Grub/Spirits Restaurant Reviews — 29 July 2015
A Marriage of French-African Fare at Ponty Bistro Harlem

Ponty Bistro Harlem
2375 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard at 139th Street, Harlem
Getting There: 2,3 to 135 Street

It’s been nearly one year since Ponty Bistro Harlem officially opened its doors on West 139th Street. The sheer distance uptown may seem daunting for some- perhaps those that don’t regularly travel into triple digit streets unless there’s a Yankee game waiting for them at their destination. But the sister restaurant to a similarly named locale in Gramercy is a downright charming addition to a burgeoning neighborhood- and one that proves that there are plenty of restaurants in Harlem that make the trek uptown worthwhile.

As soulful music plays in the background just before a live saxopohone player is set to plug in, a modernized Ponty Bistro space awaits with a small but festive bar that is pleasantly crowded for a weekday evening. It’s style and class are a stark contrast to the bright red McDonald’s that sits noticeably just across the street. But inside, the setting employs a colorful blue and orange decor with dark brown wooden chairs meticulously affixed to white and gray marble tables arranged in the main dining area. Though the framed posters around the room are particularly eye-catching, watching dishes of creative African-meets-French fare get delivered table-side becomes each evening’s most enchanting display.

The menu here is both inspired and different, straddling a fine line between comfort fare and fine dining, but vast with options culled from a multitude of culinary influences. Much of the food is quite good- some of it, even great. The heaping bowl of mollusks dubbed “Moules Africana” ($18) are lathered in a rich broth of African spices, with notes of ginger, curry and garlic bathing each succulent shelled mussel. The “Poisson Yassa” ($26) is equally sensational, with a sea of wonderfully fresh vegetables blanketing a perfectly seared and seasoned filet of branzino.  Even the opening “Artichoke Salad” ($12) was entirely revelatory, as fresh crunchy sticks of haricot vert and a delicate truffle vinaigrette allowed a seemingly basic dish to be a stand out. While the grilled sirloin “Niokolokoba” ($30) was a bit chewy for our taste, it was difficult to take umbrage with the spicy and flavorful array of Senegalese spices that adorned the cut of meat.

The neighborhood itself allows the restaurant to also offer more approachable options where traditional African spring rolls called “Nem” ($10) and nicely cooked bowls of “Truffle Macaroni and Cheese” ($12) seem perfectly in place despite being alongside other, more refined French creations. With its expansive menu and attentive service, the unheralded restaurant is doing all the right things to make New York City take note of what’s going on in Harlem. And as Ponty Bistro blows out the candles on its first birthday, it’s about time that the rest of us indulge there accordingly.

Rundown of the Meal

Nem ($10)
Truffle Macaroni and Cheese ($12)*

Soups & Salads
Artichoke Salad ($12)*

Moules Africana ($12/$18)*

Poisson Yassa ($26)*
Niokolokoba ($30)

Chocolate Fondant ($7)*

* Meal Highlight

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