.

Plan on spending $10-30 per person on dinner, depending on how thorough you are and how much wine is involved. Just a Taste is at 116 North Aurora Street, just off the Commons, with free evening parking at metered spots or free weekend parking at the nearby City-owned parking garages. Just a Taste is open daily for dinner with the patio open in nice weather. Call them at 607-277-9463 and tell them you heard about them here.

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