Gilda's is a fine taste treat in Cortland
Thursday, July 03, 2008
By Yolanda Wright Contributing writer
- The Post-Standard

Dinner at Gilda's in Cortland is more than a meal: It's an adventure. Full of surprises from start to finish, the year-old restaurant cleverly mixes the past and present in a restored red-brick building with intriguing decor and remarkably fine food and service.

Chef-owner-restorer Chuck Masterpaul will tell you that the stylish lady in a photo on the restaurant's business cards and on each table is his mother, Gilda, in 1941, and "her name is pronounced with a soft 'G' as in 'gentle,' as Gilda was."

No stranger to the restaurant business, Masterpaul operated one for 27 years in Shaker Heights, Ohio, before returning to Cortland, his hometown, where he restored an 1880s building on Restaurant Row and opened it as Gilda's in June 2007.

The attractive red-brick dining room has simple green tablecloths with burgundy napkins, and walls are hung with vintage photos, mirrors and large square plaques made by the chef and artfully composed of wine corks and crates.

The one-page, front-and-back laminated menu offers 12 appetizers ($3.25 to $8.25), 12 entrees of steaks, chops and seafood ($12.95 to $23.95), served with a cup of soup or tossed salad and side of vegetable or starch.

Five pasta dishes ($7.95 and $9.95) include soup or salad, and six sandwiches ($6.75 to $9.50) arrive with lettuce, tomato, french fries or cole slaw.

A welcome basket of olive and herb bread from a nearby bakery and a bottle of Muscadet Domaine Haute Fevrie ($21) with a metal wine cooler were preludes to a terrific appetizer to share when we visited on a recent Friday evening.

Artichoke-crab dip with crostini ($7.50) arrived on a small platter with a generous, coarsely chopped mix of flavorful crabmeat and artichokes on a bed of lettuce. Hot, thin toasts were perfect partners for the creamy, well-seasoned dip with a hint of onion. When our friendly, efficient waitress realized we still had dip but no toasts, she insisted on toasting two more crostini and did it immediately.

A cup of first-rate New England seafood chowder, included with an entree, was hot, creamy and loaded with flavor without being floury. A house salad with spicy herb dressing on the side was simple and free from frills. Crisp lettuce, red-onion rings, cucumber slices and thin red pepper strips were enough, and the dressing had a good kick.

Entrees arrived made-to-order hot and straightforward. Sauteed Idaho trout ($14.95) was moist and tender, with roasted garlic and parsley butter gilding the snowy fish, and a simple lemon wedge adding a citrus contrast. Calico wild rice was a tasty companion.

One of the five steak offerings, three chargrilled medallions of beef tenderloin ($21.95) were a perfect medium-rare, as ordered, and topped with a rich sauce of roasted shallots in a Cabernet wine reduction. A side of broiled thin asparagus was a summery addition.

Other entree choices included a 9-ounce chargrilled top sirloin ($14.95), 12-ounce chargrilled pork chop ($15.95), two chargrilled lamb chops ($17.95), braised lamb shank ($17.95) sauteed chicken breast ($14.95), spinach fettuccine with grilled chicken, broccoli, garlic and feta cheese, spaghetti broccolini with clams and penne with sirloin and Italian sausage in the sauce ($9.75).

Desserts are made at the restaurant, and we sampled two ($4.75 each). A double chocolate raspberry square was built on thin layers of graham crackers, creamy chocolate, raspberries and what tasted like cheesecake filling. A topping of light chocolate was the climax with a garnish of whipped cream.

A slice of bete noir, garnished with fresh strawberries, was the ultimate rich indulgence for chocolate-lovers everywhere, and a grand finale for a memorable dinner.

Before we left the dining room to see the barroom's painted red tin ceiling and the chef's shelves of food and wine books against the rear wall, a rainbow in the sky over Restaurant Row drew diners of all ages to the sidewalk and inspired a lively child to high-five his father for the performance.

Gilda's accepts reservations, and curbside parking is plentiful.

Yolanda Wright's weekly Dining Out review is based on an unannounced, anonymous visit. Recent reviews are available at