By Keith Hadad
It isn’t often that you find a place that has a healthy combination of both the formal and the casual, but WildFire is a rare exception. The lounge and restaurant may be new, but I’m sure many would agree that they will soon become thriving Ithaca favorites.
Once you walk into the dining room, it becomes evident that the building is a stress-free environment. There is a laidback vibe, from the decor, to the muted lighting, down to the colored napkins and tables. WildFire is very loose and relaxing, especially upstairs in the lounge area (complete with bar, couches and large cushions), yet it also has a formal side. The dining area is a great place to take your date or to have a business dinner while enjoying the refined ambiance.
The feeling of a casual, home-cooked meal is counteracted by a creative, more complex twist that one might expect at an expensive metropolitan restaurant. One such entrée was the butternut squash ravioli. Butternut squash is typically very sweet and soft; it’s comforting and one of my favorite vegetables, so I had to try this meal. It was a remarkably pretty entrée, with the pasta lying in the middle and the herbs and carrots strewn about with the sauce. On top of that, the smell of the dish was great enough that one wouldn’t care what it looked like. The ravioli were rather sweet, with the natural sugar in the squash complementing the cinnamon and savory white sauce. Also in this dish were what I originally had thought to be dark russet noodles; upon tasting them, it became clear that they were actually thinly sliced carrots cooked down to a soft, juicy texture. The butternut squash ravioli has a great flavor overall—I would suggest it to anyone.
If you eat with a group of friends that has a mix of diets, WildFire is the place to go. They have meat dishes and options for vegans and vegetarians. The dishes that are safe for vegans are actually good enough to keep any omnivore happy. For example, one great-looking dish that anyone could enjoy is the smoked sage apple vegan sausage. Meat substitute or not, that sounds damned tasty.
On the other hand, their meat dishes aren’t so bad either. My friend and fellow fan of gastronomy ordered the fried chicken, which included mashed potatoes and green beans. Nothing says home cooking and comfort food like chicken and mashed potatoes. The dish looked like a plate of fried chicken you would see at any other restaurant; however, upon first taste, the blast of flavor from a mélange of spices and herbs mingling with the meat certainly lets you know it’s a far cry from anything served by Colonel Sanders.
These main dishes were decently priced, around $14 each. That may sound like a lot, but the portion size and the high-quality food justify the cost. Even the appetizers were worth every cent. Out of the mouth-watering options, I chose the mussels in white wine broth and diced tomatoes. For $8, you get enough mussels to easily feed two people. Mussels are a funny food; black oblong shellfish with bulbous meat inside—it’s uncannily similar to something from a David Lynch film. Yet, cooked right, they can be amazing. The flavor isn’t very fishy, but has a unique, slightly salty taste—like clams, but better—and WildFire’s broth is delicious. Only $8? Very much worth it.
For a decent price, one could have a nice evening at WildFire, sitting near the large windows as the calm Ithaca life passes by, with some of the best comfort food available that isn’t cooked by one’s own grandmother.
The experience doesn’t end at the food. Upstairs in the lounge, concerts are held regularly, as well as movie nights, poetry readings, science talks and much more. One new addition to their weekly events is Lost nights. That’s right: All of you aficionados of the now-legendary J.J. Abrams show have a great place to gather and watch it on a large screen with other fans. Do yourself a favor and head on down to one of Ithaca’s best places to eat and chill for a night.
Keith Hadad is a freshman cinema and photography major who only goes to the dining halls when he’s broke. Or drunk. E-mail him at email@example.com.