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.

The Stand: A Comedy Club Where The Food is No Laughing Matter

When most people picture comedy clubs, good food is not what comes to their minds. Indeed, many prospective patrons may fear or resent the obligatory dining that accompanies many venues these days—fare which consists of little better than flat, overpriced drinks and dehydration-inducing, microwaved finger food. Fortunately, The Stand proves that enjoying both is totally feasible.

Atmosphere

Located in a section of Gramercy that is still deciding if it wants to be commercial or residential, The Stand looks fairly unassuming. Its glass-door exterior and neon light letters give it the appearance of a typical, small bar or club. However, it manages to make the most of its space. A staircase leads to the downstairs comedy club section. On the upstairs restaurant floor one finds plenty of seating room. To the left, one finds polished wooden tables with seating on either a plush-leather sofa or mahogany chairs. To the right, lies the equally cozy bar.  Engraved tin ceilings and a full-length, horizontal mirror add high-class charm to a casual dining space that is intimate, yet never seems too crowded.

The wait-staff consists of hip twenty-somethings that are well suited to engaging with people of any age, but are especially adept at making conversation with college kids. My waiter consistently refilled my water and asked me how I liked things. At The Stand, I felt like a new addition to a new, energetic group of friends. In general, everything felt laidback and fun.

The Food 

The food leans a little on the pricey side for the average twenty-something (pretty standard for the neighborhood), but the quality and innovativeness of the menu more than make up for the cost. It is important to clarify that The Stand features two menus—one with main courses for upstairs and one solely with appetizers downstairs. I recommend getting dinner upstairs before heading down.

After hearing several other customers call for order after order of them, I started with the Cheeseburger Dumplings for my appetizer. They come four to a plate on a bed of greens along with the delicious house sauce. The portion was deceptively small as I found high-quality beef and tons of cheese inside every bite. By the time I had finished, I felt as if I had eaten a medium-sized cheeseburger.

Cheese Burger Dumplings

Cheese Burger Dumplings

Made from a secret blend of condiments and a surprising ingredient (both of which I promised the hostess I wouldn’t reveal), the savory yet sweet and sour house sauce provided the perfect dipping opportunity for the dumplings and an excellent dressing for the greens.

Continuing to sample the menu’s most popular items, I tried the Truffle Mac ‘N’ Cheese—a side dish that I found as satiating as most main courses.  Baked in a large bowl and doused with enough truffle essence to perfume the air around me, it is an excellent value and can work as an appetizer to split or an entree.

Truffle Mac 'N' Cheese

Truffle Mac ‘N’ Cheese

Based on my waiter’s recommendation, I ordered the Pepper Crusted Seared Tuna for my main course.  I was presented with a very generous helping of sliced and seasoned tuna and a second well-dressed salad with a rich, creamy aioli sauce. The dish very much lived up to the menu’s claim of “sushi grade yellowfin!” Crackling and spicy on the sides, but succulent all-around, the tuna managed to exhibit excellent steak-like quality,

Pepper Crusted Seared Tuna. Yeah, that's a regular portion!

Pepper Crusted Seared Tuna. Yeah, that’s a regular portion!

For dessert, I enjoyed the Nutella Fondue Pot, which is composed of fresh fruit, just-baked cookies, and roasted marshmallows around an igneous pool of hazelnut-chocolate goodness. Apparently, it’s a hit with couples and people who pretend they eat healthy. If you’re with a group of people, then it’s a great way to split dessert. Unrepentantly single, I savored ever last bite by myself!

Nutella Fondue Pot. Being alone never tasted so good!

Nutella Fondue Pot. Being alone never tasted so good!

Completely stuffed after my meal, I lumbered downstairs for one of The Stand’s comedy shows. While I found myself too full to order anything downstairs, I was happy to note that both the Cheeseburger Dumplings and the Truffle Mac n’ Cheese could be ordered in the comedy club area.

Comedy Club Bonus 

For fifteen to twenty dollars, one can enjoy about an hour and a half of stand-up from some of the most celebrated comedians in New York.  I had the pleasure of seeing a performance from the famous Nick Dipaolo along with headliner Ari Shaffir and Mike Lawrence —all three of which have graced Comedy Central. Each routine felt wonderfully organic, building up from the one before it and always considering the audience. Religion, age, race, sexuality, and domestic violence were all fair game, but at no point did it seem like anybody in the room was offended. Everybody up there was a seasoned pro and in the short moments when the laughter died down, they had no problem taking a turn for the self-deprecating.

The Stand is a great place to take a friend, a relative, an acquaintance,  a date, or someone you plan on dumping for brunch, lunch, or a night out. If you’re feeling especially bold, you can hazard bringing Mom or Dad to the comedy club level, but you have been warned.

As the hostess assured me, “At the Stand, the food is no joke!” I might also add that either as a restaurant or a comedy club, The Stand stands on its own, but altogether, it presents some of the best Manhattan has to offer.

The Stand

239 3rd Ave (Between 19th and 20th) New York, NY 10003

(212) 677-2600.

Website: thestandnyc.com

Open from 11 to 5 PM for Lunch and 5 PM to 12 AM for Dinner from Sunday to Thursday, and 5 PM to 2 AM on Friday and Saturday nights. Brunch from 11:30 AM to 5 PM on Saturdays and Sundays.

View of the Comedy Club area

View of the Comedy Club area