Harlem: Elegant Ponty Bistro Restaurant’s Chefs Prove A Dream Deferred Can Be Very Delicious


Chef Cisse and Chef Chekh were determined to find a Harlem home for Ponty Bistro


While searching for Ponty Bistro the other day a comment from a Harlemite who was walking by served as this reviewer’s guide to the restaurant.

“What a nice looking place,” the young man said to a colleague. They paused for a few seconds and looked inside.

“We’ve gotta come back here,” he said to his friend who nodded before they continued their journey.

Indeed, Ponty Bistro, which opened in August, is one of the elegant establishments with a downtown feel that now populate the New Harlem.

When one enters from the main doors at Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. the visitor is greeted by a modern-style bar with a minimalist feel.  There are no televisions. The bar is meant for people who actually enjoy conversation.

The restaurant is long and rectangular-shaped allowing the guests’ eyes to peer deep towards the back where the tables are located with a few lounge type cozy zones. The lighting is just right for a business dinner or a romantic evening.

Towards the other end of the restaurant, away from the bar area, is the kitchen where the magical foods listed on the menu is prepared and one can catch a glimpse of the chefs.

A lovely hostess guided this reviewer to the dining area.

In reviewing a restaurant the challenge is always to try to get as wide a sampling as possible. It’s impossible to describe all the items on the menu and so the reader will have to make a determination based on the few samples the reviewer is able to taste.

Without any exaggeration there’s simply one word for the few items I was able to devour: “divine.”

This reviewer started with the butternut squash that half-filled a huge white bowl. The soup was so esthetically pleasant, with drips of green olive-oil providing an artistic contrast to the yellow soup I felt guilty plunging a spoon into the mix. Once you start eating you may not put the spoon down until the soup is all gone.

For the entree, this reviewer Filet Mignon Sliders and the Crispy Tuna with cilantro and pickled soy ginger vingergarette and wasabi aioli. The reviewer didn’t bother to ask what kind of ingredients went into marinating the Sliders or the Crispy Tuna since they are presumably State secrets. The food was delicious and before the reviewer realized it the whole thing had been consumed by yours truly.

The portion was reasonable so there was ample space for desert.  This reviewer got to sample two desert items, French crepe with sliced strawberries and vanilla ice cream ($8); and  Chocolate Fondant with sliced strawberries and vanilla ice cream ($7). Both were scandalously yummy.  “It’s okay, I’m going jogging tomorrow,” the reviewer told the waitress when he returned and found two cleaned out plates.

Just before this reviewer had finished deserts a side door opened and musical equipment were hauled on a small staging area at the beginning of the dining section near the bar.

A sultry jazz musician, with a soaring voice, provided the evening’s entertainment.  Live Jazz nights are held on Wednesdays and Fridays at 9:30PM.

Ponty Bistro has a nice story behind it.

It’s the brainchild of Chef Cisse and Chef Chekh, two enterprising and very determined Senegalese cousins. The pair first tried to open the restaurant in Harlem about six years ago but encountered several rejections and failed to locate an ideal spot.

So rather than abandon their dream of a Harlem restaurant they ended up in Gramercy Park, at 218 3rd Avenue,  in downtown Manhattan. Their specialty are a fusion of Senegalese, Mediterranean, and French foods.

The menu includes traditional foods such as Niokolokoba as well as customized dishes like moules Africana served in African spices and French fries.

After building a reputation downtown when the cousins tried Harlem again this time there were multiple offers for locations. The cousins settled on this spot located at 144 West 139 Street.

The cousins who moved to the U.S. in 1995 have more than 18 years experience in the industry. Both worked for internationally acclaimed chefs such as Daniel Boulud at Daniel Restaurant, and for Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Chef Cisse was also featured on The Food Network’s “Chopped” and made it to the final round.

The cousins have many goals left.

“My dream is for President Obama and First Lady to come and dine at Ponty Bistro,” says Chef Cisse, of one of those goals.

The president and the first lady have dined at a Harlem spot before and who is to say Cisse’s dream won’t be realized if word keeps spreading about the wonders he and Chef Chekh are producing in Harlem.

The appetizers include the highly recommended Dakar chicken wings ($12), Escargot snails ($12), Crispy tuna ($14), and other items; entrees include Steak tartar ($26), Kabash Lamb shanks with merguez ($26), Stuffed flounder alla papillote ($21), Victoria Lac Salmon ($24), the famous Niokolokoba grilled steak with Senegalese spices ($29), and other entrees.




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