By Lenn Thompson, Executive Editor
The Finger Lakes region is one the most beautiful spots on earth — at least my wife and I think so. That's why we seem to vacation in the ara almost any chance we get. Sometimes it's just for a one-night getaway. Other times it's for a week with the little guy.
We had talked about going to Italy or Spain to celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary a few weeks ago, but in the end, fiscal responsibility won out and we headed back to the Finger Lakes — but to Cayuga Lake. Previous we had spent significant time on Keuka Lake and Seneca Lake and we thought it was time to explore Ithaca and the surrounding area.
We hiked every day, ate some great meals and yes, tasted some great wines to boot.
Wine was almost secondary on this trip though. We devoted much more time to the natural beauty of Cayuga Lake and the surrounding areas.
That doesn't mean that we didn't eat and drink well though.
Rather than touch on every single thing that we put in our mouths over the course of four days and three nights, I thought I'd share the highlights and one disappointment.
Some of the Highlights:
Aurora Inn: We ate several great meals on the trip, but dinner at the Aurora Inn on our final night was a standout. The combination of people, place, food and wine made it a meal to remember. A panna cotta made with local goat's milk chevre and dressed with roasted, lightly-pickled local beets was one of the stars of the night for me.
Bellwether Hard Cider: I'm not a big cider drinker — just because I haven't had much exposure to them beyond the big-production stuff you can find in just about every grocery store around here. Bellwether ciders bear little resemblance to those. Nena was even a bigger cider doubter than I was — and we both came away completely converted. The balance and surprising nuance of these hand-crafted ciders is impressive. A must-stop on the west side of Cayuga Lake.
Cayuga Lake Creamery: Speaking of must-stops, here's another one. Looks like any other street-side ice cream joint until you get closer and get a look at the creative and interesting flavors. I can still taste the salted caramel scoop I enjoyed as we drove back to Ithaca.
Ithaca Beer Company: Nena and I decided that we were going to hike a lot during our trip, and we kicked that off about half an hour after getting into town with a quick drive to Buttermilk Falls. It was mid-afternoon. It was hot. We were tired and sweaty. But we drove down the street to Ithaca Beer Company and were quickly refreshed by beers like Flower Power (IPA), Ground Break (saison) and Partly Sunny (wit). We even liked the root beer enough to buy some of that too. Don't be fooled by the storefront location. They are making seriously delicious beers.
Just a Taste: Ithaca doesn't lack for restaurants, but there aren't many wine-focused spots. Just a Taste, with an incredible number of wines by the glass (including just enough local stuff in my mind) made for a fun opening night dinner of small plates that were all solid and often good. It was easy to over-order the tapas…and we did.
Heart & Hands Wine Company: While we tried to focus on places we'd never been to before, we did make a return visit to the best little pinot noir winery in the East. We tasted two new 2009 rieslings, which I forgot to buy for review later. You've ready enough about H&H on this site to know that you should just go for yourself.
Simply Red Bistro: The beautiful views of Cayuga Lake and comfortable, sunny setting are reason enough to grab a tasting trail lunch at Simply Red Bistro (which is at Sheldrake Point Vineyard). That we had some amazingly good food makes it the place to lunch on the west side of Cayuga Lake. Nena has eaten mussels all over the country and Chef Sam Izzo's were among the best she's had. My steak sandwich — made with local grass-fed beef — was stellar. Finishing a great lunch and then bellying up to the winery's tasting bar was pretty fun too. If only Long Island wineries could have restaurants.
One Major Disappointment:
Moosewood Restaurant: When the power went out at Hazelnut Kitchen the day of our reservation, they called and told us that they'd likely not be able to open. We were of course disappointed, but took the opportunity to head to the famous vegetarian restaurant Moosewood. Disinterested service and food that tasted a little too much like home cooking — meaning I could have cooked it just as well if not better from one of their cookbooks — made for an extremely 'whelming' experience. At least they had several local beers on draft.