A Lobster Loves Water, But Not When He’s Being Cooked in it.
This is an old Senegalese proverb and although I did not eat lobster tonight, I couldn’t deny the truth of this quirky phrase.
The answer to the hint last week was Little Tokyo, but like all good journeys, my path was led in a different direction. But like the Africans would say, smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.
If you’ve been picking up the (not so) subtle hints I’ve been dropping so far, you’ve figured out by now that I had traditional Senegalese food tonight!
Senegal is a country in West Africa where the national language is French and the food is phenomenal. Thirteen million people live in Senegal and it got its name from the Sénégal River, which borders it to the east and north.
Although their language is French, their food isn’t. Their food is mainly fish because their country borders the Atlantic Ocean. Chicken, lamb, peas, eggs, and beef are also used, but pork is not due to the nation’s largely Muslim population. Meats and vegetables are typically stewed or marinated in herbs and spices, and then poured over rice or couscous, or eaten with bread.
After a bit of research I decided to go to a restaurant called Ponty Bistro. Ponty Bistro has two locations, Harlem and Gramercy Park. I went to the restaurant in Gramercy Park at 218 Third Avenue, between 18th and 19th Streets. Their website says, “We opened our doors on November 11, 2008, and are here to serve you breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night, seven days a week. We take great pride in using the freshest ingredients in the preparation of all of our dishes, which fuses the sophisticated flavors of West Africa, France and the Mediterranean for our clientele. To do so, we have combined our Senegalese and West African cooking traditions with current culinary practices to create enticing dishes that reflect the flavors of our heritage–with a modern twist.”
I avoid modern twists on this journey for the most authentic and traditional food in New York City so I researched Senegalese food and decided the Le Poulet Yassa was the best choice. Yassa is a traditional dish from Senegal and is either chicken or fish that is first marinated with spices, and then simmered in a pan with onion, garlic, mustard, and lemon juice. This creates a chicken and onion sauce that is served with plain white rice.
This week, I actually have a visually pleasing photo to share with you:
I want you to close your eyes and picture a memory you have with cooked carrots. Probably not much came to mind did it? The only memory I have with cooked carrots is seeing it in my mother’s white, porcelain serving dish and dreading having to eat them. One time I shoved so many in my mouth at once to get it over with that I choked.
Tonight my relationship with cooked carrots was healed and a beautiful friendship blossomed between us. With the romantic ambiance of the bistro consisting of dim lighting and french music playing in the background, I was sure I found the carrot section of the Garden of Eden.
I had to force myself to not eat all the carrots at once because they were so good. Which is much different from the last time I shoved a bunch of carrots in my mouth. The cooked carrots had perfectly absorbed the spices and flavors of the lemon juice and onion it was marinated in while still retaining a firm texture.
I knew I would be writing about this meal an hour after consuming it so I tried to place exactly what I was tasting as I rolled the carrots over my tongue. There was the sourness of the lemon, but it didn’t overtake the sweetness and there was definitely a hot spice in there because my nose started to run as I ate. There were so many different flavors that I couldn’t place what exactly they all were, but they complimented each other perfectly and I wanted to find the chef and kiss them!
The chicken was in a shallow puddle of yassa sauce and was marinated to perfection. It wasn’t dripping and messy, but it also wasn’t too dry. Every bite lit off fireworks in my mouth. It was like the 4th of July for my tastebuds. The flavor of the tomatoes, onions, olives, and berries created an exquisite combination that I never would have thought of on my own. It was a little awkward to spit out olive seeds as I ate, but it was well worth it.
The rice absorbed the sauce and even though I felt like I was about to give birth to triplets, I ate all the rice off my plate because it was irresistible.
My stomach begged for mercy so I stopped and asked for the rest to go. The waiter was very nice and wrapped my food up for me. He asked a comfortable amount of times throughout my meal if I was enjoying it and refilled my water whenever it was only halfway gone. It was so refreshing to get good service even though I was only one person eating one meal (although it wasn’t cheap, $24 for the Yassa).
My bill showed my total to be less than what the menu said so I believe there was a dinner special. The chalkboard inside the restaurant said something about specials that they offer, which is nice considering their prices can be a little high.
After I paid my bill and left a note thanking the waiter for an excellent dinner experience, I snapped a quick photo of the restaurant on my way out:
It’s small and cozy like many restaurants in New York, but they pull off the tight space wonderfully. I plan on coming back to this restaurant and leaving a 5 star review on Yelp. If I learn the recipe for those cooked vegetables, I’ll be sure to post it on here.
Ponty Bistro, 218 Third Avenue, Gramercy Park, NY. 5 stars, $$ price range (roughly $25 for a main course for one person)
Next week, my path should steer back towards Little Tokyo like I promised so I don’t have any hints for my readers today. But I have a fun question about Senegal and maybe you can guess the answer! What Senegal sports team just played Mexico’s team?