The Lasagna at Ponte Vecchio: Enough Chances

At the end of last year, Katharine Shilcutt requested feedback from EOW readers. She wanted to know what you'd like to see more of in 2011. Two commenters, Kyle and Ash, indicated that they'd like to see more coverage on downtown eateries, with a focus on tunnel fare. As a fellow downtown worker-drone, and one who often has precious little time for a "lunch hour," I can understand the longing for reliable options within walking distance. So, to the tunnels!

This one's a bit of a stretch, since it's on the surface level rather than in the underground rabbit-warren itself. But it's easily reachable by subterranean routes. Plus, it's right outside my office at the corner of Smith and Dallas.

Ponte Vecchio opened back in 2008, and immediately intrigued me with its promise of well prepared, inexpensive Italian food just a short elevator ride away. The online menu (which no longer seems to exist) looked promising, with items like osso buco and braised lamb shank listed at extremely reasonable prices.

I checked the place out pretty soon after it opened. I didn't see either the $8 osso buco or the tantalizing lamb, so I ordered lasagna, thinking it would stand as a good litmus test for the overall quality of the food, testing the kitchen's ability with sauces, pasta, and managing multi-step cooking. I was less than impressed.

After quite some time, I recently decided to the lasagna another go. I had to wait 15 minutes or so for my steam-table lasagna. There was a placard for it in the serving line, but no food. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing, as it could have meant that I was getting the freshest possible product.

Unfortunately, when I got it back upstairs, the lasagna looked as grim as I'd remembered. The hefty dose of grated parmesan topping didn't inspire confidence, nor did the growing pool of oily-orange liquid forming around the base of the casserole.

The second warning sign came when my fork met with almost literally no resistance when cutting off a bite. I don't want my lasagna to require a knife, but I should need to exert a little pressure to get through it. That bite confirmed what I already knew - the noodles were overcooked to the point of mushiness, giving the whole dish a texture more akin to meaty custard than baked pasta.

Sadly, the taste was similarly unappetizing. It was so heavily over-salted that it was actually difficult to eat. Only sheer willpower and blinding hunger got me through it. It's a shame, too, because the flavor of the meat actually seemed like it was pretty good, under all that sodium. I'd say I need to go back again to find out, but I think I've given Ponte Vecchio's lasagna enough chances.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall