The Pinnacle of Ponte (PHOTOS)

From his initial start in the Icot Center, in Clearwater, to expanding his brand in Hyde Park and South Tampa to his newest venture in Midtown Tampa, Chris Ponte’s journey has developed within the Tampa market as he continually builds roots with flagship dining concepts including Olivia’s, On Swann and now Bare Naked Kitchen. 

But the pinnacle of the Ponte restaurant family is the newly opened Ponte Tampa. This massive undertaking was more than three years in the making with every possible obstacle delaying the opening, from the COVID-19 pandemic to having to move the manhole cover in the outdoor space. However, the impressive 7,000-square-foot space with expansive 20-foot ceilings opened in 2022 with much anticipation for the next level of the posher dining experience.

From the moment you step into the inviting hostess area, your eyes are drawn to the statement chandeliers, soft-colored palate and the backlit, glass-framed wine locker room. Although the ceilings extend, for what seems like forever, the sound within the restaurant is subdued, allowing each table its private space and conversation. The modern luxury vibe, envisioned by designer Danice Doganiero and Ponte’s wife Michelle, exudes fine taste dining.

Running a restaurant of this magnitude takes a mighty team dedicated to the highest level of service with the vision to make it memorable for every guest. With more than 100 staff members, it takes several weeks of detailed training to establish excellence for Ponte. The program includes tasting and comprehending the dishes, and beverages, and spending time in the kitchen to understand the efforts, and operations, of the back of the house. Ponte’s philosophy is always to lead by example so he is ready to jump on the line as needed. 

Ponte’s stepsons, J.T. and Andy, bring forth new technology and advanced processes to Ponte and are instrumental in developing the checklists to ensure the experience is consistent, on a large-scale basis. As Ponte likes to tell his team, “All you have to be is a little better each day and we will get to where we want together.”

General Manager Doug Pazin introduced Ponte to chef Paul Morrison who has a deep passion for steak as evidenced by his tenure with Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse in Chicago. A 45-minute conversation about mashed potatoes, between Chris and Paul, sealed the deal that he is the perfect fit for the restaurant. The combined forces have the goal not to be just the best steak program in the Tampa Bay market, but to be the best in the country. Morrison’s passion for hand curating, drying and aging the meat, plus his knowledge to discuss details on the quality of cuts and the DNA behind the beef enhance the foundation to take the modern steakhouse concept nationwide.

Enough about the background of how Ponte came to be, let’s talk about how they are taking the dining experience to the Posher Palate. Ponte takes a fresh look at libations by offering nine cocktails in two forms—classic or modern. The Modern Cosmopolitan perfectly blends EG lavender and combined with a lavender injection topped with the most vibrant flowers, making it almost too pretty to drink. However, if that isn’t posh enough, the beverage to splurge on is Michelle’s Martini, as the elevated dirty martini is served with Sevruga caviar and blini.

The amuse bouche of Toro bluefin tuna, known as the wagyu of the sea, black truffle cream and ponzu teased the tongue while pleasing the palate. Toro, the fatty belly of the tuna, is a true delicacy. All the appetizers appeal to the finer taste including foie gras, oysters, escargot and Oscietra Royal caviar. The flakiness of the puff pastries for the escargot en croute soaks up the nduja garlic butter for perfect bites. The Parker House-style rolls, baked in-house, drizzled with honey and served with black truffle butter, sell out quickly. The salmon wagyu has a unique and delicious variety of textures with crispy fried rice, spicy uni aioli, salmon cake and kicked up with a jalapeno on top. 

The shining star of Ponte is the steak, and Morrison takes great pride in every step of the process from selecting the meat, aging it in-house and cutting it to perfection. The Kansas City strip, procured from Meat by Linz in Chicago, is USDA Prime and aged for 45 days. The sea salt on the steak is the only seasoning needed to bring out the nutty and earthy flavor of the beef; additional spices will dilute the magic the natural juices the steak creates. The New Bedford, Massachusetts, scallops sourced from Ponte’s hometown friend, are presented beautifully with a rainbow of cauliflower, prosciutto, sultanas and hazelnut-brown butter. Jumping to the desert, if you like carrot cake, this is a must-try for a unique take on the classic. The candied carrot cake and cream cheese brulee rests atop a lemony sauce, topped with ginger and walnuts, almost too pretty to eat, but worth every single bite.

Anyone that has been to a Ponte restaurant may notice there is no mention here of the mushroom soup that Ponte made legendary. As Ponte says, the people really dictate what the signature dish is based on the demand. What will the signature dish be for Ponte Tampa?  

[image_slider_no_space on_click=”prettyphoto” height=”300″ images=”23993,23992,23991,23990,23989,23988,23987,23986″]

You May Also Like

Flor Fina: A Culinary Gem in Ybor (PHOTOS)

When Tampa locals think of Ybor City, vivid images of the cigar industry, roosters roaming the streets and a lively nightlife often come to mind. While fine dining might not be the first association with this historically rich Cuban neighborhood, hidden culinary gems like Flor Fina offer an unforgettable experience, nestled within Hotel Haya.  Hotel

Exclusive: Sundial owner says the addition of Forbici will ‘elevate the experience’ of the property 

With the announcement of Forbici Modern Italian coming to Sundial, in St. Petersburg, the owners of Sundial, Paradise Ventures, say it could offer a major transformational use of the property for the benefit of the surrounding neighborhood and the city of St. Petersburg. Moving into the space previously occupied by Locale Market, Forbici will provide

Ladies’ brunch day at the Hard Rock (PHOTOS)

It’s a thing my group of friends loves to do, plan Sunday “Fun Days,” in which we let loose, enjoy a relaxed day and, it always starts with brunch.  There are plenty of fantastic places to enjoy brunch in the Tampa Bay area, but only one place that is conducive to brunch, a massage or

How the ‘A-Team’ at Next Level Brands found their niche

An attorney, a real estate investor and a serial restaurateur walk into a bar … no, this is not the opening of a joke, it’s the reality of the founders of Next Level Brands.  The founding team is made up of Joseph Guggino, an attorney and investor, Andrew Wright, founder, chief executive officer and managing

Other Posts

Collaboration restaurant Lona set to open in Tampa Marriott Water Street

Lona by Chef Richard Sandoval, a Fort Lauderdale-based Mexican restaurant, plans to open its newest location in Tampa, this month. It will open in the space formerly occupied by Garrison Tavern. With award-winning Chef Richard Sandoval and Chef Pablo Salas leading the culinary team, Lona’s arrival in Tampa marks a significant milestone for the restaurant

A Union well made (PHOTOS)

What happens when you blend the expertise of Jeff Gigante – a 20-plus year veteran of the dining and hospitality industry, Andrew Wright – chief executive officer of Franklin Street, a commercial real estate firm located in Tampa, and Joseph Guggino – a local lawyer and investor with an affinity to the restaurant industry? A

Melting Pot Social opens this week in downtown Tampa (PHOTOS)

Melting Pot Social, or MeltSO, opened its doors in the Ave Tampa Riverwalk apartment building, at 105 West Tyler Street. The menu is New American food and modern fondue, in addition to flambéed flatbreads, melted raclette and fondue burgers, handhelds, chef-curated entrées, and more, according to a statement. The menu also has create-your-own cheese and

Three Tampa restaurants earn coveted Stars from Michelin Guide

Three Tampa restaurants joined the ranks of Michelin-Starred eateries in Florida, as the 2023 edition of the Michelin Guide Miami, Orlando and Tampa was announced Thursday night at LoanDepot Park. Koya, Lilac and Rocca all received one star from Michelin. There were four Stars awarded in Florida, three of them in Tampa. Lilac received a