The former lounge of Ponti Seafood Grill in Fremont is now Café Ponti, launched in April. It's a lower-cost, informal dining alternative attached to the swanky restaurant with a menu that features seafood.

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The new Café Ponti looks suspiciously like the former lounge of the fancy Ponti Seafood Grill in Fremont.

In fact, it is.

The launch of Café Ponti in April was not so much a grand opening as it was a grand renaming — meant to signal to the budget-conscious that a full, cheaper dinner menu is now served in the bar area.

It’s what Ray’s Café is to Ray’s Boathouse or Sambar is to Le Gourmand — a lower-cost, informal dining alternative attached to its swanky restaurant.

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The menu: It highlights seafood, done with pan-Asian and Mediterranean touches, and includes salmon quesadillas and Dungeness crab lumpia. Most entrees and shared plates range from $10 to $14, with bar snacks (pommes frites with sweet fennel salt and garlic aioli; Walla Walla onion rings) under $5. Pizzas and duck confit will be added starting today. Owner Richard Malia will also experiment with other lower-cost food items in coming weeks.

What to write home about: Its juicy bacon cheeseburger with fries is a good deal during happy hour ($7). For dinner, focus on seafood. The prawns in the linguine were meaty and juicy, marrying nicely with fresh basil, garlic and diced tomatoes. The seafood Thai curry penne, with generous chunks of Dungeness crab meat, was cooked al dente and had a nice bite.

What to skip: The salty olives overwhelmed the zesty, herbal flavors in the grilled marinated calamari.

The setting: The space, with new bar tables, is more casual than the formal dining room on the other side of the glass window. The cafe also gets prime real estate, with five tables outside overlooking the Ship Canal. During off-peak dining hours, more outdoor seating is available for Café Ponti customers.

Summing up: Café Ponti offers an informal and approachable menu, with nothing costing more than $15. Our total bill for two entrees, two shared plates and two sodas came to $42. And good, fresh seafood is even a better deal if you go during its extended happy hour: 4-6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.-closing daily.

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or

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