A Little Bit Country
By Ashley Bennett
There’s a fine line between great dining in the “city” and “countryside,” especially in the Inland Empire. When you’re searching for the best city dining, your best bets are paying a visit to that mom-and-pop joint down the street that’s been happily serving you for years. You’re probably on a first name basis with them. As for the best dining in the “countryside”—wait, is this a trick question? Does the Inland Empire really have a “countryside”? Well if you’ve been living under a rock like I have then you might not know that Temecula is home to many wineries and quite a lovely landscape that can indeed be deemed as the IE’s very own “country.” As for dining, you might find the perfect place to explore this countryside by checking out the Restaurant at Ponte.
On a calm and overcast day I drove passed winery after winery, watching the landscape quickly open up before me. Previously surrounded by typical shopping centers and nondescript surface streets, the scenery quickly took on a drastic change. Winding roads curved around the growing number of vineyards. Suddenly I felt like I was in France. Suddenly I felt the mood of the romance come over me and suddenly . . . I was very hungry to try some food that matched my feelings.
Wine aficionados will be giddy to find the Ponte Winery’s “Tasting Room” stocked to the brim with many different wines available for tasting daily. The Ponte Winery is renowned for many of its wines, especially the Juliet and Beverino. Just through the Tasting Room is a small outdoor area that offers a cozy dining experience. Fine dining may be intimidating at times (that is, if you’re worried about posh and stuck up individuals), but Temecula is still borderline Inland Empire and a majority of us are anything but consistent “country” goers. Rest assured you will be served by helpful individuals whether you’re in your most casual or nicest attire.
As for food, there were a few starters that seemed worthy of reviewing, but the Cheese Trio had an unrivaled sweetness: a few slices of firm imported cheese, thinly sliced apples, candied pecans and bread all surrounded a golden, generous amount of Temecula Honey. Each piece of the platter had its own unique taste; a satisfying representative of the fall season of food. The sweet and sticky goop however made a pretty sweet masterpiece. I’ll admit I felt a bit out of place at first when I decided to clumsily partake in this trio while invoking my limited knowledge of etiquette. In the most polite way possible I ate each piece with honey and the rest is history.
My ever-faithful dining partner wanted to try the Rock Shrimp Pizza which may not be the most ideal dish to choose at a winery, but turned out to be quite a treat. This pizza featured a nice amount of fresh and sizzling cheeses, diced sundried tomatoes, juicy shrimp, and was topped off with fresh herbs making for about six pieces of delectable gourmet pie. The complete opposite those greasy cheap pizzas you’ve had in the past, nothing else will satiate your future cravings.
Lunch time gave me a craving for a sandwich and this was the perfect place to choose one. Being only a week from Thanksgiving I think using the word “cornucopia” for the ingredients of my Italian Baguette to be impeccably on target. What I really mean is that the sandwich had so many different toppings I wasn’t even sure what I was tasting at first. I kid you not, there were five different meats that layered the sandwich (capicola, salami, sopressata, mortadella and prosciutto) along with a few slices of provolone cheese. This meat was the sandwich’s centerpiece but there was quite a kick with the added pepperoncinis, red chili flakes and spicy mustard.
The Ponte Winery gives you every incentive to take a day off from work and just relax in the calming atmosphere created by healthy plants, wine and great food. The restaurant offers a wide variety of unique dishes to satisfy anyone’s desire for fine dining, and you should best be prepared for a lovely experience of the senses.
Restaurant at Ponte, 35053 Rancho California Rd., Temecula, (951) 252-1770; www.pontewinery.com. Mon-Thurs, 11AM-4PM; Fri-Sat, 11AM-8PM; Sun, 11AM-5PM. AE, D, M, V.