A Couple of Hours in Italy

The New Portosole Restaurant is an Authentic Culinary Journey

Ask co-owner Lucio Zanon what makes his delightful new restaurant on Ponce special, in a city replete with fine Italian restaurants, and he will tell you that it’s about the experience. “This is Italian with a flair,” he says. “We try to create a synergy with the customers, so we clean and serve the branzino in front of them, we do panna cotta flambé tableside, we prepare the pasta in a pecorino wheel. Many things are done talking to the customer, so that we give them a couple of hours of Italian experience.”

It also helps that almost all of the staff is Italian, like Zanon. He is from Venice, but the restaurant is named after the marina of San Remo in Northwest Italy. It is on the Amalfi coast, and its fleet of fishing boats means the catch is daily. And while Portosole serves some excellent meat dishes, like its namesake, it leans decidedly toward fresh seafood.

Portosole co-owner Lucio Zanon and son /manager Sebastiano
Portosole co-owner Lucio Zanon and son/manager Sebastiano

For anyone who has dined in Italy, the food is based on an obsession with freshness and seasonality. This is evident at Portosole; its risotto del giorno – risotto of the day – is based on whatever is immediately available. On the night we visited, a shipment of chantarelle mushrooms had just come in from France, so we devoured a rich, delicious mushroom risotto.

Equally appetizing was the fresh burrata with heirloom tomatoes, a deceptively simple salad of tomato and burrata cheese that relies even more so on its ingredients. “It took me four months to find the right tomatoes,” says Zanon. “But now we have the beautiful red and tasty organic tomatoes.” And they are.

Portosole - A Couple of Hours in Italy
Burrata with heirloom tomatoes

Another outstanding appetizer is the fritto misto, a mixture of calamari, shrimp, filet of sole, tiny artichokes and zucchini, all lightly fried. It is a dish that comes from Zanon’s home city. “In Venice itself, the market for the fish is next to the market for the vegetables,” he says, explaining the mix. The test is the fried calamari, which so often is over-battered or soggy. Portosole’s is done perfectly – crisp and with just a dusting of powder – and served with a refreshing Italian tartar sauce.

A Couple of Hours in Italy
Ravioli stuffed with veal ossobuco topped with saffron pasta sauce

Portosole makes its own pasta daily, and several of these dishes are stellar. One must-try is their ravioli stuffed with veal ossobuco and topped with a light pasta sauce with saffron. The bite of the al dente pasta perfectly offsets the creamy reduction inside, with its savory flavor of slow cooked meat. Another is the linguine vongole e bottarga, pasta with clams and bottarga, a reddish powder of salted, cured fish roe that amps up the flavor of the olive oil, garlic and parsley. Or try their tonnarelli cacio e pepe, prepared tableside by tossing the hot pasta in a wheel of pecorino cheese. The pasta absorbs the rich flavor of the pecorino, with parmesan added for a kicker.

Portosole Linguine
Linguine vongole e bottarga

For main courses, Portosole does an excellent job with its lamb, veal and beef dishes, which can be served family style and shared. But seafood rules here, and among the stars is their branzino, flown in daily from Italian waters. They grill theirs perfectly, accompanied by a side of organic zucchini. They also do a daily seafood carpaccio which changes depending on what’s in the kitchen. On our night it was a smoked swordfish, both light and deeply piquant. We also tried a spectacular seafood ragu, with clams, shrimp, calamari, octopus and paccheri, a wide tube pasta from southern Italy that traps every morsel – and a good amount of sauce – with every bite. 

Portosole Filet of Branzino
Filet of Branzino with organic zucchini

The desserts are marvelous, including a panna cotta that tastes like flan gone to heaven, and a yogurt gelato with fig sauce, a sophisticated contrast of sweet and sour. But as impressive as the food is the ambiance and service. With one wall open to Ponce de Leon Boulevard, the inside feels airy and pandemic safe, and the array of subtle lighting, with candles and vintage sconce lightbulbs, is as romantic as the light jazz and samba background music. The service is also meticulous, as though the staff had been in place for decades, not months. All of it flows smoothly, presided over by the welcoming presence of Zanon, whose epicurean joy is contagious. You feel right at home, somewhere in Italy. 

Portosole - A Couple of Hours in Italy
White walls and subtle lighting create an airy feeling, with open doors on Ponce

2530 Ponce de Leon Blvd.