The waiter may tell you that the house specialty is the veal saltimbocca, or perhaps the Zeoli raviolis, stuffed with goat cheese and red peppers, but what Pomodoros serves up best is comfort – provided you’re comfortable with loosening your belt at the table.
The restaurant is the brainchild of proprietor Tommy Tsiros, son of a Greek immigrant turned North Carolina restaurateur. Throughout every facet of the operation, he strives to evoke the warmth of the Mediterranean. The interior is intimately yet well lit, with cozy booths, warm colors and tasteful decor. The menu reflects the sun-drenched regions of Greece and Italy, focusing on coastal Italian cuisine, with its bounty of seafood, and touching on the feta-worshiping, lemon-squeezing areas of Grecian cuisine. Most of the dishes are the sort that instill comfort and familiarity, in a decidedly belly-busting, brink of food-coma kind of way.
Many of the featured items are rich, to say the least. There’s a white pizza with a ricotta and Parmesan béchamel sauce that’s finished with mozzarella cheese, no less. Cream sauces abound in the pastas, and cheese is well-represented throughout the menu – in a four-cheese lasagna, for example, or in the Parmesan crust for a beef tenderloin.
There are items for the dainty of stomach, mind you, and side vegetables are served up notably fresh and cooked in a manner – short cooking times and mild seasoning – that preserves their true character. The salads are full of crunchy vegetables and dressed lightly, and the cheese – present in four out of the five salads – is applied sparingly.
The service is attentive and knowledgeable without being cloying, exhibiting a clear willingness to please. On a recent visit, I ordered a cup of soup for a pick-me-up as soon as we sat down; it arrived in the time it took for our server to bring us our water – mere moments.
The soup, a roasted red pepper and artichoke bisque, was, as were many of the items we tried, quite rich. It was spiked with copious amounts of dairy, and slightly heavy, but had a delicious flavor, especially given the roasted garlic pureed within.
My companion and I ordered two appetizers: a sesame-encrusted tuna carpaccio and the calamari fritta. The tuna was beautifully presented in a swirl of color; the deep red flesh of the thinly sliced meat was set off beautifully by the soy-lime dressed, technicolor slaw, an orange-colored infused oil – perhaps paprika oil – and a green wasabi aioli. Though the fusion concept was a bit overwrought, the overall effect was delicious. The tuna was perfectly prepared, tender and fresh.
The calamari, however, had issues. The calamari is indeed fried, but it’s tossed in a sweet balsamic marinade and topped with diced tomatoes and banana peppers. The appetizer’s sweetness reminded us of a slightly bizarre “shaved” calamari dish we’d tried at an impossibly trendy Atlanta restaurant called Two Urban Licks – a dish we’d nicknamed “powdered squid surprise.” The sliced banana peppers that topped Pomodoros’ version were most likely meant to offset the sweetness, but it didn’t really work. While I admired the concept behind the dish, the execution fell short; the squid was soggy but tough, the batter not salty or flavorful enough to compete with the sweet dressing. C’est la vie.
We ordered the Caesar and Greek salads, and both were successful. The Caesar was appropriately prepared and tasty, the Greek chock full of crisp baby spinach, a bit of chopped romaine and the usual accompaniments, all of which were notably fresh. The Greek dressing was a touch too sweet for my Picky Companion’s taste, but I was satisfied with it.
Entrees were met with basic satisfaction, but no true rave reviews. The scallops alla carbonara were perhaps the best of the three dishes we ordered. Vermicelli pasta was tossed with garlic, shallots, sweet peas, bacon and shallots in a surprisingly light cream sauce. The applewood-smoked bacon imparted a subtle smokiness to the sauce, giving a bit more substance to the flavor. The scallops were cooked perfectly, in my opinion (“too overdone” was Picky’s predictable assessment).
From the specials list, I ordered a pork tenderloin, which sounded excellent in theory but was marred by too many mistakes. Marinated in espresso, the pork had a good flavor to it, but it was too dry, perhaps due to insufficient resting of the meat. Both the mashed potatoes and spinach accompanying the dish suffered from the flavor of singed garlic, though the spinach was otherwise good and tenderly cooked.
Picky declared the rib eye his favorite of all three items – though he called it overcooked in the same breath. Though his asparagus was properly cooked, it was somewhat woody at the end – some peeling or trimming was definitely called for. A Chianti demi-glace was rich and flavorful, and made more so by the crowning addition of Gorgonzola.
For dessert, I ordered the tiramisu and cappuccino. Pomodoros makes a fine cappuccino with the appropriate ratio of ingredients: equal parts milk, espresso and foam. The tiramisu – sliced about the size of a small brick – was very good, too. It was not too creamy or sweet and was well-balanced overall, but leaned a little heavy on a mysterious almond flavor. Nevertheless, I ended up consuming more than half of it. Suddenly, my clothes felt very tight.
At Pomodoros, bellies can be filled quite well for a reasonable cost, and the menu, at the risk of sounding clichéd, has something for everyone. The restaurant is a comfortable spot, and seems to be a crowd pleaser, judging by the nearly full dining room on a Tuesday. There are few things that please a wider range of people than does comfort – and Pomodoros isn’t short on that.