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ITHACA, NY — If you’re looking for a break from the usual festivities on Christmas Eve, you’re sure to find it at Gola Osteria’s Feast of the Seven Fishes tasting menu.

Gola will offer a limited menu of their regular offerings, but the main event will be a multi-course tasting menu.

“It’s going to be a lot of food, and an experience. We want people to make the reservations to be able to have their table for most of the night, because we want them to be able to sit, relax and eat all seven, eight or nine courses,” said Chef Sam Epps.

The menu isn’t finalized yet, and may change due to seafood availability, but diners can expect a combination of fancy and familiar, and certainly a full evening affair.

For the smaller appetite, each course will also be offered a la carte.

Reflecting a typical Catholic abstention from meat until Christmas Day, many Italian-Americans have instead traditionally dug into platter after platter of seafood before midnight mass.

“I think the Italian-American version always consisted of fried calamari, fried smelt, baccala (salt cod). My grandma would most years do a baccala salad and do fried baccala, which I love,” Epps said.

On Gola’s menu, baccala appears as an appetizer “mantecato”, or “whipped.” It’s blended together with potatoes, heavy cream and extra virgin olive oil; the end result is much like a deli whitefish salad. In the current iteration of the menu, Italian tuna-stuffed piquillo peppers, and octopus salad will follow.

Long Island fluke will be presented as crudo, (raw, almost sushi-style) dressed with daikon radishes, salmon roe and mint oil. And then, two pasta courses.

Chef Sam Epps preps a pan of seppia sauteed with oven-dried tomatoes and habanero oil. Photo by Jennifer Wholey.

When we visited the kitchen, Chef Epps gave us a preview of the black spaghetti with seppia. Seppia is like squid in both flavor and texture, but the seppia or cuttlefish is a much larger animal. (It’s also where the color sepia originates, and what turns Gola’s pasta inky black.)

Chef Sam Epps lifts al dente black spaghetti out of the pot. Photo by Jennifer Wholey.

The seppia is cooked with garlic and oven-dried tomatoes in habanero oil and finally topped with grated bottarga (dried, cured striped mullet.)

The plated seppia. Photo by Jennifer Wholey.

“This is kind of light, in olive oil base, then we go into garganelli, which is super luxurious, just to kind of round out the meal,” Epps said. The garganelli was a huge hit at last year’s seafood tasting menu.

Chef Sam Epps shave some American bottarga on top of the finishes dish. Photo by Jennifer Wholey.

Almost like a homemade penne, the garganelli will be prepared with butter-poached lobster, truffle butter and burrata cheese.

Caccuicco, similar to cioppino, will be the final dish.

“This is going to be swordfish, like really nice, meaty pieces of swordfish cooked in a tomato broth that we’ll actually make with the bodies of the lobsters from the previous course,” Epps said.

Baby clams and mussels will top a crunchy piece of garlic toast at the bottom of the bowl.

Desserts options will likely comprise struffoli, zeppoli, spumoni and pannetone.

Other December goings on

“This is my favorite month of the year for being a restaurant person,” said Epps.

“People always talk about how everyone is always so stressed out during the holidays and everyone acts crazy, my experience working in the restaurants is that actually people seem more relaxed when they come in to eat dinner.”

There’s still time to get your holiday party catered off-site by Gola (think homey Italian specialties like sausage and peppers, and baked manicotti), or have Gola host a family-style prix-fixe party in-house.

Additionally, for the remainder of December Gola will host a new late night menu.

“For the last hour that we’re open, we’re going to do a throwback meal and you can get a big bowl of spaghetti with Sunday sauce and meatballs for $10,” Epps said.

The pasta bowl is available from 9 – 10 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursdays, and 10 – 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Gola’s bar room.

For New Years Eve, Gola will transform into an old-school steakhouse for the night, complete with roasted prime rib, raw oysters and table-side Caesar salad.

The restaurant will be closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, as well as the first two weeks in January: Chef Epps is headed to Italy, for food research.

“We’re going to fly to Rome and travel south, so the Amalfi coast, Calabria and Sicily. I’m going to be revved up by the time I get back here,” Epps said.

Gola Osteria

115 South Quarry Street, Ithaca, NY |14850 | (607) 273-0333 Enjoy our unique and expansive dinner menu, our well-curated Italian and Finger Lakes wine list, and a rotating selection of both inventive and...