Having read several positive reviews here and elsewhere of Cafe Ponte, we decided to try it for a celebratory dinner. Although some dishes were good, the meal was a disappointing experience overall.
None of the entree selections excited us too much, and so we decided to build three courses out of appetizers ($9-14 each) and one entree ($28). We began with a lobster chowder--something between a bisque and a chowder it turned out, heavy with cream, but rich and satisfying, if also unexciting--and what was billed as a heirloom tomato salad with burrata. The burrata (a fresh, soft mozzarella) was outstanding, probably the best part of the whole meal. It was perched on a thick slice of red tomato that didn't seem especially heirloom, some shreds of roasted red pepper, and a piece of eggplant. On the edge of the dish were some chunks of yellow tomato (quite good, possibly heirloom, better than what one finds in the market these days) and a few supermarket grape tomatoes.
Our next course was a slice of seared fois gras--quite good, although the accompaniments (e.g. an apple chip that the server preciously had to place on top of the dish when he brought it to the table because it had fallen from its perch) didn't add much--and oysters baked with bacon, cream, and corn. The topping for this dish was heavy, gloppy, and overwhelmed the poor oysters buried underneath. Furthermore, the kitchen hadn't taken the basic step of severing the oyster from the shell, which made eating them quite difficult. We left this dish unfinished; when the server asked why, we told him we didn't like it very much, but that didn't produce much of a response.
Finally, we decided to share the main course of osso bucco with porcini risotto. We had asked the server if the kitchen would split the dish for us, but he said they would not, but would bring us an extra plate. I know it's a bit extra work to divide a dish, but considering the prices (and we were there on a quiet weeknight), we felt they could have been more accommodating. In any case, it didn't much matter. The osso bucco was dry, tough, and flavorless. The shank, usually filled with rich marrow, was dry and empty. And the risotto was a gummy paste--so much so that my dinner partner, having forgotten what the menu had promised, thought for a while that it was bad mashed potatoes.
For right or wrong, I don't usually say anything if I don't like a dish at a restaurant--just give the waiter a polite nod and leave it at that. But after picking at this dish unhappily for a while, we decided we couldn't even pretend it was acceptable. So, after some time (what had been someover overbearing service until this point somehow evaporated, and we were left alone just when someone should have asked us how were were doing), our server comes over to see if we are finished. He sees we haven't eaten much and asks if anything was wrong, and we tell him our thoughts. "But you should have called me over earlier," he says (but where was he?), then goes on to tell us how he recommends this dish to many customers. Well, I don't think my expectations were too high--we weren't expecting to be transported to Milan or anything--but a basic tender osso bucco and al dente risotto shouldn't be too much to ask for $28. Then to be treated like we were wrong to criticize the dish!
We tried to recover our good humor with a chocolate tasting dessert which, along with the burrata, was the best part of the meal.
There were other aspects of the service that were odd bordering on unpleasant (e.g. consistently pointing to higher priced wines on the wine list than the ones I was asking about), but it's really the basic quality of the food (or lack thereof) that ruined the meal. Nor was there even the slightest effort, when it was clear we weren't enjoying some of the dishes, to address the issue.
Since there's nothing special about the location (a strip mall), I can't think of any reason to go back.
So: we've decided to give ourselves a mulligan on the celebration. Any suggestions? Am going to look into Sidebern's.