If you love French food – with imaginative, African spices – then it’s definitely worth seeking out Ponty Bistro, in the Gramercy Park area. The restaurant’s owners and co-executive chefs are cousins who moved from Senegal to the U.S. in 1995. They worked for two of the best chefs in New York – Daniel Boulud, and Jean-George Vongerichten — and it shows in their sophisticated food and menu.
2 for 1 Martinis Sign
At a recent press dinner I began with one of their specialties, a Fresh Ginger Martini. It’s not really a martini but, with vodka, pineapple juice, lots of fresh ginger and Berber spices it’s a wonderfully refreshing drink. One of my colleagues went for the French Martini, which substituted Cassis for Ginger. It looked beautiful. Both drinks made me feel as though I’d landed on a tropical island in the Caribbean and was just beginning my vacation.
Fresh Ginger Martini and Restaurant Interior
Our chef decided on a menu that was appropriate for a summer-like evening. Dinner began with a delicious cup of fresh Gazpacho, French-African style, accompanied by toasted slices of baguette. ($7) Berber spices gave the traditional tomato-cucumber mix an extra kick.
Next came an excellent Kale Salad with pine nuts, apples, cranberry, apricots and a touch of goat cheese. What made it special was the lemon-honey vinaigrette – sweet but not too sweet — a perfect foil for the kale. Salads are seasonal “daily specials,” and priced accordingly.
Mushroom Risotto with Truffle Oil
The salad was followed by a deeply delicious, creamy Mushroom Risotto, with asparagus, thin slices of Parmigiano cheese, and Truffle oil. It was a classic and perfectly cooked risotto and could be a meal in itself. ($19)
But it would be a mistake to miss the restaurant’s signature dish, Mussels with a fabulous garlic, ginger, white wine, coconut milk, shallots, lemongrass and curry sauce. The mussels were huge and meaty, and none of us could get enough of the sauce. The dish is exceptional. ($18) Even better, it came with some amazingly good, freshly-cooked French fries.
Tagine, traditionally a Moroccan dish, is another specialty of the house. Ours was a Chicken Tagine (but you can also order a Lamb or Shrimp Tagine) with diced baby vegetables and couscous. ($19) The onion-based sauce with its mysterious Berber spices was quite peppery and, perhaps, a bit too fiery for everyone. I liked it but found the chicken a touch too dry.
Of the three classic desserts, my favorite was the lemony Crème Brule. Others preferred the delicate Tiramisu. And while the Chocolate Fondant was perfectly respectable, it was a bit heavy and the least impressive of the three.
Ponty Bistro has a fascinating menu with all sorts of other dishes I’d like to try, including two steak dishes, a seafood risotto and a Lobster BLT. It’s open for lunch and dinner and I will make every effort to return. A second branch of Ponty Bistro opened last August in Harlem, so if you live uptown, I’d check it out.
Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag
Ponty Bistro Restaurant
218 Third Avenue (Between 18th and 19th)
Lunch: 11AM – 4PM, Mon – Fri
Dinner: 4:30 PM – 11:30 PM – Mon – Sun
Brunch: 10 AM – 4 PM – Sat –Sun
Happy Hour: 5 PM – 7 PM Mon – Sun