Saturday, February 28, 2009
Prune is amazing...If you can get a reservation
Restaurant Name: Prune
Location: 54 E. 1st Street, New York City
After a month-long effort to secure a Friday night reservation at Prune (at least one that wasn't at either 5:00pm or 10:30pm), my husband and I finally got the chance to gorge ourselves at this truly tiny, truly great eatery in the East Village.
Upon arriving, the reasons for our difficulty in obtaining a reservation became immediately clear. We have dined in some seriously itty bitty restaurants since moving to New York, but Prune *must* have them all beat. There are perhaps 15 tables all squeezed into a space the size of our very-NY-sized living room. People literally have to get up and move so that you can access your table. The place is adorable, though, in a sort of down-at-the-heels, funky-charming, Alice in Wonderland slanting walls & mirrors, have-I-had-too-much-wine-or-is-the-room-shrinking kind of way.
This all gives Prune an undeniable character, but the flat-out, savory awesomeness of the food is probably what keeps people coming back and jamming up that wait-list. The menu at Prune is pretty brief - a handful each of small bites, appetizers, entrees, and sides. We ordered exuberantly, trying the Shrimp Toasts (small bites), Roasted Bone Marrow (appetizers), Lamb Blade Chop and Whole Roasted Branzino (entrees), and Escarole with Merguz Sausage (sides). All were excellent, made from high quality ingredients, simply prepared, and flavorful beyond anything one might expect from such unadorned dishes (don't expect foams, sauces, or fancy-pants garnishes here).
In particular, the Lamb Blade Chop was perhaps the most scrumptiously flavorful cut of meat I've ever tasted. We pressed two different servers for the inside scoop on how the chef got the meat so tasty (a brine? sous vide?) and both swore up and down that the meat was "aggressively" seasoned with nothing more than salt, pepper, and dried thyme just before being flung onto the hot grill. Well, if that is true than the kitchen at Prune is a chamber of mystical culinary skill to which I someday aspire to belong. The lamb meat had rich, savory flavor throughout (not just a crust of seasoning on the surface) and did not taste overly salty (though we noticed some serious dehydration that night and the following day that may support the claims of aggressive salting....or could just be a consequence of the bottle of Sancerre we downed).
The Whole Roasted Sea Bass was also remarkably flavorful considering it was nothing more than a roasted fish stuffed with fennel and lemon slices and served unadorned on a plate of warm olive oil. The flesh was silky and the preparation (though minimalist) was beautiful, too.
As will not surprise anyone who knows us, the Bone Marrow was probably our favorite dish. Like everything else we were served, the portions on the marrow were slightly obscene in size - particularly given its richness. The dish arrived as three huge long bones perched upright on a plate with big hunks of grilled bread and a salty, tangy salad of parsley, sliced cornichon, and capers (which helped offset the fatty, melty richness of the marrow). We had to admit defeat halfway through the third bone - unprecedented for us when it comes to animal products.
Dessert was, unfortunately, underwhelming. We ordered a "trifle," which I place in air-quotes because what we were served was a pretty broad interpretation of a trifle - some narrow sticks of housemade ladyfingers were arranged artfully in a pool of creme anglaise topped with creme chantilly with brandied cherries clustered at the based of the dish. It was....okay. I haven't done the research, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Prune doesn't employ a pastry chef.
In sum - call up at least a week in advance of when you want to eat and secure a dinner reservation at Prune if you love simply prepared dishes that are off the charts in terms of flavor and quality. You might want to save up for it, though - at least a little. Our dinner (including a bottle of wine and tip) came to $190 for two.