Celebrity Chef Scott Conant & Freddy Vargas – The Ponte

When Terrine closed last year, Stephane Bombet of Bombet Hospitality Group talked to Scott Conant about helping him change his classic French-inspired restaurant into a contemporary Italian one. Bombet knew Conant from Scarpetta at the Montage Beverly Hills. This celebrity chef attracted foodies from all over to order his iconic $24 spaghetti with tomato and basil.
Conant and Bombet named the new restaurant The Ponte, inspired by the tight-knit Italian community, nicknamed “Pontes,” who live in the neighborhood where Conant was born and raised in Waterbury, Connecticut.

Conant now has multiple restaurants in New York, Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix and Los Angeles. He and Bombet lured Freddy Vargas from Georgie Restaurant in Beverly Hills to be the executive chef. Conant and Vargas met in New York and have worked together since 2008, first at Scarpetta in New York, then Beverly Hills and at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach.

IMG_5352When I received an invite to experience brunch at The Ponte last weekend, I immediately accepted. Parking in the back valet lot, my husband and I walked through the patio filled with green and yellow umbrellas to the reception stand and were greeted by Yuri Maldonado, the lovely and charming assistant manager.

Giving us a choice of sitting outside under the 50-plus-year-old tree draped with twinkle lights or inside near the glass and metal doors, we selected sitting inside at a curved booth with olive brushed-velvet upholstery. Rome-born, Parisian designer Marc Ange of Bloom Room Studio provides a retro spirit of Italy with warm woods, soft lighting with gold sea urchin spike chandeliers, gold and green velvet accents and a granite bar near the entrance. It’s slightly formal inside with white linen tablecloths. The ceiling and walls color are painted black, offering a warm and cozy feel. Also new are the 70s style wood and lattice privacy half walls, breaking the dining room into two sections.

We sipped housemade bitter lemon tonics to get started, as Yuri excitedly told us that when the restaurant first opened Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr sat in the same corner table with Joe Walsh from the Eagles and Vince Gill.

IMG_5360On the menu, pastas include braised duck agnolotti, ricotta gnudi with morels and Conant’s iconic pasta al pomodoro. It’s only $22 here.

Listening to an eclectic array of music that ranges from Dean Martin to Tom Petty, I looked at the toasts on the menu. They have the requisite avocado, and a ricotta toast, but the most interesting is a roasted trout mixed with creme fraiche layered on a thick, grilled crostini with tiny spheres of pickled cucumber and radish with bright red edges, chopped dill and dotted with capers. It’s an elegant alternative to an open faced tuna sandwich.

IMG_5364For something sweet we selected the French toast, and were pleasantly surprised. It’s made with thick slices of challah from Schwartz Bakery, the oldest kosher bakery in Los Angeles. What also makes this different from others is its citrus curd glaze, sprinkling of chopped hazelnuts and dollop of fresh whipped cream.

For an egg dish, I chose the baked egg on a layer of polenta with a tangy puttanesca sauce. It’s served in a shirred egg casserole dish. The best way to eat this is to spoon the egg with polenta and sauce onto one of the two pieces of grilled ciabatta bread that accompany the dish. This allows the ethereal sauce to seep into the air pockets and crevices of the bread.

IMG_5362Ryan Wainwright from Terrine is still the director of bar programs, and the all-Italian wine list is curated by sommelier Rosemary Walker. She does a good job pairing wines with dishes.

Sadly my chef crush Conant was not in Los Angeles the day I dined, however chef Freddy Vargas approached our table as we finished. He told me he was inspired to be a chef because of Emeril Lagasse.

I was very impressed with the flavors and creativity of the dishes presented at The Ponte. I’ll be back for dinner, hopefully on a night when Conant is in the kitchen so I can swoon all over again. $$ Dinner hours are 6 to 10p.m., Sunday through Thursday. The restaurant stays open until 11:30 p.m., on Friday and Saturday. Weekend brunch begins at 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday.

8265 Beverly Blvd. (323)746-5130.

This review was featured in the Beverly Press – http://beverlypress.com/2017/07/contemporary-italian-at-the-ponte/

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