Note: Click here for a more recent review of F.illi Ponte.
For years, I’ve seen the huge, faded sign along the West Side Highway pointing the way to F.illi Ponte. The sign alone made me skeptical: if you need to toot your horn that loudly, maybe the smart money is going elsewhere. So although I work in the area, I was never motivated to give the place a try. A lunch invitation the other day finally brought me to F.illi Ponte.
The restaurant has been on this desolate edge of TriBeCa since 1967, a time when the area was still largely an abandoned warehouse and factory district. Recovery has come slowly to Debrosses Street. The immediately surrounding area still seems to be a land that Time forgot, although I don’t think this feeling will last long. Just a couple of blocks away, loft conversions proceed apace. The dining room is on the second story, offering nice views of the Hudson river, and less inviting views of still-abandoned warehouses, parking lots, and dilapidated piers. The dining room was about half-full for lunch, with a clearly up-scale crowd.
I went for the restaurant’s supposed signature entree: “Angry Lobster,” which takes its name apparently from the crushed red peppers and other spices in the mix. It is not ‘fra diavolo’, but just pleasantly spicy. I have never seen such a huge lobster, which seemed to weigh about eight pounds. It came on a rectangular plate around two feet long. I probably enjoyed this more than any lobster I have ever had, thanks to the dizzying array of spice flavors.
I was also reminded why I seldom order lobster: it is just too much hard work to tease the meat out of the creature’s crevices. My colleagues admired my industry, but I don’t like expending so much effort for my food. Even with the four utensils provided, it was difficult to get a grip on the recalcitrant claws, and I began to think that the name of the entree said more about the lobster’s revenge for the terrible end it had met.
The server announced a number of specials, including a vegetable soup, served hot or cold. Three of us ordered it cold, but the kitchen served us the hot version. The waiter rushed out a few moments later, profusely apologetic, but we decided to eat the soup as presented. We also weren’t offered soda refils, which I’d chalk up to inefficiency rather than policy.
F.illi Ponte carries two stars from the New York Times, and it’s not the place for a cheap date, with entrees ranging from $28-46. I didn’t ask what the lobster cost (it was shown on the menu as a market price item), but I’m sure it was above $40. Everyone at my table was pleased with his meal, and several had been there a number of times before, which suggests that F.illi Ponte is sending patrons home happy, even with an astronomical bill. I wouldn’t mind a trip back, but at these prices I’ll wait till another vendor invites me!
F.illi Ponte (39 Debrosses Street at West Street, TriBeCa)