Our last night in the Tampa Bay region we chose a fancier place and left Samuel with a sitter. CAFE PONTE (www.cafeponte.com) gets high Zagat ratings as well as an often number one spot in the local zines for fine dining. We arrived to be seated next to a family with two young children, and they were well behaved, I just guess that in this area, anything goes (shorts, kids, jeans, tank tops, etc) even in the "finest" of spots. This did not mar the fine food we had, so maybe next time we will bring Samuel.
The large dining room has cozy booths and tables and is spread out, with little decor of note. The curved open kitchen is easily seen and the bar is oddly placed right next to that. There is a glass enclosed free-standing wine cellar in the middle.
The chef proprietor is Christopher Ponte, but the menu lists his chef de cuisine as Anthony Bonanno, but we didn't really know who was in charge.
We started with a SCHRAMBERG BRUT ROSE North Coast, California which was dry, bubbly and had an intense strawberry taste; a fun treat on the day before New Year's Eve. An amazing amuse of MUSHROOM SOUP came loaded with Wild Mushrooms, Truffle Cream, a dash of Sherry and Mushroom Dust; a rich creamy concoction that would warm anyone on a chilly (58 degrees) Florida evening. The bread had garlic clove centered buns and superb focaccia; these came with humus with a candied walnut and "European" Butter.
The appetizers were both of the highest quality with my Serrano Ham wrapped PAN SEARED SEA SCALLOPS with Fresh Melon Salad over a Vanilla Bean Sauce only marred by the silly dish that caused my utensils to keep sliding into the sauce! Can't chefs understand that some of these pretty designer plates are just USELESS! Will's appetizer was a larger than entree size ASIAN CALAMARI with Fresh Spinach, Asian veggies (sprouts), toasted PEANUTS, CARAMEL SOY GLAZE (with peanut sauce) and Cilantro Aioli. It had a nice spicy bite and was as tender as could be...and did I say HUGE, so I helped him finish it.
We moved on to a tasty CLOUDY BAY CHARDONNAY 2004 from Marlborough in New Zealand that has no oak and works well with just about any dish. I had the DAY BOAT CATCH which was BLACK GROUPER soy-marinated with SUGAR SNAP Peas in a Spicy (which was not that spicy) TOMATO-GINGER Broth and Pea Shoots. It was yummy, but the fish was just slightly overcooked. Will fares much better with the YUKON POTATO Crusted CHILEAN SEA BASS (after the manager steered him away from the tempura fried Yellowtail Snapper) with Braised LEEKS and Sugar Snap Peas in a RED WINE SAUCE! It was divine and tasty!
We split the tasty RASPBERRY CREME BRULEE which was a VERVEINE TEA infused brulee with several raspberries on top...superbly crunchy top and creamy custard. I had a great cup of AFRICAN AUTUMN tea (my throat has been a bit sore) from HARVEY & SONS made from South African ROOIBOS. It was a tasty red tea with huge cranberry flavors. CAFE PONTE proved that fine dining is indeed fine in Clearwater.