Along Ithaca Commons, a three-block pedestrian-only stretch of the city’s downtown, amid the pipe and vape shop, used book store, rock and mineral outlet, and artisan cooperative, I came across the surprisingly urbane Mia Tapas Bar & Restaurant, a pan-Asian restaurant with a tempting menu of highly original culinary creations that sounded like it would attract customers who truly appreciate a fine meal. The dinner crowd inside seemed to verify my hunch, and with no tables available, I was escorted to a comfortable stool at the bar, opposite the exposed brick wall and the one long padded bench running behind tables for two along the entire length of the restaurant.
The owner/chef, a Thai native who, fortunately for everyone living in or visiting Ithaca, abandoned his career as a computer engineer at IBM to focus on his passion for food, opened Mia in 2011 in the heritage Plantation Building, which dates back to about 1853. Using locally sourced produce, sustainably harvested seafood, and meats free of hormones and antibiotics, Mia merges its ingredients into wonderfully original dishes that combine traditional cooking techniques from across Asia, including China, India, Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam, with a modern panache. The results will make you a lifelong customer.
Try This: You may want to start with a selection from the raw bar, but I went straight to the mushroom leek soup with sweet potato wakame noodles and soft tofu, along with some fresh naan. There’s a long list of entrées, but the tapas menu allows you to sample more dishes for half the price, including more than a dozen choices of salads, vegetables, and rolls and buns with interesting combinations. I was in the mood for something more substantial, however, and chose a fantastic duo: pan-seared tandoori quail with cilantro mint raita, and northern-style Indian chana dahl with spinach. The roast duck puffy pastry samosa, with tamarind-mango sauce and house chutney, would have been my next dish, if I didn’t already have my eye on the dessert menu and the outstanding cranberry and pistachio tart with a butter crust and vanilla ice cream.