Saturday, January 24, 2009

Fun Playing With A Birthday Dinner at Ponte Vecchio

While we were in Florida last week, I received an email from a friend asking us to join him in toasting his birthday at the Velvet Tango Room on Friday 1/23 around 9:30pm. We were delighted to say yes. We also assumed that he already had other, perhaps more intimate, dinner plans for his special day, and so we asked a mutual friend, who was also meeting us at the VTR, if he wanted to have dinner at Ty Fun in Tremont, which I've been wanting to try and just haven't gotten to. He was with the program, and we thought we were organized.

Friday afternoon, my cell phone rang. The Birthday Boy wanted to know if we would join him and his two friends for dinner at Ponte Vecchio. Brittany Smith, the general manager, had posted to the Cleveland Food & Wine Forum earlier that day, inviting Food Forum members to give the restaurant a try and receive a 15% discount, that day only. We hooked up with our planned dining companion, and switched the program to a birthday dinner at Ponte Vecchio.

I had heard mixed reports about this restaurant, but truthfully hadn't really made the effort to try it because I had no idea where it was. Turns out that the place sits at the end of a "street to nowhere" at the edge of Ohio City, which gives it spectacular views of Cleveland, even on a snowy, dreary winter night.

We walked in a little before 7pm, and learned that Happy Hour was still in session. What a delightful special - half priced drinks and a Happy Hour bar menu of items for less than $10 (most around $6). We settled down in the beautiful space and awaited the last two in our party. I especially enjoyed the Peartini, which was a clean, simple cocktail of Grey Goose Poire, Amaretto, and Simple Syrup with a touch of another flavor that is escaping me.

Here is a view of the open kitchen from the bar:

So, what is wrong with this picture? It was after 7pm on Friday and the restaurant was way underpopulated.

We moved to our table and perused the menu. Perhaps some explanation could be found here - the price points seemed a little high (entrees $24-$31, whole orders of pasta $19-22, and everything a la carte). In contrast, the by-the-glass wine was priced incredibly reasonably - I tasted a Big Tuscan that was nice (and $7) and thoroughly enjoyed the house Cabernet Sauvignon ($9).

Bread service came to the table after we placed our orders. We ordered an assortment of appetizers, salads, pastas and entrees, and a bunch of little plates to share tastes.

The bread was fresh and tasty:

Olive Oil, Vinegar, Seasonings

The dip was so tasty that it disappeared before the bread did!

Bruchetta with Tapenade

I had a taste of this and it was nice. But it seemed a little strange on its own on the menu, at $1/piece.

Soup of the Day

My brain has already lost what this soup was, but I recall tasting it and thinking it was very good. Edited to add - it was a bisque of some kind with crab meat in it. Perhaps someone can chime in with a comment and a better description.


I am not a big snail eater - and having just returned from Florida, anything served in Cleveland that started life in the water was bound to be disappointing. I thought it was kind of briny and tough - but please don't go by me, because I have seldom tasted this delicacy. The Birthday Boy liked them, and that was all that mattered.


This appetizer of dried beef, shaved Reggiano, lemon, basil and rosemary-infused olive oil was excellent.

House Salad

I had a small taste of this, and the dressing was lovely.

Taleggio Salad

This was another winner. Creamy cheese and sweet crispy nuts came together with dried cranberries and a lip-smacking Cranberry-Vanilla vinaigrette.

I was going to order the Taleggio Salad myself, until the server explained this "salad" offering, which I just had to have:

Eggplant Cannoli

Ok - a cute name for rolled stuffed eggplant. But know what? The execution of this dish was flawless - exquisitely creamy herbed marcarpone, spinach and prosciutto rolled up in slices of chilled eggplant and plated with greens and balsamic vinaigrette. Yum.

Stuffed Hot Peppers

This item came from the appetizer section of the menu - the gentleman who ordered it as his main also ordered the soup and the house salad. There was enough to share, and my taste was delicious.

Rigatoni with Prosciutto, Sun Dried Tomatoes, Reggiano, Cream Sauce and Peas

This half order ($10) was generously sized and very satisfying.

Lobster Ravioli in Sherry Butter Sauce With Truffle Oil

This was also a half-sized portion, but ample to provide tastes to all 5 of us, as well as to feed the person who ordered it.

Braised Beef Shortrib, Barolo, Sweet & Sour Savoy Cabbage, Pancetta & Roasted Potatoes

I enjoyed my taste of this dish, but Bob told me later that it lacked seasoning. This did not deter him from cleaning his plate (except for a couple of potatoes).

Gnocchi with Brussels Sprouts, Pancetta & Onions in Rosemary Cream Sauce

This was my entree (a "full" order), and even with sharing, I could not come close to cleaning my plate. I confess to being spoiled by the ethereal puffs of potato goodness I used to get from Chef Dominic Cerino at Carrie Cerino's - these were very good, but not quite as fluffy. The pancetta was top quality, and the brussels sprouts were very fresh and crisp - perhaps, a bit too crisp as I struggled to cut them with a regular dinner knife. The caramelized onions lent a nice touch to the creamy sauce, but I would have liked a little more sauce (silly American I). Overall, I enjoyed this dish and would recommend it.

After we had eaten, we asked our server if GM Brittany was in the house. We were delighted to meet her; she was happy that we had taken her up on her Food Forum offer. She asked if we wanted dessert, but we explained that we already had plans to drink our dessert at the VTR.

She sent this to the table anyway:

Creme Brulee

The Brulee was just right - crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. An unexpected sweet treat.

As a rule, I don't talk much about restaurant pricing on this blog, because I want to focus on the food. But there were only 3 tables occupied other than ours on a Friday night - and the food was certainly good enough that we Clevelanders should want Ponte Vecchio to stay a part of our dining scene.

On the one hand, a visit to Ponte Vecchio does not need to be expensive. The happy hour specials are generous, and one could make a nice dinner with a salad or appetizer and a half order of pasta for about $18-24 (we didn't look at the dessert menu, so I don't know what that would add). On the other hand, prices for full pastas and entrees, and some of the appetizers, are a little higher than most of the restaurants we frequent, so perhaps an adjustment there would motivate some traffic.

In any event, I can report that we had a marvelous time playing with the food and wine at Ponte Vecchio and I want to thank GM Brittany both for extending the Food Forum discount and for the tasty dessert.

1 comment:

  1. I just realized that I failed to describe the Birthday Boy's entree (probably because I didn't get a photo of it). He had Fettucine Tossed with Wild Boar Ragu - and my taste was divine! Tender, fresh pasta and assertive, but not overly gamey tasting meat in a tangy sauce.