Italian fare made with care at ZaZa’s Cucina on Ithaca’s northside

This week, we’re back on Ithaca’s northside checking out ZaZa’s Cucina. It’s an upscale yet friendly Italian bistro serving farm-fresh food seven nights a week, and the business changed hands a little over a year ago.

Not just cheese sticks. Smoked mozzarella fritti!

Not just cheese sticks. Smoked mozzarella fritti!

ZaZa’s is a great place to stop in for cocktails, and that’s how we started a meal on a recent visit, along with a couple of appetizers. Calamari were perfectly crisp and tender, with a nice lemon aioli alongside the expected tomato dipping sauce, and smoked mozzarella fritti were a big step up from the usual mozzarella sticks.

If you go to Italian restaurants for pasta dishes, you can certainly satisfy that craving here — handmade pumpkin ravioli or lobster ravioli, or tagliatelle topped with wild mushrooms or lamb ragout. Yes, there’s also spaghetti and meatballs, made with the perfect trio of beef, veal, and pork. Chicken or eggplant parmesan, or seafood risotto.

That's a scoop of creamy mascarpone atop the wild mushroom tagliatelle.

That’s a scoop of creamy mascarpone atop the wild mushroom tagliatelle.

But there are also some top-notch entrees here, like a beautifully seared duck breast from Maple Leaf Farms, served with a tart cherry demi glace and whipped potatoes. Roast frenched chicken with herbes de provence and balsamic. Seared salmon or a rack of New Zealand lamb. Chef (and new owner) Curtis Radcliffe, who had worked at ZaZa’s before taking over from the previous owners, makes the most of seasonal produce to make his dishes shine.

ZaZa’s also does a fine job with dessert, such as a berry tart or tiramisu. Enjoy it with a handmade espresso.

ZaZa's dining room manages to maintain a comfortable sound level even when it's full.

ZaZa’s dining room manages to maintain a comfortable sound level even when it’s full.

Plan on spending $20-50 per person on a meal. It’s a wide range, but it feels possible to enjoy dinner without spending too much, especially if you’re happy to share a few things. The friendly and knowledgeable staff are there to help steer you the right way.

Find ZaZa’s Cucina for dinner seven days a week and brunch on Sundays at the corner of Cascadilla Street and Meadow Street across from Purity Ice Cream, visit zazascucina.com, or call 607-273-9292 and tell them you heard about them here.

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