Entries in F.illi Ponte (2)


F.illi Ponte


This week, I dined at F.illi Ponte for the first time in over three years. It was a business dinner, and I wasn’t focused on reviewing, but I felt it would be worth recording my impression.

A bit of history is in order. In 1967, Ponte’s steakhouse opened in what was then a remote corner of TriBeCa. The restaurant needed signs visible from the West Side Highway to lure diners, who must have felt a bit brave about even venturing into the neighborhood. A colleague mentioned the other night that, twenty years ago, he could have had a condo in the area for $90,000. Today, it would cost millions.

In the mid-1990s, the grandson of the original owner remodeled the space, stripping down the walls to reveal the original brick, and installing broad picture windows facing the Hudson. Rechristened F.illi Ponte (meaning “Ponte Brothers”), in 1995, it won an enthusiastic two stars from Ruth Reichl in the Times. But by 2002, Eric Asimov served up a double-demotion to “Satisfactory,” noting that the restaurant was “coasting.” I rated it at 1½ stars on my last visit.

filliponte_bar.jpgThe last time I came this way, most of the old warehouses nearby were in the process of being converted to condos. Most of those conversions are now completed. Though the surrounding streets still don’t get much foot traffic, F.illi Ponte no longer feels like it’s in no-man’s land. The neighborhood has caught up to the restaurant.

The space is on two levels, but a bar on the ground floor seems to be unused, except for special events. I noted a large display of pumpkins, then went upstairs to the main bar area, which is large and comfortable, with plush sofas that could be a friend’s living room.


After drinks, our party of eight moved to the dining room, which is beautifully appointed, with spectacular Hudson River views at night. The staff suggested a selection of appetizers and pastas served family-style. Their choices were mostly old-school, but updated for the season. A pumpkin ravioli was the highlight, but old standards like a plump searee scallop, or tomato salad with mozzarella, were executed perfectly.

A salmon entrée came with a crunchy herb crust, but the sauce pooled on the side wasn’t quite enough to compensate for a fish that was slightly dry. That error may have been an anomaly, though, as I heard no other complaints at the table.

With all entrées at $30 and up, pastas at $25 and up, the cost of dinner at F.illi Ponte can mount rapidly. There are some bargains on the wine list, though—at least in relative terms. I found a great 2001 Barolo at $100 a bottle. In many Italian restaurants, you can’t touch the Barolos for less than $150.

Service was excellent, but with the dining room well under half full on a Tuesday evening, the staff were able to give us their full attention. There were none of the service glitches that I noted on my earlier visit, or that Asimov noted in his 2002 re-review.

F.illi Ponte isn’t one of the city’s pathbreaking Italian restaurants, but it won’t disappoint you either, and it offers one of the best views in the city.

F.illi Ponte (39 Debrosses Street at West Street, TriBeCa)

Service: **½
Ambiance: ***
Overall: **


F.illi Ponte

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)

Food: *½
Service: *½
Ambiance: **
Overall: *½