Ponte Vecchio (507 Dallas) recently opened in downtown Houston. In Italian, it is known as a tavola calda, or hot table, restaurant, where customers choose their meals from a variety of daily offerings at the counter, then bring them to the table themselves.
Florentine chef Dante Calzini, who since 1956 has owned and operated Dante's, the first Italian restaurant in Newcastle, England, runs Ponte Vecchio. How does he like Houston? "I think I'd like to go back to Italy," he says, "but I promised my brother-in-law that I would help him out and get his new business started for two or three years." Um, okay.
But he warmed up a little talking about his food. "Here we make my family recipes like lasagna and ravioli. Every day we do something different." To find out what, exactly, Calzini says to look online at www.alpontevecchio.com. There's chicken valdostana (topped with ham, cheese and tomato sauce), "chef's special chicken" (grilled with olive oil, rosemary and garlic), osso buco and braised lamb shank. A recent visit to the place found a comfortable, cafeteria-style establishment serving hot and fresh food.
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Calzini also offers an extensive catering menu, but he doesn't plan to offer dinner, so if you want to try his cooking, you'll have to go for lunch. It's a pity to offer such good food only at lunch, since Houston downtown could certainly do with a good dose of Italian food for dinner. -- Paul Galvani