Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Upcoming Post!

Well, we're finally talking again so we decided we might go out to dinner....

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Joe's Restaurant

Disclaimer: We ate here over the summer of 2009. Due to the length of time between dining and the write up some details may be fuzzy.

Sam: Those of you unfamiliar with the Ithaca area may be unaware of Joe's history. In fact, i'm not really sure what happened with the place, what i think I know goes as follows. Joe's has been around since the early fifties (possibly the fourties but we're unsure) and until sometime in the nineties it was doing pretty well, or so it seemed, because it closed down either in the early 00's or the late 90's. While the two owners went on to peruse other things one of the managers went on to open The Boat Yard Grill. For years Joe's sat empty until it was reopened a few years ago (i've gotta apologize for the spottiness of this history but it serves its purpose).

(Entrance and bar area)

Now before Joe's closed my family and I really enjoyed it. It was a fine place to get pretty good Italian food without the horribly depressing decor of a place like Lucatelli's and I remember loving the bread sticks. So when they reopened we (my family and I, not Tommy) were pretty excited. Eating there was, unfortunately, a much different experience than it had once been. The food wasn't as good, the service was slower and the bread sticks were unforgivably different. Joe's had become a bit of a joke to us. When trying to think of where to eat, Joe's no longer occurred to us.

(Room past the bar)

So after jokingly threatening each other with the idea of eating here we finally did it. We dragged Annie along once more and drove down to what we were sure was going to be a less than stellar meal. When we got there we were ushered into the back of what is a pretty big restaurant. There is the bar, a sitting area straight through and then the back room. We were sat in the back where we were handed pretty hefty menus. Menus cluttered with old photos of the restaurant and long Italian names for what were pretty simple concoctions such as penne with red sauce and house salads.

(What I feel comfortable calling the "main dining area")

Tom: As we sat down and ordered drinks, Sam ordered his standard Shirley Temple. I don't know if he thought it was particularly good here as compared to other restaurants, but his eyes lit up when they brought it to the table like always. If memory serves me correctly, we could draw on the table as it was covered in paper, leading to many great hijinks.

(What i feel comfortable calling "Eisenbergs")

We started off with some classic endless breadsticks and salad, like available at the Olive Garden (when you're there, you're family). I think we were all pretty satisfied with that arrangement, and happily got our munch on. I ordered some gnocchi dish, Sam got some kinda red penne, and Annie ordered another salad. I always find the best way to get a sense of a restaurant is to order multiple salads.

(One Shirley temple please)

I would say the main courses were pleasing on the same level as the endless breadsticks and salad. It was all pretty much standard Italian fare, seemingly much improved from Joe's first re-opened (this is according to Sam, as this is the first time I had eaten at Joe's in years). The prices are a tad high but it's not like Ithaca is flush with great cheap Italian food, so it's not like they are high in comparison to other local places. Really, it's basically across the street from Zaza's which is much more expensive (and not my favorite place).


My family and I were never huge fans of Joe's when it was first open, since it was constantly crowded and noisy with what we considered to not be the best food. I would say it's not as popular as it used to be, which actually works in its favor since there are less people and faster service now. That being said, if you didn't like the food at the old Joe's it's not like you'll have a great time here. Here are some tasty pix of our moderately tasty food:

(The classic complementary bread sticks and salad make a triumphant return)

(Sam's Penne)

(Tom's )

(Annie's post salad course salad course)

A recurring theme of this blog is that basically every midscale local restaurant we go to has some pleasant surprises but is ultimately a somewhat middling experience. Joe's falls squarely into this category. If you really really need some pasta drenched in sauce, you will have no problem here. Stay tuned for the next post, it'll be a doozie.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hal's Deli

Tom: My parents often talk about how my family would go to Hal's Deli a lot when we children were younger, but I had never been there since I could remember. Thus, I didn't really know what to think about going to Hal's Deli. It's always been there, I'd never really seen the inside, but I'd passed by it multiple days a week for many years. Frequent special guest Annie was there for this particular meal.

(The dining area which took Tommy's breath away)

When we went in, what I thought would just be like a countertop and a few tables was actually a full-fledged restaurant, and we were immediately greeted by Hal's wife, the man himself having passed away some years ago. We were quickly shown to a small table, and the restaurant was decently full with people eating their modest meals. Hal's has a pretty nice menu for a deli, with extensive sandwich choices and salads and the like. I ended up ordering a hot turkey with gravy kinda deal, and some fries.

It was pretty good! Getting turkey with gravy and fries cheaply can result in some pretty scary looking dishes, but Hal's pretty much solidly delivered. Service was pretty quick, and the prices were incredibly low for a sit-down restaurant.

(T's sandwich)

Sam: My memory is a little fuzzy on this trip due to the fact that it took place at least three months ago but i'll try my best here people, i'll try my best. As Tommy mentioned above the prices were really low. Like, REALLY low you guys and that's usually not a bad feature. It could lead to some nervousness concerning the quality of the food but Hal's has been around for long enough that I wasn't too worried about being horribly poisoned.

(My club. Sam's club)

(Side o' fries)

Based on the photographs i've got from this trip it seems that I ordered some sort of turkey club. It also appears that my sandwich came with chips and I ordered an additional side of french fries (I am so cooky). Alright, the pictures also show that Annie ordered some soup maybe? And also a tuna melt. I apologize for the vagueness of this review but it was oh so long ago! I don't remember being upset at this meal, which happens a lot, so i think it's safe to say we enjoyed ourselves enough.

(Annie's soup)

(Annie's meal)

I think I can honestly say that i'd eat at Hal's again if the opportunity presented itself. It's pretty good food for cheap and I'm not one to turn that down. The real problem is the location: The commons. I ate goin' down there. It always seems like such a hassle to me and has been a point of contention between Tommy and myself in the past when we've tried picking out a place to eat. Luckily we don't have that problem anymore since the invention of the blog but I can still resent him for other things.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Due to a series of miscommunications, Sam is in Boston and Tommy and I are not. As such I will be replacing Sam on this review. When I asked Tommy where he wanted to go, he mentioned that there was "this new comfort food place where The Lost Dog used to be." The name of the place was Wildfire, and it had a sort of fancy-looking online menu that blended good old-fashioned home-style cooking with the fast-paced trendiness of a silicon valley cafe where everyone is wearing designer jeans and semi-formal collared shirts. We decided to check it out.

When we arrived at the restaurant, we discovered that the setup was more or less identical to that of the Lost Dog Cafe, so much so that I briefly questioned if it had actually closed. The waiting staff and the ambiance were all pleasant enough, but unfortunately that is about the best thing that can be said about Wildfire. Before the meal we were provided with bread rolls and olive oil, a combination to which I am quite partial. I initially told Tommy that the bread was quite good, but quickly realized that by "good" I meant "tasteless yet warm." Which is still saying something, as many restaurants do not give you warm bread.

Tommy sitting. Note the candle: that's called ambiance.

For an appetizer we ordered fried mozzarella sticks coated in pine nuts. This sounds pretty good in theory, and they tasted slightly better than your average microwavable fried cheese. However, this has to be weighed against the fact that it cost $7. I know for a fact that you can get over twenty-five microwavable mozzarella sticks for less than that. As a main course I ordered the Grown Up Mac and Cheese with Lobster, a dish which really put the nail in the coffin in which my positive feelings towards Wildfire would be soon buried. First of all, they chose to have three cheeses as opposed to one in the Mac and Cheese sauce. This was a mistake. The trifecta of flavors clashed in my mouth in a way that was only rivaled by the new trailer for Clash of the Titans (March 26, 2010). Also it is possible that some of the cheese was burnt. In any case, the dish was barely tolerable, especially considering that all the lobster bits were also irrevocably coated in the three-cheese sauce. Partly due to the bad taste, and partly due to the fact that my schedule forces me to eat all three meals in the space of four or five hours, I was unable to finish the Grown Up Mac and Cheese with Lobster. Not wanting to waste food--even food I don't like--I asked for a box to take the dish home, and lo and behold there was a silver lining: the box was pretty nice.
That's a nice box!


As you may have noticed, this Jonah character is somewhat different than your traditional Sam. What he lacks in photographic ability he seems to more than make up for with fiery passion and venomous wit (we mean no ill will toward Wildfire, he is just having a fun time on the internet being mean). I guess everyone needs to vent sometime.

Whenever I hear "comfort food restaurant" I get really excited, but I don't seem to have the best time at any place that claims to be one of these. This includes several recent contenders in Ithaca and one or two places I have tried in Philly. I'm not gonna pretend to know what makes a great mac and cheese or meat loaf or whatever, but whatever take these places have on the genre seems to be pretty boring most of the time. The menus also tend to be pretty small. That being said, I didn't mind my meal at Wildfire. The service was very quick for a restaurant of this nature and the waitstaff was attentive. I basically agree with Jonah re: the mozzarella sticks. I wouldn't really have noticed that they were pine-nut encrusted if the menu hadn't told me. It might have been more enjoyable treated as a pseudo-salad than actual mozzarella sticks.

One interesting thing about the menu was the large amount of vegan options. Neither of us ordered any of them, but they sounded like the best things on the menu apart from their vegan-ness. If any vegan readers are feeling adventurous you should at least check this place out (and tell us if it was good). For my main course I got a chicken pot pie, which is pretty much a staple of these mid-level comfort food places. It wasn't bad, though the plating (oh my god I can't believe I am complaining about plating) was kind of awkward. There was a puff pastry on top of a sort of souffle dish filled with the "pie," but when I tried to combine the two it all overflowed onto my plate, which had some kind of napkin on it. The pie itself was sort of your standard pot pie mush, with gnocchi in it and nice hearty chunks of chicken. It was a bit salty and I couldn't really tell what was in the mush (though I'm sure it's on the menu).

Ultimately I can't say I heartily recommend Wildfire, though there were definitely other options (both appetizers and entrees) on the menu that looked enticing. Neither of us tried their french fries, which are always an excellent litmus test of a restaurant. I wouldn't count Wildfire out, as new restaurants can always be a bit shaky and there were definitely the makings of something good there, though I do seem to be a sucker for repeatedly going back to restaurants that disappoint me.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Dining Hiatus

Both Tommy and I are back at college now so we won't be dining together for some months. We may have a few sporadic posts over the academic year as we will see each other over breaks and we enjoy eating. I think it's safe to say that ID will be in full force again next summer!

We appreciate your support!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Pancho Villa Mexican Restaurant & Bar Club

Tom: Neither of us had ever eaten at Pancho Villa's before, though I am pretty partial to Mexican food and figured despite the mostly negative things I had heard about it, I could get a pretty solid meal here. I had actually been been here once before, though it was somewhat of a harrowing experience. My mother and I were seated in about 95 degree heat, and the air conditioner in the restaurant was broken. There was some kind of large party in the room next to us, and our waitress said she'd be a while since she had to take care of their order. We ended up sitting there for about 10 minutes, before we finally went insane from heat stroke and decided to escape the restaurant through the back. Right at that moment, the waitress came back and asked us where we were going, so we kind of mumbled and continued leaving while the chef watched us through the window. Needless to say, PV's wasn't exactly high on my list of choice eateries after this.

(Seems like a bad sign to put in a parking lot)

But, Sam and I pressed on for the sake of food-bloggery. Also, we told Li we would meet him there. When we first pulled up to the restaurant, we noticed an orange gate with cinder blocks (one of them was broken, which is significant!) blocking the parking lot. Figuring it was under construction or something, we circled around the block and parked on the street. We had seen Li's car behind us and it had since disappeared, so we assumed he had done something similar.

After parking, we noticed that Li's car was in fact in the abandoned parking lot, and he had accidentally run over the gate without seeing it. The three of us cavorted nervously in the parking lot wondering what to do for a little bit until we went up to the restaurant and saw a great big real estate sign in the window.

(Not gonna lie, I was pretty happy that we didn't have to eat here)

Many restaurants are closing in Ithaca like the Lost Dog or the ABC Cafe, but I guess none of us were well acquainted enough with PV's to even know that it had closed. I don't really know when this happened, but it's too bad we never got to give it a fair shake.

Sam: Oh well! I was actually pretty happy that we didn't have to eat here. Between Tommy's experience, Li's experience and the various reviews on the internet it was a relief when we settled into one of the familiar booths at Chili's.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Sam: With us this week were the always entertaining Li and Peter. We've dined with Li a fair share this summer seeing as how he has been in Ithaca working. Peter, on the other hand, has been busy traveling around the world so we were lucky to catch him for the few days that he was in town.

I'd been to Sangams several times before, usually for takeout, and have never been that disappointed. It's one of the only two places to get Indian food in ithaca (the other being Diamons down on green st) and honestly they're pretty similar. One of the only differences that I know of is that Sangams has a bigger selection of appetizers including Onion Bhujias and more pakoras.

(A terrible photo of our order or onion bhujias)

This meal was definitely the biggest we've had. We started with an order of the above which were great as always and also an order of veggie samosas, also good. Then we all ordered separate entrees trying to hit on each basic type they had (beef, chicken, seafood). Tommy got some shrimp dish, I got chicken tikka masala and Peter and Li both ordered things that I don't remember and am not willing to ask them about. We also got three types of bread, poori (my favorite and obviously the best), nan and chapati.

(Chicken tikka masala and Li's thing)

Tom: An interesting thing about Sangam's is that it is usually somewhat deserted, even for its pretty good lunch buffet (my Mom thinks it is a front for some kind of illicit organization). That being said, it's been in Collegetown for many years and people seem to generally like it. They probably make a lot of money from takeout or something. Its counterpart, Diamond's, is actually similarly quiet but persistent, so it must be an Ithaca Indian thing.

(Tommy's thing)

Sangam's is in the vein of Indian restaurants where you get an absurd amount of sauce compared to the meat you are given. I don't know if this is some kind of standard thing, but I have certainly had Indian meals where it was not an issue. This often leaves you scrambling around for bits of rice or scraps of bread at the end of a meal, because while the sauce to meat ratio is high, the sauce is usually completely delicious. Another hard thing at Indian restaurants can be ordering different types of bread. Some give you a lot more and are much easier to share than others, and some already have things in them that make them too filling to really use as pure sauce vessels. Luckily, all of us are hearty Indian takeout eaters and managed to keep it pretty basic.


To help Sam out, I think Li got some kind of Lamb Curry and Peter got a vegetable based dish so as to not have everything be entirely meat. The standard Indian restaurant condiments were in the middle of the table, but I never use them even though I don't dislike them. To order as lavishly as we did at Sangam's isn't exactly cheap, though it obviously won't set you back that severely. A good bargain is possible, especially with the lunch buffet. But, you know what you are getting at Sangam's and the meal is always pretty solid all around, from the bread to the rice to the meats and veggies. It's really a great place to eat with friends as the food lends itself toward sharing and it is a nice calm environment. I'd heartily recommend Sangam's for anyone interested in Indian food, though most Ithacans have probably tried it out at some point. I will agree with Sam, however, that having any kind of serious preference between it and Diamond's is kind of silly.