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Prune's marinated white anchoviesPrune's creamed corn succotashPrune's steak and eggsPrune's spaghetti alla carbonaraPrune's bloody maryPrune's deviled eggsPrune's joe's dairyPrune's fried oyster omelettePrune's dutch style pancake

Prune Restaurant

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
October 12, 2005

Week after week I wake up on Sundays to a craving for either Spaghetti a la Carbonara, Steak & Eggs, or something else that’s on Prune’s brunch menu. I don’t mind waiting in line for an hour just to get my fill. It’s as if they put some addictive drug in their food, because even when I get my fix I’m back the next week for more.

Prune is a not a newcomer. Gabrielle Hamilton opened the restaurant in 1999 with a mission: her motto was, and remains, "cooking all of — and only — the foods I wanted to eat at home: trickless, gadgetless and pretenseless." Well, it turned out that a good majority of New York City also wants to eat what she wants to eat and cook too.

Prune has had a strong following since the beginning. The cuisine is more or less "colonial," if you must characterize it. For me I consider it comfort food, but not in the mac-and-cheese kind of way. Gabrielle takes influence from her French mother, who cooked under a war-time mentality, reminiscent of her own upbringing, though she did not live through war. So while fried sweetbreads, roast suckling pig, marinated anchovies might seem like adventurous foods, it’s home-style cooking for Gabrielle. The key here is making everyday dishes consistently well and presenting a menu that is simple but planned with care. Of course, not everything is so outrageous, as there are also classics like deviled eggs and creamed corn succotash on the dinner bar menu, and these really do conjure up a sense of home-style warmth.

It’s also the attitude and philosophy of this restaurant that I love so much. No frills, straightforward: come eat, have a good time, and be on your way. The staff at Prune are one big family who believe in the same principles. As a small restaurant that seats 30, there is none of that tension and division that other restaurants have between the front and the back of the house. Everyone extends courtesy to the other while working with the utmost efficiency.

And so it is with great pleasure that I honor Prune for continuously evoking cravings within me by dedicating this feature to a small restaurant that has had a huge impact on the culinary landscape of the city.

Prune Restaurant

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
October 12, 2005

Prune's marinated white anchovies


This dish is from the bar menu — a perfect choice as munchies with drinks, or as an appetizer for dinner. These anchovies are marinated in olive oil, vinegar and salt, and accompanied by thinly sliced celery hearts and toasted Spanish Marcona almonds, then drizzled with olive oil all over. Anchovies generally have a really strong taste, so that’s why here they’re balanced by the fresh taste and crisp texture of the celery, as well as the toasted Marcona almonds (which have a more intense and richer flavor than regular almonds). The ingredients in this dish are simple, but it’s the composition — the choice made to thinly slice the celery hearts, and use the less common and highly valued Marcona almonds, paired with Spanish imported anchovies for instance — that makes it delicate and easy to devour, preferably with wine or beer.

Prune Restaurant

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
October 12, 2005

Prune's creamed corn succotash


When I think succotash, Prune always comes to mind. One of Prune’s signature side dishes, this is a slight variation on the original introduced by Native Americans to the New England colonists: Traditionally a mix of green beans and corn. This is the quintessential summer dish, which is when the two main ingredients are in season. Prune’s succotash separates the two into a layer of creamed corn — made with butter and cream, with salt and pepper to season — on the bottom, with the seasonal beans from the Green Market sitting on top in the center of the plate, almost as if for garnish. The balance is just right, with the buttery sweet taste of corn kernels matched with the crisp freshness of the beans. It’s so refreshing, it’s as if I were taking in a little bit of summer with every bite.

Prune Restaurant

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
October 12, 2005

Prune's steak and eggs


If I had to pick only one thing on the menu as my favorite, this would be it. The grilled dry-aged prime ribeye steak is perfect for me when it is raw and red on the inside and seared on the outside, dripping with parsley-shallot butter that is still melting when the dish arrives. You also get two eggs with the dish, referring of course to the British custom. I prefer poached, but that’s the beauty of eggs: you can pick your favorite style. As accompaniments, one should never forget the potato rosti, thin shreds of potato pan-fried so it’s crispy on the outside and tender within. And to top it off, a toasted English muffin. I can hardly make it to the English muffin because I am usually stuffed by the time I finish the steak, eggs and potatoes — three foods that I just can’t live without, and when combined, my dream come true!

Prune Restaurant

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
October 12, 2005

Prune's spaghetti alla carbonara


Initially I found it surprising to see a Carbonara on the brunch menu, but when I read the menu description it all made sense: “The Italian way to get your bacon and eggs … with pasta. And plenty of black pepper.” And indeed, even though the eggs are mixed in with the pasta and hardly visible, the combination of eggs, pancetta, pasta and pepper really hits the spot. The spaghetti is consistently cooked al dente and the pancetta is crunchy and chewy at the same time. The fresh ground black pepper contributes to give it even more dimension. Of course, sprinkling some Parmesan cheese over the dish makes it even better. This is one of those dishes I wished they served during dinner, too, because I need to have it at least once a week.

Prune Restaurant

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
October 12, 2005

Prune's bloody mary


Prune’s brunch menu offers ten varieties of Bloody Mary, all of which are distinctive and delicious. The Chicago Matchbox is the most flamboyant, with its colorful skewer of pickled vegetables, including brussels sprouts, baby white turnips, caper berries, green beans and radishes. This drink blends Prune’s homemade lemon vodka with the mix. The Bloody Mary mix itself is sufficiently spicy to give a kick to your system and wake you up, and the chaser, a small glass of Red Stripe beer, smoothes everything out again. So it’s like a cycle of excitement balanced out over and over again by tranquility. The array of pickled veggies gives you something to munch on with the cocktail while you eagerly await the arrival of your amazing main dish. It truly is the perfect way to start your weekend.

Prune Restaurant

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
October 12, 2005

Prune's deviled eggs


Another item found on the bar menu, deviled eggs, are a perfect snack. I always associate these treats as home party hors d’oeuvres — dozens on a platter ready to be picked up and devoured. The beauty of deviled eggs is that you can just keep eating them, which is not good if you are watching your cholesterol. At Prune, they serve four devils per dish, which is just the right number. The mayonnaise and Dijon mustard that are mixed in with the yolk give it the creamy texture and sharp, pungent taste. The egg white halves retain the right amount of moisture to taste fresh. And of course there is the finishing touch of finely chopped parsley to garnish. These eggs are bewitchingly tasty and delightful. No wonder they are “deviled.”

Prune Restaurant

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
October 12, 2005

Prune's joe's dairy


How do you describe heaven? Well, here’s one version: Take fresh, soft ricotta cheese from Joe’s Dairy (156 Sullivan Street), add seasonal fruits and toasted pine nuts, and top it off with honey. No, wait, I’m not done yet. Then serve this dish with two to three merveilles — deep-fried dough that’s rich in flour — on the side. One bite of this and you at least feel like you’re in heaven. The ricotta is so smooth and creamy it’s almost like yogurt, but without the tartness, and it blends perfectly with the honey. The fruits add a bit of natural sweetness and freshness. The pine nuts complement with their crunchy texture and buttery taste. The merveilles, cut as triangles then deep fried, are crispy on the outside and soft and doughy on the inside. We all know from carnivals and street fairs that fried batter doesn’t have to have much seasoning or flavor of its own to taste good. The merveilles are dusted with powered sugar and sit on the side of the plate, just waiting to join the rest of the angelic crew to complete the palate of a perfect bite.

Prune Restaurant

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
October 12, 2005

Prune's fried oyster omelette


If you like omelettes and fried oysters then this is the dish for you. Deep-fried oysters are folded inside the omelette and topped with a remoulade sauce — a mayonnaise sauce mixed with mustard, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce and spices, usually served with fried seafood — both inside and out. On the side sits a small dish with orange sauce that looks rather menacing. It’s a mixture of powdered sugar and Tabasco sauce, a kind of sweet-and-hot sauce. I find this particularly close to home because in Taiwanese cooking there is a similar sweet-and-hot sauce condiment frequently used. The remoulade is already rather rich and heavy in taste, so there’s no need to go crazy with the sweet-and-hot sauce. But it’s nice to have a little variety once in a while.

Note: The fried oyster omelette usually appears only on the summer menu under Eggs and Omelettes.

Prune Restaurant

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
October 12, 2005

Prune's dutch style pancake


The Dutch style pancake is more like a cake than a pancake. It’s one large and thick individual pancake that has been baked in the oven. The texture is denser and the flavor richer than regular American pancakes, and so even with just one you have an extremely copious meal. At Prune it’s served with fruits baked within the pancake, and naturally the choice depends on the season, like blueberries in the summer or pears in the winter. And it’s served with real maple syrup and Canadian bacon. So forget those flimsy diner pancakes that come with measly thin strips of bacon — this is the real deal here, a hefty pancake that tastes like cake with yummy Canadian bacon to balance out that sweet tooth.

Prune Restaurant

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
October 12, 2005

54 E 1st St
(1st & 2nd Ave)
New York NY 10003

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