Rating:Two and a half forks out of four
Where: 3101 N. Rock Road, 316-425-5269
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays, when a brunch buffet is served.
Type of food: Mediterranean
Alcohol: Full bar
You could work up an appetite just thinking about the twists and turns that led to the opening of Il Ponte, a new Mediterranean restaurant at 3101 N. Rock Road.
It opened in October in the space that had housed an east-side Le Monde for about nine months (and Nouvelle Cafe before that). Business partners Imad Youssef and Mohamad Krichati (who still owns Le Monde Cafe & Deli at 602 N. West St.) had opened the east-side Le Monde together, but their partnership quickly fell apart.
Youssef changed up the menu, spruced up the interior and opened the restaurant with a new name — Il Ponte, which means “the bridge.”
ON THE MENU: The restaurant’s menu features familiar Mediterranean dishes, from hummus to schwarma, plus several other sandwiches, salads, pastas and seafood specials.
It also features dishes that are staples on the Le Monde menu, from the fabulous dill pickle-spiked fattoush to the sweet-and-crumbly complimentary biscuits.
Il Ponte’s strengths are its presentation (every dish is beautiful and meticulously assembled) and its friendly, attentive service.
DON’T-MISS DISHES: Our experiences at Il Ponte were better when we stuck to the traditional Mediterranean fare, such as fattoush salad, hummus and kebabs.
One of the best dishes we sampled was the beef kafta kebab ($9.95), which featured four log-shaped servings of aromatic, spiced and marinated beef. It was beautifully served on a white square plate with a side of hummus and triangular soft pita arranged in a star-shape.
The plate also included chopped tomatoes and a large serving of fattoush salad, which is another of Il Ponte’s strengths. Both the fattoush and the Il Ponte salad, made with spinach, lettuce greens, tomatoes, onions, olives and sliced hard-boiled eggs and topped with a tangy balsamic dressing, were fresh, crisp and delicious.
We also enjoyed a reasonably priced and beautiful vegetarian plate, which was listed with the appetizers but would also make a nice meal for a lighter appetite. The plate, which cost $6.95, featured an sampling of hummus, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, stuffed grape leaves, feta cheese, olives, pita chips and bread. The hummus and the grape leaves were the highlight of that plate.
When we strayed from the traditional Mediterranean dishes, though, our experience was mixed.
We were seduced into ordering the Saturday-night special — a gorgeously presented lobster tail that passed by our table on the way to another diner. The kitchen removed the meat and rested it on top of the lobster tail shell, making for a dramatic and lovely plate. But the lobster itself was skimpy and a bit rubbery, a disappoitnment at $21.95.
The idea of a second special — a seafood vol au vent — also drew us in. It was $16.95 and featured a combination of shrimp, scallops, crab meat and salmon cooked in a tomato-based sauce and served over puff pastry. It would have been better without the salmon, whose fishy flavor drowned out the shellfish and overwhelmed the dish.
We did enjoy a pasta called aglio e olio ($6.95), which featured angel hair mixed with mushroom, tomato, onions and artichokes and a garlic olive oil sauce. It was topped with cheese, and for an extra $4.95, we got it topped with a large serving of grilled jumbo shrimp.
The Cuban sandwich was one of the better Cubans we’ve had in Wichita. Served on soft ciabatta bread and stuffed with roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, Dijon mustard and pickles, it was $6.95 and came with a generous fattoush salad on the side.
AMBIENCE: The remodeled space includes classy tile, tasteful decor and upscale-looking booths, tables and chairs. Natural light floods the restaurant during the day, and dim lighting makes it feel special in the evening.
PRICE RANGE: Affordable. Entrees average $11. Sandwiches and salads average $7.50.
SERVICE: Professional, welcoming and efficient.