This review of a New York restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage.
Most restaurants in the US tend to have staff that come across as very friendly, but that amiability usually feels forced and artificial – if they’re weren’t schilling for tips they probably wouldn’t look twice at you. The staff at Prune in New York’s East Village are almost certainly no less commercially-minded, but somehow their friendliness comes across as genuinely warm and welcoming. Naturally, they all seem to be wear prune t-shirts.
Physically, Prune is small with only a dozen or two covers at most with a further four seats at the small bar. The place has a vaguely French, bistro-like feel with ceiling fans rather than air conditioners, a tiled floor and a deliberately bare, worn look with exposed light bulbs and pipes as well as tarnished mirrors. The clientèle on my weekday evening visit was overwhelmingly comprised of twentysomethings enjoying the staff’s achingly eclectic soundtrack – if it wasn’t for the charmingly warm staff, Prune would be in danger of descending into a parody of urban, postmodern trendiness.
Thankfully, Prune isn’t relying on just its good looks to pull in the punters. The quality of the small, seasonal menu is generally very good and, surprisingly for a restaurant in the US, the portions aren’t gut-bustingly big either. To whet your appetite while you wait for your starter, you don’t get bread but poppadoms instead! Oddly, there’s no chutney to go with it, so it’s a rather mouth-drying experience, but the cardamom-dotted planks are still enjoyable.
The irredeemably bourgeois and unadventurous may be put off by the idea of eating bone marrow, but Prune’s version of this delectable bit of animal is quiveringly soft and smooth. The surprisingly generous portions of warm, gelatinous marrow isn’t too salty, unlike The Draft House’s version, although if you want you can up your chances of high blood pressure with the heap of sea salt on the side. It goes well with the grilled bread and the accompanying parsley, onion and gherkin salad. Prune’s bone marrow is just as good as, if not better than the version at St John.
Now that’s how you serve bone marrow. In a big effing bone!
My main course of striped sea bass was a success, especially in contrast to the branzini at Balthazar. The firm yet flaky fish was well grilled with crispy skin. While it lacked the strongly chargrilled taste of the branzini at Balthazar, this was more than made up for by the well-chosen accompaniments which Balthazar’s dish lacked. The gently spiced tomato sauce perked up the fish and also went well with the bitingly fresh clams, although some of the clams weren’t quite as big as I would’ve liked. A side dish of shredded leeks doused in a refreshingly tart vinaigrette provided the necessary vegetable component.
I’m totally addicted to bass.
How do you plug leeks?
An omelette is a rather unusual dessert menu item in the English-speaking world, so naturally I had to have it. Here, the omelette has been cooked with a liberal helping of calvados, a French apple-flavoured brandy, a touch of vanilla and then dusted with some sugar. Despite being wafer thin, it’s surprisingly fluffy. The flavour can be oddly tart and subtly sweet depending on the mouthful, no doubt due in part to some of the calvados which naturally also gives the dish a very boozy character. A large hit of alcohol can sneak up on you in the next mouthful when you least expect it. I’m glad I tried it, but I probably wouldn’t order it again.
Prune may be small, making reservations essential (although see below for details), but it’s well worth the effort. Although not perfect, the place is blessed with warm, friendly staff and generally well conceived and skillfully executed cooking that embarrasses some of New York’s pricier, better known restaurants.
Address: 54 East 1st Street, New York City, NY 10003
Phone: 212 677 6221
Lunch: Monday-Friday 11.30-15.30, Weekend brunch 10.00-15.30, Dinner seven days a week 17.30-23.00
Reservations: only accepted for parties of six or fewer, not accepted for brunch which is first come, first served.
Total cost for one person including free tap water but excluding tip: $67 (approx. £42 at time of writing)