Seasonal food and a fresh new look on Ithaca's waterfront at the BoatYard Grill

January 13, 2015

Back when the BoatYard Grill opened, just over a dozen years ago, the menu for the lakeside restaurant had a focus on fresh fish and seafood, steaks, salads, and sandwiches, and the decor was very "seafood shack." Over the last few months, they renovated and updated the look, and have just rolled out a new menu.

New decor at the BoatYard Grill.New decor at the BoatYard Grill.Most of the aging lobster traps, tillers, and kitschy memorabilia are gone, as is the refrigerated steak case next to the kitchen that co-owner Mark Campagnolo says let diners drool over the meat, but also took up valuable space. New curtains provide a little privacy between tables and a little noise dampening.

We love that the new menu keeps some old favorites while adding several tempting new items. There's new attention to seasonal foods available locally, and there are smaller versions of quite a few menu items for those with smaller appetites or smaller budgets.

The new executive chef, Patrick Tarantino, says the menu's expanded Small Plates section reflects a trend the last few years, industry-wide but particularly in Ithaca, toward smaller portions and smaller prices. He says whether the motivation is saving money or avoiding the temptation to overeat, the message from customers has been clear. There are now small-plate versions of most of the BoatYard's heftier entrées.

The excellent crab cakes are served with a lemon beurre blanc and crisp asparagus.The excellent crab cakes are served with a lemon beurre blanc and crisp asparagus.One of those small plates is a mini portion of the Bacon Wrapped Shrimp, a delectable dish of jumbo shrimp stuffed with crabmeat and wrapped in bacon, topped with charred jalapeño-buttermilk dressing, and accompanied by citrus slaw. The entrée portion is $19.95, and the small plate just $10.95. Also represented at two sizes is the Crab Cake, which lets the fresh flavor of the Maryland blue crab shine through.

A favorite starter remaining from earlier days is the Tuna Tataki, slices of seared tuna and spicy wasabi cucumber sauce on a wonton chip, over a bed of slaw. Or go green with the roasted beet salad, served with local goat cheese and a Shiraz and rose hip glaze over greens.

One appetizer we're sure will be popular is the Triple Dip, featuring toasted bread crisps and pita triangles with a trio of dipping jars: Persian style hummus, baba ghanoush (roasted eggplant), and southern-style pimento cheese dip. No surprise that the cheese isn't vegan, but diners should be aware that the hummus isn't, either.

The Gutenberger, served with seasonal vegetables in place of fries.The Gutenberger, served with seasonal vegetables in place of fries.Also in the reasonable portions and reasonable prices category is the "Handhelds" list, which includes a black bean veggieburger, excellent swordfish or steak tacos, and the "Gutenberger." That last a ten-ounce Angus burger with melted cheddar, bacon jam, and onion crisps, on a roll that just barely holds it all together. The burger is named for frequent diner and former mayor John Gutenberger, and it's definitely high on Ithaca's burger list. The sandwiches come with quite good seasoned fries, or swap those for seasonal vegetables that feature crisp local peppers this time of year.

Don't worry, if you've got a bigger appetite or like to bring home leftovers, there are still full-sized entrées on the menu. Try the wood-fired chicken pasta with gouda, or coriander-crusted salmon.

The tender filet mignon, served a perfect rare.The tender filet mignon, served a perfect rare.Of course, the BoatYard still features steaks, like the Maker's Mark Sirloin, but joining that old standby on the menu are newcomers like the simple and perfect Filet Mignon, served with a ruby port demi-glace and lemon-saffron aioli, and smashed, then fried, fingerling potatoes. Add shrimp or a lobster tail to any of the grill items to build your own surf-and-turf dinner.

Seafood sausage and grilled lobster tail.Seafood sausage and grilled lobster tail.That grilled Maine lobster tail is also available without the turf, next to an intriguing seafood sausage and served with sweet corn casserole. 

If you haven't saved much room for dessert, perhaps your party can split one. We highly recommend the BoatYard's specialty "sizzling cookie," a wedge of chocolate chip cookie the size of a slice of pie, served with Purity banana ice cream and hot caramel sauce that's poured over the dessert when it reaches your table. (Careful, it's hot.)

Lunch is available Friday through Sunday, and on Sundays there's a decadent brunch menu, with excellent Bloody Marys available in large or absurdly large.

The biggest complaint we hear about the BoatYard Grill is that there's frequently an unpredictable wait for a table, but we suggest taking advantage of their call-ahead seating. That way, when you arrive, you're already partway through the "line" of folks waiting to be seated.

Plan on spending 12 to 35 bucks on brunch on Sundays, lunch Friday through Sunday, or dinner any night. Find the Boatyard Grill at the end of Old Taughannock Boulevard on Ithaca's waterfront, visit boatyardgrill.com, or call 607-256-2628 and tell them you heard about them here.

Disclosure: This updated review was written after BoatYard Grill's general manager invited us in to check out the new decor and try some of the new dishes on the house. While we love talking about food we've just enjoyed, and no doubt that's what they hoped would happen, they did not request nor did we promise a review.
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