Since it opened in March 1990, Just a Taste has had a long and successful life on Ithaca’s Aurora Street. It’s had several owners, with the most recent change occurring a few months ago. Ownership changes in Ithaca dining establishments often prompt a visit by The Ithaca Times to learn how the restaurant is operating under the new management team.
I believe that much of the reason for Just a Taste’s popularity is derived from their offering of a daily menu, which might have minor changes from the previous day, with an offering of about 30 different tapas (small portions) at $4-12. The choices are usually varied, distinctive and interesting. Diners enjoy the opportunity to sample smaller tastes of their choices. This prompts an obvious question: How many dishes should a patron order to enjoy the total experience? The semi-official response I’ve received from staff is “two or three…you can always order more.” However, I always find that two are sufficient and since I usually go there with a friend or two, we often end up sharing each other’s selections, which adds to the variety while keeping costs down.
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The restaurant is small, about 600 square feet, and the tables are relatively close together; however, it never feels crowded. However, it’s always noisy and often difficult to converse with companions and servers.
Speaking of servers, they’re genial and efficient. I only wish there were more of them. Two people to serve all those meals is often insufficient. Service itself is uneven. At a typical restaurant, an attentive server would watch the progress of diners eating their appetizers and when they were well along, would instruct the chefs to “fire” the next course for the table. Here, the servers bring out the dishes whenever they can, meaning whatever is ready comes to your table when it’s ready. The problem with this is after waiting for your first dish, the next three might arrive almost together before you finish the first.
With your understanding that menus are changed daily, I’m offering some thoughts about tapas I’ve tried during recent visits.
Garlic-braised greens: One night the greens were all charred. Other times, it was kale or escarole. The sherry vinegar accent was perfect; noticeable but not overpowering. I thought the tomatoes should have been added later in the cooking process, as only the skins were evident. The flesh had been incorporated into the liquid with some walnuts and a dollop of Stilton added a nice accent.
The shrimp sautéed with garlic and sherry was fine. However, I wished the garlic and sherry were more pronounced. The deep-fried chicken wings were disappointing. The four wings were overcooked and dry, particularly the drumettes, while some of the skin was inedible.
The green harissa-braised lamb with lentils was tender. However, the presentation wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, as both the dark brown lamb slices and the dark brown lentils would have benefited from a colorful garnish separating the two. The lamb had quite a bit of skin attached and could have been trimmed better.
One night, I went with an old friend (she’s not really that old, we’ve just been friends for a long time) who expressed an intense interest in ordering the housemade cheesecake with gingerbread crust and berry sauce. The only way she would order it was if I agreed to share it. We both enjoyed it even though the crust was a bit soggy. The berry sauce, that evening, was composed of small blueberries, which made me think of Maine blueberries. It was so good I’m now diligently searching for another friend to “help.”
There is a wonderful assortment of wines by the glass and bottle with beer on tap, in cans, and in bottles. If you like the idea of a variety of wines, you might want to check out the many flights. They are more varied and more affordable.
Just A Taste is popular but has virtually no waiting area. People waiting for a table can be on the street, in the rain, or waiting for a call from the host on their cell phone. Reservations aren’t necessary except for special occasions.