Ponte, A Bridge to Italy
I love Italian food, especially during the winter months, when only a steamy risotto or thinly layered lasagna will do. Of course, good Italian food can be just as appealing in the summer, with beautiful cold cuts of ham, sweet pitted olives, beef carpaccio, and light kinds of pasta. For those that appreciate authentic plates of Italian, it’s time to firmly say “No!” to the stodgy, creamy messes some proprietors want to call ‘real’ Italian food in this great city of Beijing, and transport yourself to a little town, that sits on a hill, surrounded by vineyards – that’ll be the newly opened Ponte.
There has been a clear Italian heavyweight among the city’s limited selection of options, evidenced in kitchens all across Beijing that have amassed stockpiles of white bowls adorned with lemons and apples. So there’s no better time than now to try out Annie’s new swankier sister venture. An evening at Ponte is promised to be “ Your Bridge to Italy”, and it delivers.
Hidden obscurely on the ground floor of what looks like an abandoned shopping mall, behind a Paris Baguette, red neon lighting will lead you to an Art Deco-style Italian deli, restaurant, and bar. Smartly dressed servers greet you at the door, ready to escort you to your seat. The service immediately screams five stars, in an unpretentious fashion that gives it a “local” charm rather than a generic fine-dining feel.
Knowledgeable staff started service with a smile and their names, and in offering drinks, made several recommendations of aperitifs, cocktails, and wine; I settled for the Negroni. I make these all the time at home and swear by my own generous pours of gin and Campari, confident that my homemade versions couldn’t be beaten. I was wrong. Beautifully presented (a drink is only as good as the glass its served in) and balanced, the Negroni was a winner.
Chef Marco designed a five-course set menu and from start to finish, there were elements of true surprise and innovation. We were served White Pizza with San Daniele Ham as a welcome snack. Chef Marco explained that this ham should not be confused with Parma ham (most Italian hams are named after their region), but that this ham is sweeter, as San Daniele sits up high on a hill, where the grass is literally ‘greener’. At first, I thought this might be a bit of a biased spiel, (like the ones about corn-fed chickens), but the layered ham sitting atop of perfectly thin and crispy oven-baked pizza, seasoned with fresh rosemary and olive oil, was sweet and salty with a meatier texture than its inferior cousin from Parma. Although not on the menu, this dish can be sampled by ordering the cold cuts plate from their Deli counter.
Beef Carpaccio with black truffle (RMB 68) followed. Extremely finely sliced beef was melt-in-the-mouth and literally came apart when handled with a fork. This is how Carpaccio should be served; however, a sprinkle of rock salt with a little pepper would have lifted this plate to even higher planes.
The Roasted Salmon with mixed vegetables and orange mayonnaise (RMB 108) was flaky and well cooked. I would never have thought to pair salmon with anything orange flavored, but the combination worked, and in fact, was easily one of my favorite pairings of the night. The dish was well presented and if you have any of the complimentary house bread left, wipe your plate clean!
The next course, for me, was one of the best dishes I have had the pleasure of eating at an Italian restaurant. Chef Marco’s take on the classic carbonara flavors is quite genius and oh so delicious. The Handmade Egg Yolk-Filled Ravioli in Cream and Bacon Sauce (RMB 59), was a deconstructed version of the carbonara (don’t let me lose you with the word deconstructed) and was honestly heavenly. Out of perfectly thinly-rolled ravioli, spilled gorgeous egg yolk, surrounded by a delicate and light sauce, and crispy bacon on the side. Yum.
The Black Truffle Risotto (RMB 128) was a close runner-up to this dish, packing a punch with heavy notes of truffle and black pepper, beautifully held together with a creamy Taleggio cheese fondue and a crispy Parmesan tuiles.
The Grilled Cod Fish with Orange and Carrot Puree (278) was pleasant, the fish cooked well with a crisp layer of skin. The dish would work quite well without the segments of orange and a less sweet finish on the puree. The Milanese style beef filet with rucola, pine nuts, and mustard sauce (RMB 208), potentially would have been my go-to dish on an evening for the main course, had the perfectly seared and cooked beef filet not been smothered in breadcrumbs.
For dessert, yes you guessed it: Tiramisu (RMB 78) must always be the closing dish to any authentic Italian meal. Light, creamy, dusted with cocoa and finished off with caramel almond crisps, this was the best way to end what was genuinely a lovely evening.
At Ponte, expect excellent service, Italian cuisine that by far exceeds other local fare, and awesome offerings like their Italian Aperitivo evenings from 6pm-8pm, every Friday and Saturday, where guests can enjoy free-flow wine and draft beer with imported cheeses and cold cuts for the whoppingly value for money price of RMB 89 (will increase to RMB 99 as of February). My family happen to live across the road, and so this haunt is bound to become a regular date-night spot for hubby and me.
Ponte also has a casual space for breakfast; special offers include breakfast sets that start from RMB 29. Check out the Deli and their extensive range of imported cheese, cured meats, Italian extra virgin olive oil, and freshly baked bread.
106, Bldg 15, Zone 1, 6 East Fourth Ring Road North, Chaoyang District (10 6501 2934) 朝阳区东四环北路6号1区15号楼106号
Photos: Nicole Bonnah