Located in North County, Trattoria Ponte Vecchio brings authentic Northern Italian Cuisine to the San Diego area. This Trattoria, literally meaning 'eating house' in Italian, lies across from the Torrey Preserve where Owner and Chef Daniel Nobili shares his love of food and passion for quality service with diners. Creating genuine fare, sincere to the traditions of his native country, this Del Mar gem is making a name for itself in the fine dining community.
Just like any true neighborhood dining house, Trattoria Ponte Vecchio's understated style can be seen from the exterior as the establishment's sign is encased in leafy foliage and stunning shades of brown wooden beams, while green shrubbery and purple flowers adorn the quaint local eatery. A petite patio with colorful umbrellas greets guests before they enter the softly lit Trattoria, where the food is as wonderful as the patrons.
My guest and I are pleasantly greeted by the sounds of the Italian language as one of the two servers' calls to someone in the kitchen, then charmingly sees us to our seats. The restaurant has just opened; it is seemingly empty as we have arrived for an earlier dinner than usual. This eating house feels just like that: a home. The floors are carpeted, pictures and paintings ornament the walls, and wooden accents warm the dining room. The white table cloths are accentuated by cobalt colored water glasses and yellow and blue cloth napkins. The back wall is home to countless bottles of wine and a slit view into the kitchen, where Chef Nobili prepares fine Italian cuisine inspired by his native Milan.
His menu comes complete with Lunch and Dinner options, as well as Take Out and Catering selections. While the Lunch and Dinner menus are similar, they do have a Panini List for afternoon diners with sandwiches like the Panino Caprese and the Panino Prosciutto. As I sift through pages of Antipasti, Salads, Pasta, Pizza and Protein dishes, the elegantly bound menu has enough choices to make anyone hungry with words alone- especially when it includes the word, "home-made." The Gnocchi della Casa and Lasagna di Carne are just a few of the items Trattoria Ponte Vecchio prides itself on making in-house. The chicken is farm-fresh and the restaurant features a vegetable of the day to accompany poultry and veal dishes.
I have a chance to speak to Chef Nobili for a brief moment, taking a break from preparing the kitchen for the evening's diners to speak with us. Having attended culinary school in Italy, he came to California with long-established skills and an eye for interpretation. He says the clientele in Southern California is a bit different than in Milan and local culinary customs have altered some of the more authentic dishes he offers. Leaving the night's courses completely in the chef's hands, we wait for Paolo, our attentive server, to bring us his choice of wine. The wine list is packed with both red and white selections by the glass or bottle from Italy, New Zealand, Argentina, France, as well as a variety of California and Oregon wines. For a taste of California, try the Riesling from Gainey Vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley or a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Oberon Vineyard in Napa Valley.
Paolo brings a bottle of Tenuta di Castiglioni 2008 Toscana Frescobaldi, an authentic Tuscan blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and hints of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The wine is elegant and silky, making my mouth warm after the first sip with traces of fruits and spices. It is structured and harmonious, providing the right amount of depth to start off the dining experience.
Our antipasti arrives in perfect time as my dining partner and I begin discussing how hungry we are. An updated take on the traditional Caprese salad, our waiter sets down a plate bursting in color. The white, creamy fresh mozzarella sits perfectly atop a triangle of ripe tomatoes and basil leaves on a bed of prosciutto crudo, raw Parma ham. In true California style, two slices of smooth avocado join the color palate drizzled in an extra virgin olive oil dressing. The refreshing and crisp flavors of the tomatoes and basil are perfectly balanced with the coolness of the cheese as the avocado calms the bold basil taste.
The first pasta dish comes to us packed with creativity as the Linguine alle Vongole, or linguine with clams, is topped with two fried zucchini blossoms. The aromatic bowl of fresh Manila clams still in their shells has a subtle hint of the white wine sauce they were sauteed in, and the ground pepper we requested adds a bit of spice. The fried zucchini blossoms are crunchy and light leaving a semi-sweet aftertaste contrasting nicely with the seafood. The clams add a heartiness to the al dente pasta without being too filling as the second pasta dish comes to our table.
The beautifully orange Ravioli di Zucca al Burro e Salvia, ravioli stuffed with pumpkin in a butter and sage sauce, is sprinkled with shreds of parmesan and sage leaves. The warm pasta melts in my mouth with the help of the buttery sauce moving the flavor one step farther with the boldness of the herb. The saltiness of the cheese balances out the rich sweetness of the pumpkin, creating an appealing balance between salty and sweet with each bite I take. The attentive staff fills our water glasses before they have emptied, truly elevating the entire dining experience.
As Paolo approaches our table with the next course, my eyes light up as I see it is a pizza! It isn't just any old pie; it's Pizza al Prosciutto with Parma ham, parmigiano cheese, arugula and a dash of truffle oil. The toppings are perfectly portioned and appear as if each was individually placed. Every bite of the fluffy crust, thicker than the typical Italian pizza, has the exact amount of melted cheese and savory sauce my palate is craving. The freshness of the arugula leaves blend with the warmth of the ham, elevating the dish to one of my favorites so far.
Moving closer to our Del Mar setting, the next dish comes packed with an oceanic punch. The mussels and clams in a zesty tomato sauce is a variation of the Zuppa di Pesce that typically comes with calamari, shrimp and fresh fish. Topped with a grilled garlic breadstick adding texture to the dish, this seafood delight swims in a bowl of reviving garlicky tomato jus. Leaving my palate with an ocean aftertaste, the mussels are tender and the seafood bursts with flavor as the hints of subtle spice, tomato, and garlic have seeped into them. The dish is satisfying us as we move into the final dish before dessert.
To top off our main courses, Paolo brings out the Scaloppine alla Romana, thin slices of pork loin under prosciutto in a thick white wine and sage sauce. The slices of meat are adorned with two evenly sized cooked carrots and two grilled peppers (one red, one yellow) adding a hint of color to the plate. The salty prosciutto meets with the succulent sauce's depth of creamy flavors balancing the rustic richness of the pork, making this a truly hearty course.
Thinking that my meal could not get any better, a good-sized portion of Tiramisu topped with a giant sliced strawberry on a bed of cream sauce with a whimsical circle of chocolate sauce magically appears at our table. Dusted with cocoa powder, the cake is moist and smooth with a subtle coffee flavor that does not overpower the other flavors of the dessert. Luckily there is enough cream and chocolate sauce to dip the strawberry slices, synchronizing the richness of the cake to the lightness of the fruit-- the ideal ending to a seven course extravaganza.
Trattoria Ponte Vecchio does not fall short of providing their promised Fine Italian Cuisine as I leave the restaurant with a level of satisfaction few meals have supplied. The superior and thoughtful service combined with authentic and mouth-watering dishes truly elevate this eating house to a new level of the Italian dining experience. Home is where the stomach is, and I am leaving mine at Trattoria Ponte Vecchio.
Reservations are recommended, especially for large parties, because space is limited and the restaurant fills up quickly. Diners should give themselves a few minutes for parking as well, since the establishment shares its spots with neighboring businesses. Early evening and sunset are prime times to visit Trattoria Ponte Vecchio because of its cozy ambiance, perfect for a relaxed date!