Prune: Sweet and Unusual
Prune is an unusual sort of place – as charming and comfortably aged as any Village restaurant yet with a completely unique and ambitious menu. To be honest, Prune will present a conundrum for many diners – chef Gabrielle Hamilton certainly delivers beautifully crafted quirky cuisine in a warm thoroughly unpretentious environment; yet, the food can hardly be described as accessible with offal comprising almost half the offerings. In order to fully enjoy Prune, you need to either a) truly appreciate the bizarre and unexpected or b) know beforehand what you’re getting yourself into.
Discreetly situated on the cusp of the East Village and the Lower East Side, Prune’s look is simple and unadorned, a look that belies the complicated cuisine. The vibe is slightly cutesy with a side of hipster attitude. Servers wear pink yet have a kindly sense of humor about it, and the music yoyos between Top 40 hits and underground beats. Just one room, the space is cramped with tables squished in small spaces and a ‘bar’ with no discernable seats (or real standing room, for that matter). Simple faded white walls, tables with paper as tablecloths, floor to ceiling windows opening to the quiet E.1st Street block, and small rustic knick knacks make Prune more homey and comfortable than the gourmet playground of Chef Hamilton.
The food is most simply described as seasonal American yet this by no means fully encompasses what Chef Hamilton has proposed to offer diners. The short menu is divided between bar snacks and full-service dinner and, between the two parts, has just 20 items total (including sides/vegetables). The ‘bar snacks’ portion offers perhaps more enticing options than the regular menu, including the famous radishes with sweet butter, grilled handmade lamb sausage, and Spanish goat cheese on buttered brown bread with salted red onion. The radishes were in fact very refreshing, uncooked and served plain with a bowl of sea salt and a sizeable dollop of sweet butter – a satisfying snack for radish lovers and those willing to experiment alike. The handmade lamb sausage was a savory salty snack with heft infrequently found on Prune’s menu. Served with fresh ground mustard and bread, the lumpy fatty sausages are sure to please.
The regular menu is eclectic, featuring funky starters like grilled and marinated veal heart with mint-yogurt dressing, fried sweetbreads with bacon and capers, a parmesan omelette, roasted marrow bones with sea salt, and marinted white anchovies. The five listed entrees include beef pot au feu, farmhouse chicken in vinegar sauce, seared duck breast in dandelion greens and raisin-caper dressing, steamed mussels in lobster broth, and, lastly, a whole grilled fish. Unable to stomach marrow bones and marinated veal heart, I went for the seared duck breast which was cooked perfectly through yet was just too big (this must have been a very large duck) and too sweet for my tastes.
If you’re looking for creamy soups, tartares, steak, potatoes, and marinated shrimp, you’ve come to the wrong place. At Prune, you certainly won’t find the typical ‘seasonal American’ menu featured at Hundred Acres, Commerce, Wall & Water or Dovetail. Chef Hamilton very clearly throws typical to the wind in order to not only set her restaurant apart from the pack but also to serve the food she wants to cook.
Perfect For: taking a walk on the offal side, an early in the game date with an adventurous eater, snacks and drinks under $15, mingling with East Village hipsters over quirky food, celebrity chef sightings