Ponty: A French Bistro with African Roots

As Spring bathes us in warmth and light and a desire to walk, I find myself increasingly able and willing to leave my home downtown and traverse the streets above 14th. Located in the Gramercy area on 19th and 3rd, Ponty Bistro is an excellent reason to do just that.

Owing its namesake to an avenue in Senegal (a country in West Africa), Ponty was dreamed up by cousins and culinary duo Cisse and Chekh, who have cooked together since their formative years. Trained in the classical French tradition of cooking, the two aimed to imbue their dishes with their African roots through the addition of certain fruits, vegetables, spices, and other creative accents. After several years of success, the two expanded to a Harlem location with Chekh overseeing management and executive chef duties uptown.

Chef Cisse and his cousin, Chef Chekh

Chef Cisse and his cousin, Chef Chekh

Chef Cisse was actually a contestant on Season 3 of the Food Network reality show Chopped, and a finalist. His high placement in the competition is a testament to his creativity, improvisational skills, and ability to work well under pressure. On his home turf and free of TV’s limitations, Cisse’s artistry is even more evident!

We started off with a small taste of the Lobster Bisque in a tea cup. Despite only being a sample portion, there was plenty of lobster. Garnished with red caviar, it left a dazzling impression on me. Despite a saffron color and aroma, Chef Cisse tells me he whipped up the decadent, silky bisque with a simple blend of onions, celery, and carrots–known in more refined circles as a mirepoix. I feel that this one is a must order if you enjoy seafood. Lobster Bisque

Lobster Bisque

Next we had the artichoke and green bean salad. Dressed up with parmesan cheese and truffle vinaigrette, the greens were quite easy for me to devour. If you’re expecting something super healthy for your salad, you’ll probably find the huge amount of parmesan off putting, but it’s a deceptively light extravagance that rolls off the palette nicely.

Artichoke Salad with Shaved Parmesan

Artichoke Salad with Shaved Parmesan

Our first main course was the Saint Jaque du Che –  A Seared Sea Scallop with roasted beets and asparagus in orange marmalade sauce–a dish that seemed so colorful and creative, it might have been something crafted on Chopped! Like a splash of fruity sorbet, the citrus sauce cleansed the palette, allowing for even greater appreciation of the crispy and savory seafood. This dish exemplifies what sets Ponty aside from other bistros as it takes a French seafood staple and mixes it up with a kaleidoscope of fruit, color, and flavor from Africa. I was thrilled to taste one of these, though normally you get five per order.

This was definitely my favorite thing on the menu, and if a guy named Otter says the scallops are good, you know they are good!

Saint Jacque du Chef - Pan Seared Scallop

Saint Jacque du Chef – Pan Seared Scallop

The second main course was the Poulet Tagine (chicken cooked in an earthenware pot), the most African of the dishes that night. On a bed of sweet and filling couscous and served alongside celery, carrots, and onions, it was a spicy, hearty dish, and Cisse’s take on North African cuisine and curry. If aromatic spices and desert heat make you drool, this is definitely the dish for you.

Poulet Tagine

Poulet Tagine

The final main course was the L’onglet A Echalotte, a tender slab of hanger steak in a bordelaise (my sources tell me red wine and onion with bone marrow) sauce. It was an all-around charming and tasty French steak. The accompanying Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and sautéed greens also rounded out the rest of the dish nicely. Perfect for anybody craving standard French bistro faire or just a really juicy steak in a sweet wine sauce! Chef Cisse took that Bordeaux wine and glazed it into a pool of deep red velvet.

L'onglet A Echalotte

Anyone who watched Chef Cisse’s Chopped episode will know that the panel of judges was most blown away by his desserts, and I was impressed with the two he brought out for our table : A Creme Brûlée and a Tiramisu! Adorned with ripe strawberries, the desserts showed off Cisse’s talents as a pastry chef. The Tiramisu in particular was divine for me as it remained light and summery with only the tiniest trace of liqueur beneath the fresh clouds of cream.

Creme Brûlée and Tiramisu

Creme Brûlée and Tiramisu

In terms of drink offerings, there is a variety of global wines and other beverages, though it is Ponty’s unique martinis that seem to be the most popular with tropical accents like Lychee and Hibiscus!

Lychee Martini. As sweet as it sounds!

Lychee Martini. As sweet as it sounds!

Ponty Bistro is an excellent choice in a neighborhood known more for its luxury housing at the moment than its restaurant offerings. Whether you’re looking to pick up something Senegalese or fancy a more familiar French dish, it’s certainly deserving of a visit!

Ponty Bistro

Address: 218 3rd Avenue (Between 18th and 19th)

Website: http://www.pontybistro.com

Phone Number: (212) 777 1616

Hours: Lunch is from 11 AM to 4 PM from Mondays to Fridays, Dinner is every day from 4:30 PM to 11:30 PM, Brunch is 10 AM to 4 PM on weekends. Happy Hour is 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM and offers 2-for-1 Martinis.

Le Village: Liberty, Equality, Uh Gluten-Free?!

The mere thought of French food conjures up decadent dreams of heavy cream, warm pastry, and juicy duck confit for me, so naturally, I was surprised at the sound of a restaurant that achieves all this and more. Le Village is a French restaurant nestled within the East village that specializes in vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes while still catering to customers who appreciate hearty meat dishes. While there isn’t a selection of wine or drinks here, the restaurant is BYOB with no additional fee (limit one bottle of wine per two guests), a rarity for the area.

Le Village’s store front is tiny and unassuming, almost blending in with the rest of the quiet block. I’ll admit I almost missed it while walking down the street, but once inside, I found a culinary experience I enjoyed immensely.

Le Village’s owner, Chef Didier Pawlicki, served us a dazzling array of options with several French classics, some original creations, and even a few surprise courses.

In addition to Le Village, Chef Didier also runs two other French restaurants,  La Sirene and Taureau.

In addition to Le Village, Chef Didier also runs two other French restaurants, La Sirene and Taureau.

The French Onion Soup was a bubbling molten cauldron of Swiss cheese over a light vegetable broth. The cheese formed a beautiful golden-brown dome that bubbled over the soup itself. Despite the deluge of cheese, I did not find the dish too salty as the slightly sweet flavor of the onion broth balanced things wonderfully. In terms of texture and flavor, it was one of the best french onion soups I’ve ever tried, and a tremendous portion for an appetizer. Chef Didier also offers a gluten free version that swaps out the bread in the middle.

French Onion Soup (0cb)

French Onion Soup

Next, Chef Didier brought us a surprise course of Foie Gras au Torchon. It was a classically smooth and creamy pate complimented with sweet jam and honey over bread. At first the bread seemed a little fragile, but combined with the spread, it made for a rich, flavorful bite that literally melted in my mouth–a treat I won’t hesitate to order again.

Foie Gras Au Torchon

Foie Gras Au Torchon

The Beet Carpaccio Salad was a welcome vegan reprieve after its luxurious predecessors. I’ve never been very fond of beets, finding their sweetness unsettling in a vegetable. Yet dressed up with red wine-infused raisins and crunchy almonds, the course was a lot more tasty than I had expected.

Beet Carpaccio Salad

Beet Carpaccio Salad

Royan’s Ravioles a la Creme followed, the menu aptly describing them as “sensual.” Little fluffy pillows filled with Comte cheese (think Gruyere but stronger and sweeter) and herbs drenched in surprisingly light heavy cream and garnished with an earthy slice of black truffle, they embodied everything I adore about French cuisine, though I had never tried French ravioli before.

Royan's Ravioles a la Creme

Royan’s Ravioles a la Creme

My inner child has always despised Brussels Sprouts, but Chef Didier’s unique take on Brussels Sprouts pleasantly shocked me. Fried and glazed in balsamic vinegar to the point of caramelization and tossed with ripe strawberries, they tasted like morsels of candy rather than veggies, and I happily devoured them–definitely the first time I have ever done that with Brussels Sprouts.

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts

For our first main course, we sampled The Coq Au Vin, a traditional stew of chicken, red wine, bacon, mushrooms, and potatoes. The braised meat came off the bone cleanly, moist and tender soaking up the dark brown gravy. One of Le Village’s few dedicated meat dishes, it guarantees that carnivores won’t be left out.

Coq Au Vin

Coq Au Vin

The following main course was a vegan Cassoulet, a thick stew comprised of beans, potatoes, and a trio of mushrooms (Shiitake, Oyster, Portobello). The Portobello was smoked, almost giving it the texture and flavor of meat. Definitely a worthy alternative to the Coq Au Vin for vegetarians!

Cassoulet

Cassoulet

Continuing the trend of alternating vegan and non vegan dishes, we tasted the Gnocchi Parisian au Gratin, another creamy pasta dish with truffles. Slathered in a Mornay sauce and covered in swiss cheese, the gnocchi was like heavier the ravioli’s bulkier older sibling. Chef Didier has dubbed it “The French Mac and Cheese.”

Gnocchi Parisian au Gratin

Gnocchi Parisian au Gratin

Our last main was the Choux-Fleur Roti, a roast head of cauliflower served with sautéed greens and sweet potato over quinoa. By then I was close to stuffed so I took a small nibble of the cauliflower (which was gigantic). I really appreciated the quinoa which came with a zesty sauce of pureed red pepper.

Choux-Fleur Roti

Choux-Fleur Roti

For dessert, Chef Didier ambushed us with four homemade sweets: Banana Brûlée, Chocolate Cake with Whipped Cream and Ice cream, Apple Tart with Ice Cream, and Coconut Sorbet topped with Prunes. Of these, I enjoyed the Banana Brûlée the most. It added a sweeter, tropical twist to one of my favorite French desserts.

Banana Brûlée

Banana Brûlée

Chocolate Cake with Ice Cream and Whipped Cream

Chocolate Cake with Ice Cream and Whipped Cream

Apple Tart with Ice Cream

Apple Tart with Ice Cream

Coconut Sorbet with Prunes

Coconut Sorbet with Prunes

Ever since going to Europe, my cravings for French food have been intense, and at Le Village, I’ll happily gorge myself downtown with the peace of mind that what I’m eating is delicious, yet a little bit more healthy than other bistros.

Hours: Le Village is open from 5-10 PM on Sundays Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and 5-10:30 PM on Fridays and Saturdays.

Address: 127 East 7th Street, New York, NY

Website:  http://levillagenyc.com

Telephone: : 1-212-539-0231