Nautical flair and serious food on Ithaca's waterfront at the BoatYard Grill

January 22, 2013

Back when the BoatYard Grill opened, just over a decade ago, chef Larry DiFolco was at the helm, and built a menu for the lakeside restaurant with a focus on fresh fish and seafood, steaks, salads, and sandwiches. After a stint in San Diego, Larry returned to Ithaca this fall, and he's helped revamp the eatery's menu.

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.

General manager Glenn Smith 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. Glenn 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.

Dayboat Scallops, small plates edition.Dayboat Scallops, small plates edition.One of those small plates is a mini portion of the Dayboat Scallops, a delectable dish of seared seafood served over toasted orzo with a beurre-blanc and melted leeks sauce. The pair of jumbo scallops on the $13 small plate would be a nice appetizer, or the $22 plate of five makes a nice main dish.

A favorite starter remaining from earlier days is the Tuna Tataki, slices of seared tuna and spicy wasabi sauce on a wonton chip, over a bed of avocado. Or go green with the shrimp and arugula salad, served with local goat cheese and roasted pears.

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 2-Handed Sandwiches list, which includes a veggieburger, excellent Mahi-Mahi tacos, and the "Gutenberger." That last a ten-ounce Angus burger with melted cheddar, Applewood bacon, onion crisps, and homemade ketchup, 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 Chesapeake baked cod, baked with a hearty layer of lump crab on top, or the tender and tangy black currant pork chop, served with a port wine reduction.

That's the "petite cut" of prime rib.That's the "petite cut" of prime rib.Of course, the BoatYard still features steaks, like the Maker's Mark Angus, but joining that old standby on the menu are newcomers like the Newport Steak, marinated sirloin with a charred tomato and green onion salsa. The "petite cut" prime rib is plenty generous, and it's beautifully rare inside with a crisp, caramelized spice crust.

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, plus a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar.

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, call 607-256-2628, or visit boatyardgrill.com and tell them you heard about them here.

Disclosure: This updated review was written after BoatYard Grill's general manager invited us in to try some of Chef DiFolco's 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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