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Ponty Bistro
218 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10003
(212) 777-1616

Mario Lathan, Producer and Director of Africa Everywhere Director, shares his experience at Senegalese Restaurant in New York, Ponty Bistro.

It was late morning on a Tuesday. The remnants of a shower had cleaned the pavement. I had work to though. I was just given the green light to create a television series for The Africa Channel on the African Diaspora experience: travel, culture and of course, food. New York City was the perfect place to start my exploration of these stories because of its unique demographics. I could hit my head on the sidewalk and land on a different cultural arena. That was not the goal. I wanted to the audience to SEE another side of our everyday – the normal one. Upon my search, I came across the regulars – Nigerian, Ethiopian and Ghanaian cuisine. I chose to start with fare that I was unfamiliar with – Senegalese. That’s how I arrived, camera and producer in hand, around the corner from Union Square at a spot in Gramercy, The Ponty Bistro.

I’ll admit, it was the presentation that stoked my curiosity, and I don’t mean the cuisine; 1) The location – I had passed by Ponty Bistro in Gramercy many times without notice (there is second in Harlem, which was just opening). The restaurant was set neatly between several businesses, that classic NYC bistro front. 2) The Owners – Executive Chefs and brothers – Cisse and Chekh Cisse. 3) The menu – a combination of Senegalese fare with French and Mediterranean influences.

“Chekh emerged from the kitchen to greet us, a thick accent complimented his professional and welcoming demeanor.”

The dining area in Ponty Bistro’s was welcoming space; not too large and not NYC sized small. One could actually hear their conversations as I observed with several patrons who were in mid-sentence. Tables and chairs were with against benches set against the walls. Warm and neutral colors were the décor, until you get to the walls. They housed neatly spaced West African paintings, maps and sculptures – a subtle presentation into Ponty’s heritage. Chekh emerged from the kitchen to greet us, a thick accent complimented his professional and welcoming demeanor.

Ponty Bistro offers a variety of dishes, each drizzled colorful design and spices: the Calabash Soup, made Butternut Squash; Dakar Chicken Wings in pineapple sauce; Moules Africana, mussels bathed in African spices. THE signature plate was the spelling challenged Niokolokoba. A grilled sirloin steak marinated with Senegalese spices. Tender and moist, every bite settles in one’s mouth. The sides of freshly cut steak fries and au poivre sauce rounds out the new addition to your palette. I will be honest, I’m not a steak connoisseur but remnants on my plate said otherwise.

“A poised chef. A bill handled. A satisfied customer.”

Of course, the meal was impressive but an encounter between Chekh and patron provided insight into the character of Ponty. A finished meal. A misunderstanding in pricing. A poised chef. A bill handled. A satisfied customer. That sequence of events could have easily lead to another outcome if not for the calming understanding that Chekh provided. It was professionalism that was presented in the care of the dishes and also the patrons. My return trip was already booked before leaving. As I looked outside toward the street scenery, I couldn’t help but look forward to next visit.