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.

Take off with Flight!

Braving the harsh January cold, I attended a press dinner at Flight, a fairly new gastropub on the Upper East Side. After my last four months in London, I wasn’t sure if pub food was something I was wanting, but Flight’s eclectic menu alleviated that concern. Named after its various meat, seafood, and beverage sampler “flights”, Flight is an interesting and welcome addition to a neighborhood not particularly known for its dining options.

The restaurant’s atmosphere is much classier than your average pub with hanging lights and pictures of winged creatures and machines in keeping with the theme. Patrons have several seating options, including a full-service bar and a dedicated dining area, though it is the glass enclosed sidewalk café that will catch most diners’ attention.

FlightCafe

There are so many restaurants out there that think a dash of soy sauce or a hint of ginger makes a dish Asian, but Flight really utilizes its eastern culinary inspirations in a meaningful way. Hailing from India, Chef Golam has decades of experience with both Indian and Thai dishes that really shine!

We started off with the mussels. Chef Golam immediately demonstrated his flair for reinventing standard pub grub with this dish as he served it in a curry sauce. The mussels themselves were succulent and flavorful with the curry forming a fiery broth that warmed me up and sustained me for the rest of the meal, drawing me out of my winter hibernation. Golam even garnished the mussels with butternut squash, leveling out the heat with a little bit of sweetness.

Mussels in Thai Curry Sauce

Mussels in Thai Curry Sauce

Next, we were served a taste of the Thai meatball, made with a blend turkey and beef and served in a sweet chili sauce. It was a tender, delicious appetizer that cleansed the palette nicely. The dish was further accented with crispy fried onions for a little extra crunch and a great deal of flavor with a hint of lemongrass.

That Meat Ball

That Meat Ball

The fish and chips were solid and fairly standard. I found the chips a little too salted, but the fish, which was flaky and battered without an excess of grease was more enjoyable than any incarnation of the dish I had tasted in London.

Fish and Chips

Fish and Chips

My favorite dish by far was the Shepherd’s pie. Like the fish and chips, there wasn’t anything distinctly Thai added to it, but it was flawless in execution and a perfectly done pub staple. The vegetables were sautéed and flavorful with ample pieces of meat and a light, savory gravy beneath a bubbling, breaded dome. It was a take on the dish that could almost be likened to a classic bread-crumbed macaroni and cheese.

Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd’s Pie

Flight Shepherd's Pie Interior

Shepherd’s Pie Interior

For our last main course, Chef Golam presented us with his Thai Style Coconut Curry Chicken, served with mushrooms, herbs, and basmati rice. It utilized a similar peppery base to the mussels though not nearly as spicy—most likely a product of the coconut and something I very much enjoyed given my sensitive taste buds.

Coconut Curry Chicken

Coconut Curry Chicken

Dessert came with the Homemade Brownie with Vanilla Ice Cream in Chocolate Sauce, an enjoyable dessert prepared in-house. After so many hearty meat and seafood courses, the last thing I had been expecting was a homemade pastry treat from Golam.

Homemade Brownie with Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce

Homemade Brownie with Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce

In terms of drink offerings, Dermot Kelly, the restaurant’s owner and beverage director has cultivated an extensive selection of international wines, spirits, cocktails, and craft beers. He also promises to bring in live jazz music to entertain diners in the immediate future.

Happy Hour Comes with $5 on any Bar Appetizer, Select Draft Beers, House Wines, and Well Drinks!

Happy Hour Comes with $5 on any Bar Appetizer, Select Draft Beers, House Wines, and Well Drinks!

In all honesty, I’m not in the area too often, but the next time I find myself looking for a meal in the Upper East, Flight will definitely be somewhere I’m thrilled to revisit. Comfort food is rarely found in such a classy venue and never in the presence of fun Thai flavors!

Flight

Address: 1479 York Avenue (Between 78th & 79th Streets)

Website: www.flightnewyorkcity.com

Phone Number: (212) 988-5153

Hours

  • Lunch from 11:30 AM to 4:30 PM from Mondays to Fridays.
  • Dinner from 3:30 PM to 11:00 PM from Sundays through Wednesdays. 3:30 PM to 1:00 AM on Thursdays through Saturdays.
  • Brunch from 11:30 AM to 3:30 PM on Saturdays and Sundays
  • Happy Hour is 4 PM to 7 PM from Monday to Friday, 10 PM to 11 PM on Fridays and Saturdays.