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Within reach I don't know how this place escaped my attention for so long.

The last time I was here, it had a big sign "Video Ithaca", and the walls were lined with VHS video tapes. I'm setting the Way-Back machine again.

My business donates portrait sessions to worthy organizations including schools, fairs, some student organizations, alumni associations – you get the idea. Some of the very coolest people find their way in front of my camera this way, including Jamie Jensen the events coordinator and partner of Zaza's Cucina. She wondered why I hadn't experienced their restaurant and, well, it hadn't crossed my mind. I know it's a lousy excuse.

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So with our 42nd wedding anniversary coming up, I thought this would be a good occasion to see what the buzz is about.

The advertisements say, 'Upscale Italian'. I say, 'Bring it on!'

The menu has words I don't quite understand, but I can figure it out well enough. I can separate the veal from the scallops and salmon, and have a basic idea what's in store. What I did NOT expect was the way I was treated; like family.

Jamie greeted us warmly at the door, gave us an unhurried tour and led us to our corner table, surrounded by local art work. The restaurant feels warm and personable, but somehow special. The sunken dining area in the center is reminiscent of The Brown Derby. The sculpted fabric covering the center ceiling and pillars add to the feel of richness – while at the end is the open kitchen where the chefs perform their magic.

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Curtis Radcliffe, co-owner and chef, has created all the selections on the menu with his special expertise, and you can see him enjoying his craft while the rest of the patrons are immersed in quiet conversation. Our server, while being professional and absolutely competent, was open and engaging with a little bantering and suggestions. Attentive but not ever-present, he was just about perfect.

"The bread that accompanies each meal is house made Foccacia, created from their own sourdough starter and the accompanying olive oil infusion includes lemon zest, fresh basil and a touch of garlic." I'll admit – I got that from the web site. The taste was so remarkable that I needed to get it right.

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You will recognize certain foods – the Veal Parmigiana, Lasagna, NY Strip – then others sound familiar, but Curtis has added his own spin. The Ruby Beet salad's surprise was the pumpkin seeds that added an unexpected and tasty crunch to a dish that was already excellent. We shared the evening's special appetizer of scallops. The melody of flavors that caressed the tongue added to the natural flavor of the scallops.

Janet had the White Seafood Misto and I had the Shrimp Florentine. I think that the remarkable feature of all the edible creations at ZaZa's is that the centerpiece of each dish maintains its distinct personality, while the additions of spices, herbs, wines, cheeses and other secrets ENHANCE the flavor. And leave a little room for dessert.

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This was one of the nicest dining experiences we have had in years. No rush, superb service, flavors that stay with you, calling you back. We will be back, and maybe we won't even need a special occasion. The final tab including wine and tips was in the $130 range, well within reason and actually excellent for the superb experience we had.

ZaZa's also caters and hosts events. Contact Jamie Jensen using the handy form on their web site for your wedding, reunion or whatever celebration you have coming up.

You can make reservations right on the web site, or you can call ahead at 607-273-9292.

At the corner of Meadow St and Cascadilla St – right across from Purity, ZaZa's is truly within reach!

'Within Reach' highlights the food, wine and fun of places 'within Reach' of Lansing NY.  Of course, your reach extends exactly as far as you want it to. I am Monroe Payne, Uncle Monte to some. Come with me as I visit, taste and play in our own back yard, the beautiful Finger Lakes of Central New York.

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