Name: Cortese Restaurant
Location: 117 Robinson St., Binghamton, NY 13904
Phone: (607) 723-6477
Price: $50+ for two for dinner
Cortese is one of Binghamton's longest-operating restaurants, a mainstay on Binghamton's East Side and a place well-loved by many. Their location on Robinson St. with not many other sit-down dining options nearby makes Cortese a popular spot for locals, and their tradition of excellence brings patrons through their doors from all over the Triple Cities and beyond.
It was just a matter of time until Megan and I got around to visiting Cortese for a review. We'd been there on two prior occasions. The first time, we went for pizza after hearing that it was the area's best. While pretty decent, it was nothing to get too excited about. On our second visit, we went in search of a good "surf & turf" meal and we ended up shelling out $90 for one of the worst meals we've ever had in a restaurant. Several things about the meal were positively disgusting, capped off by a seafood pasta entree I ordered that was literally swimming in salt water. Yuck. At the time, we swore the place off and promised never to speak its name again. Well, I reckon today was the dawn of a new era since we elected to give the restaurant another fair shot.
Cortese is a large restaurant with ample parking adjacent. Upon entering there's a dining area straight ahead, a bar room to the right, and yet another room beyond that. It's a cozy restaurant with candlelit tables and dark wooden decor. I am fond of the restaurant's appearance and find it to be somewhat similar to Endicott's Oaks Inn in that regard. Unfortunately for Cortese, that is where the comparisons end.
We arrived around 5:00 PM and were seated quickly and placed drink orders: for Megan, a glass of Riesling, for me, a pint of Smithwick's. The diverse menu features a wide array of Chicken, Veal, Pasta, Steak, and Seafood specialties. I elected to try the Chicken Soltimbocca [sic], featuring chicken breast sauteed in butter and garlic, topped with prosciutto and cheese, and served in a buttery sherry sauce. Entrees come with the standard soup or salad, choice of side (potato, rice, pasta), and complimentary bread and butter; I ordered the soup (ham and bean) and pasta. Megan went with the Chicken Parmigiana with salad and pasta.
The ham and bean soup was a fine start to the meal--nothing to write home about, but pretty good nonetheless with a generous quantity of beans and vegetables. Megan seemed reasonably happy with her salad. Both of us were eagerly awaiting our entrees in hopes of erasing the bad taste in our mouths (quite literally) from our last Cortese experience.
Soon enough, our entrees did arrive, and I can't say that the Chicken Soltimbocca was any good at all. A dried-out piece of chicken breast coated in a weird-tasting, greasy pit of garlicky butter, it was simply not good. Let it be said that this entree, when done well (such as at the aforementioned Oaks Inn), is one of my personal favorites. Here, I didn't care for it at all. It had a bitter, salty taste like that of soy sauce and lacked the velvety richness that other, better variants of the dish can have. Disappointing, and at $17.50, a ripoff. As if things couldn't get worse, the side of pasta was served in its own separate bowl and tasted like Spaghetti-O's. Epic fail.
On the plus side, Megan really liked her Chicken Parmigiana. She admired its crispy texture and enjoyed the red sauce on top. I tried a bite and would agree that it was pretty good and certainly better than what was on my plate. But in the end, I did not feel it was anything special, and certainly not worth the $16.25 they charge for a dish obtainable at other (better) restaurants for five fewer dollars.
In one last ditch effort to salvage some worth out of this meal, we opted to try dessert. Megan got the homemade strawberry cheesecake, while the Kentucky Bourbon Pecan Pie intrigued me. Served warm, the Pecan Pie was the first part of the meal that I truly enjoyed, with its slight hint of bourbon and soft crumb crust. Megan seemed to like the cheesecake well enough--at the very least, she devoured it with no complaints!
Service was a major plus at Cortese. Our waiter was an older gentleman who paced the meal nicely and who was a consummate professional in every way. Certainly this was not an experience without some positive attributes.
Ambiance and service may be solid components of what Cortese has to offer, but at the end of the day, I was once again greatly disappointed with the food. In an area full of quality Italian dining options, despite what the locals say, this is not one of the best places around and, in fact, I find it to be one of the worst. Our first two visits yielded feeble swings and misses. On the third visit there was little joy to be found on Binghamton's East Side: mighty Cortese has struck out.