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.

History and Haggis at Incognito Bistro

Located on West 18th Street Between 5th and 6th Avenues, Incognito Bistro brings Italy and Scotland a short walk away from Union Square!

At a Glance

“I think I’ll have the risotto with some haggis to start!”— Words that I never foresaw myself saying! Dining in New York always inspires revolutionary cultures and tastes, but Incognito Bistro really sets a new standard, combining classic Italian favorites with delicious Scottish twists. Scottish-Italian owners Chef Paolo Montana and his wife, Adriana Moretti, who also acts as the restaurant’s hostess, have clearly succeeded in bringing their dual heritage to life just minutes away from Union Square and Gramercy in Manhattan’s Flatiron District.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, but trained in traditional Roman cuisine, Chef Paolo makes sure to stock his kitchen and menu with all the classic Italian staples. Regardless of national origin, however, every dish sings a different ballad of flavors.

The Food 

The meal started with the Anchovie and Black Olive Pizza, a dish that managed to be sweet, savory, and sour all at the same time as the overpowering saltiness of the fish found harmony with garden vegetables and fresh mozzarella. Next came the second starter, a refreshing Tuna Tartar, which combined succulent fish with a mix of summer fruits. The Green Pea Soup, a velvety silt of verdant cream, rounded out the starting courses.

Anchovie and Black Olive Pizza

Anchovie and Black Olive Pizza

Tuna Tartar

Tuna Tartar

Green Pea Soup

Green Pea Soup

For me, the highlight of the meal could be found within the resolutely ethnic courses. Before Incognito, I had never thought I would try Haggis, a classic Scottish pudding of sheep meat and occasionally organs. Composed of tender lamb sausage and turnips over a bed of creamy potatoes soaked in whisky jus, Incognito’s variant had me hooked! The preparation and presentation brought something akin to a shepherd’s pie that eliminated any fears or doubts regarding such an exotic delicacy.

The Highland Haggis, a "national" treasure.

The Highland Haggis, a “national” treasure

Incognito continued to impress me with its pasta courses of which I sampled three: the San Paolo spaghetti drizzled with garlic and olive oil and topped with clams and pancetta (tender Italian bacon made from pork belly), a classic lasagna packed with meat, and mushroom risotto with porcini and truffle mushrooms.  Every single pasta dish was al dente as well as flavorful in its own way, but the risotto deserves special mention.

To my delight, Incognito carries through on all of its promises—the truffles were authentic and Italian in every possible way. The blast of earthy flavor coupled with lighter, sweeter hues of wine-infused broth created the most extraordinary of risottos!

Risotto with Truffles and Porcini Mushrooms and Spaghetti in Garlic and Olive Oil with Clams, Pancetta, and Chili Peppers

Risotto with Truffles and Porcini Mushrooms and San Paolo Spaghetti in Garlic and Olive Oil with Clams, Pancetta, and Chili Peppers

Classic Meat Lasagna in a Bechamel sauce of flour and butter.

Classic Meat Lasagna in a Bechamel Sauce of Flour and Butter

Additionally, for the allergic or health-conscious, Incognito also offers gluten-free and whole-wheat pasta alternatives on their menu.

Always generous, Chef Paolo allowed us to try both the Lemon Sole Fillet and Fillet Mignon for our main course. Topped with crispy breadcrumbs and a lemony white wine sauce over whipped potatoes, the Sole disappeared with a crunch as it melted in my mouth. The Fillet Mignon on the other hand was something to sit back and enjoy. Each bite presented a juicy, tender cut of meat. A combination of pepper corns, cognac, and cream made every bite a literal explosion of flavor. These classic entrees proved just as tasty as the appetizers and ethnic eats.

Sole Fish with bread crumbs, white wine, and lemon on a bed of mashed potatoes

Fillet of Sole  with Bread crumbs, White Wine, and Lemon on a Bed of Mashed Potatoes

Fillet Mignon with Black Pepper Corns, Cognac, and Cream.

Fillet Mignon with Black Pepper Corns, Cognac, and Cream

If you’re thinking that I was completely stuffed after the first six or so courses, you’re correct, but Adriana insisted that we enjoy dessert, and after the first look and a bite, I made room. Our five dessert plate consisted of Coppa Scosseze, a Scotland-influenced mix of Ice Cream, Marscapone, and Butterscotch, Tiramisu, Panna Cotta, Cheesecake, and Chocolate Torte. All I can recommend is that you try them all at some point. Among other things, Chef Paolo also excels at ice cream, pastries, berry compotes, sauces, and chocolate.

Dessert Platter with Coppa Scozzese, Panna Cotta,  Cheesecake, Chocolate Torte, Tiramisu.

Dessert Platter with Coppa Scozzese, Panna Cotta, Cheesecake, Chocolate Torte, Tiramisu

The Atmosphere

Throughout our meal, and in between a rainbow of fine European wines, the whimsical Adriana entertained us with stories of Incognito’s crowning accomplishments. The restaurant has been certified as authentically Italian by culinary authorities from Italy. Its décor consists of original art and painted columns by a descendant of the Pre-Raphaelite Albert Moore. In terms of fashion, Incognito’s entire staff is even decked out with the first-recognized, official Scottish-Italian tartan, Clan Italia. Additionally on Tuesday nights, Incognito features live jazz music.

Incognito's Elegant Dining Room

Incognito’s Elegant Dining Room

View of the Bar

View of the Bar

All in all, Incognito Bistro brought my tastebuds and my heart a much-needed European vacation. Chef Paolo and Adriana have truly outdone themselves with creating an authentic, yet innovative dining experience. If you love Italian food, do yourself a favor and pay this establishment a visit, though be sure to try the Scottish offerings as well.

Be sure to send my regards to Chef Paolo and Adrianna. Their restaurant is a cultural and culinary gem.

Be sure to send my regards to Chef Paolo and Adriana when you visit!

Incognito Bistro
30 West 18th Street
(Between Fifth & Sixth Avenues)
New York, NY 10011
Website: incognitobistro.com
Open Monday to Saturday and closed on Sundays
Lunch is available from 11:30 to 4:00 and Dinner is on from 4:00 to 10:30 (11:00 on Saturdays). Happy hour is from 11:00 AM to 10:30 PM. All major credit cards accepted.

Incognito Bistro’s Dinner Menu