…is NOT Latin American.
NOT that Latin American restaurants don’t have killer empanadas just to be clear. In fact, Yuca Bar, Havana Central, Ipanema, Empanada Mama, and a few others that I am probably forgetting have one of the best offerings in the city. It’s just that a certain French-Senegalese restaurant, without even being famous for it, makes this fantastic pastry with an ethnic spin of its own.
Hold up. Senegalese?
Bet you didn’t see that coming. Gramercy’s Ponty Bistro, an upscale restaurant with an unassuming facade cooks up a “Fataya” appetizer, which is a fish empanada that is served with a housemade spicy sauce and a tartare sauce with baby greens.
It was fabulous. Most empanadas are fried- and I am sure this one was too- but they didn’t feel like they were. The thickness of the pastry must have barely been 2 mm, lending to a perfect crispness while having just enough dough to balance out the stuffing. It was adequately filled with fish, which was seasoned with with distinct African, peppery salts and spices. The fish was cooked nicely, tender and juicy, but not too soft. Without the sauce it would have tasted great too, indicating a good empanada.
But the sauces hands-down completed it. The tartare provided a satisfying lemony flavor and a creamy accompaniment to the pastry, with the capers adding another piquant layer. The hot sauce? I am not sure if my lungs still being on fire is a good thing, but it tasted fabulous. Somewhat reminiscent of Romesco sauce. Insanely spicy. It gives the Indian Spice Standard (<- totally made that up) serious competition.
The sauce quantities were generous too! I normally don’t eat greens that look like iceberg lettuce, especially if they don’t look appealing enough despite being there for presentation’s sake. But these I realized, after wanting to finish the sauces with something, that they were actually endives. Bitter crunch complements hot and creamy well, so that worked out.
What won’t always work is *surprise* *surprise* the cost. 2 empanadas in this appetizer were $11.00. It’s outright taste just renders it a must-try once. If that’s too little bang for your buck, might I suggest the $19.00 Moules Africana- a signature French-African dish, enough to be a light meal for two. Though laborious, if you haven’t had the pleasure of shelling 75 odd mussels before, you’ll want to have it here. Because at the end, you can reward yourself by spooning up the remaining warming, aromatic broth. Delectable.
The ChefspeRITIC says….9/10.