First Look - NorthStar House Opens in Ithaca's Fall Creek Neighborhood

October 7, 2009

Several new restaurants are opening in Ithaca this fall, and most are, quite naturally, opening in the former homes of other restaurants. One particularly beloved restaurant that closed with little notice this June was Willow of Ithaca, and we would thus feel remiss in talking about the new NorthStar House without a nod to Willow. That erstwhile eatery had a fantastic menu of fresh foods that changed seasonally and a bar that attracted its own fans, and after our first visit, we think NorthStar will succeed in both areas, as well.

The building has been substantially rearranged inside, with the interior wall between the old front room and bar area removed. That front room is now the bar, with an actual bar and stools across the back, stools and a counter across the front windows, and bar tables in between. Dining tables sit farther back, and we like the way much of the space is open rather than being as divided as it used to be.

The bar features a ridiculous number of beers, both bottled and on tap, ranging from PBR to Ithaca and Ommegang offerings to O'Reilly's stout. The wine selection includes a few Finger Lakes wines, and they're working on expanding that range. The full bar also includes a good collection of spirits, and we look forward to sampling the single-malt Scotches. Mixed drinks include the Patron Saint, a novel libation not unlike a high-end margarita that features tequila, homemade limoncello, and champagne.

The menu, available whether you're at the bar or at a table, is split into "Smalls," "Mediums," and "Larges," divided less by when in the meal you should eat them than by how large a serving you get. Accordingly, some of the dishes are repeated, such as the Seared Tofu Scallops appearing among the small plates and, including two sides, among the larges.

Tofu scallops at Northstar.Tofu scallops at Northstar.Wait, did we just say Tofu Scallops? We did, and they're a vegetarian appetizer -- or entree -- that sounded so intriguing we just had to try them. These tender discs of, yes, fresh tofu, are marinated, then seared, and served with sauces that would go as well with actual seafood, including a delicate curry. They push back on an encroaching fork, or tooth, about as a real scallop would, and they're tender and delicious. Another small plate is the "kangaroo dip," artichoke blended "with garlic, garlic, and more garlic," served with tortilla chips.

But this is no vegetarian eatery. NorthStar also serves whole chicken wings -- all three segments -- with BBQ sauce, mild to hot Buffalo-style sauce, or Baltimore-style, tossed in brown butter and Old Bay seasoning. The roasted garlic burger is served with garlic aioli, cheddar, and arugula on a kaiser roll, and at $10 comes with a generous pile of handcut fries, or macaroni salad, on the side. (Additional sides are a reasonable $3 each.) We can't wait to try the stuffed poblano pepper, the pan-seared tuna, and the grilled flat-iron steak kabobs.

NorthStar House is open seven nights a week from here on out, with just drinks on Monday and food available Tuesday through Sunday nights. A grand opening is scheduled for October 20th. Stop in at 202 East Falls Street at the intersection with North Tioga Street, where Willow and Fall Creek Pictures used to be, and tell them you heard about them here.

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