New American bistro fare takes Ithaca's west end by storm at The Rook

February 9, 2016 by Mark H. Anbinder

This week we're in Ithaca's west end visiting The Rook. Open in January, this new restaurant has "new American" bistro fare and excellent cocktails.

In the kitchen is Chef Gentry Morris, recently of Mercato Bar & Kitchen, Belly Pop-Up Kitchen, and Le Cafe Cent Dix. Out front he's joined by Autumn Greenberg and Lila Donaruma, both most recently of Argos Inn and Bar Argos but with bar and restaurant management experience around town.

The menu ranges from snacks to appetizers and small plates to full-size entrees, with a nice mix of creative and flavorful food for carnivores and herbivores alike. The Rook has done a nice job of lining up some vegetarian, some vegan, and some gluten free options on their menu, but do ask your server about your dietary needs. We've found them very accommodating in most cases.

We started with duck nuggets, spaetzle, and smoked trout small plates at The Rook.We started with duck nuggets, spaetzle, and smoked trout small plates at The Rook.We started with the grilled dates, rich morsels wrapped in goat cheese and bacon. Duck nuggets were a pleasant surprise, meaty and crispy fried morsels, everything you wish chicken nuggets could be as a grown-up. Splitting an order of the spaetzle turned out to be a good idea as well; these handmade dumplings in a Gruyere cream sauce are like grown-up macaroni & cheese.

After splitting a few appetizers, we were ready for the main event, such as excellent fried chicken, cooked in duck fat and served with braised greens and a drizzle of smoked honey. At $20, it's an expensive plate of fried chicken and greens, but it's awfully good.

Add bacon to the $13 cheddar cheeseburger for another $1.50.Add bacon to the $13 cheddar cheeseburger for another $1.50.

The pork steak is a melt-in-your-mouth slow-braised slice of shoulder served over beautiful French lentils. After the first few folks said this was the best thing they'd ever eaten, I had to try it, and I understood. On the lighter side, the ricotta gnocchi are tender pillows of potato pasta with chunks of butternut squash and carrots, and one vegan option is simply called the "herbivore plate." (It features lentils and roasted root vegetables, satisfying on a cold night.)

There's also a respectable $13 cheddar burger served with a generous heap of crispy hot fries, and those fries are even better in dirty form -- cooked in duck fat and topped with spicy peppers and shredded pork, a hearty, shareable side at $7.

Dirty fries. We like dirty.Dirty fries. We like dirty.

The bar is one of the Rook's strengths, with some great beers and wines, a strong cocktail list, and excellent spirits to construct whatever you need. I've enjoyed the Old Man Winter, warming and smoky for a cold evening, and there's even a Negroni variation on tap. Try the donuts for dessert.

Plan on spending $20-40 for a meal. Find the Rook at 404 West State Street, where Fine Line Bistro used to be, visit rookfoodanddrink.com, or call 607-319-0180 and tell them you heard about them here.

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