A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Jan. 15.

Brunch -

Prune - 54 E. 1st St., East Village
Omelette with Swiss, Cheddar, Canadian Bacon and Smoked Salmon with buttered Pullman toast, a Kir Royale with Creme de Cassis

Brunch: the meal of socialites and hipsters. Or as Jacques, the bowling instructor on The Simpsons, aptly puts it, “It's not quite breakfast, it's not quite lunch, but it comes with a slice of cantaloupe at the end.” Ordinarily, I’m not one for brunch because I like to sleep obscenely late on weekends. But with Perry’s girlfriend Caroline visiting from Washington, it was a great opportunity to make a change.

It helped too that we decided to go to Prune, which many cognoscenti call the best brunch spot in the city. In fact, it seems the East Village and its outskirts are full of top contenders, including Ninth Street Market, Five Points and Clinton Street Baking Company. Unfortunately, (this is one of my big gripes), none of these restaurants will take reservations, which inevitably results in monumental waits. But apparently, hipsters and socialites don’t like to plan ahead.

The first time I’d tried to go to Prune, I was told at 1 pm that the wait would be an hour and a half. Understandably, it’s a very popular place and can’t seat too many. But because I didn’t want my brunch stretching into dinnertime, I opted to go somewhere else (Golden Unicorn). This time though, we called ahead and got lucky. Again, at 1 on a Saturday, we were told the wait would be about twenty minutes. Cheered by the good news, we sped down the brisk stretch of First Avenue.

Prune can feel cramped, but they make the most of the space they have. The staff is unmissable in their pink shirts, and all the servers seemed very friendly and laidback. The other diners all looked very local, the same well-read glasses-wearing thirty year olds that read the New York Times in coffeeshops and maybe even work in community gardens. The menu seems designed for them, featuring selections from popular neighborhood suppliers (Joe’s Dairy, Russ & Daughters) among their choices. In a word, Prune is very “cute,” a place to take your (very patient) parents when they visit.

But for all of its cuteness, its food and drink more than satisfies with creativity and flavor. Instead of stopping at the rote selections of brunch alcohol, Prune tweaks the formula and offers up nine (!) reinventions of the Bloody Mary. Some require braver guts than others, but at least one is sure to appeal to everybody. I decided to skip them in favor of the lighter Kir Royale, but I was almost seduced into sampling the Chicago Matchbox. It came equipped with lemon vodka, a skewer of vegetables, caperberries and a beer chaser. Take that, pedestrian diner fare.

Not that hungry (my stomach just isn’t used to eating early), I forwent their interesting eggs benedict to customize an omelette. Each ingredient was an extra dollar, but they all sounded so good so I just kept adding them on. “You want all four of those?” our friendly waitress marveled, in response to the requests for smoked salmon, Canadian bacon, and Muenster and Cheddar cheeses. “Yeah,” I said, before agreeing to a side of Pullman toast for good measure. It could’ve gotten embarrassing if I’d actually been hungry.

In retrospect, I think that I should have chosen something more unique. My omelette was good and the Pullman bread was a delicious touch, but it failed to stand out, especially amongst the other dishes coming out of the kitchen. Likewise, the Kir Royale with cassis was nice and smooth, but the Bloody Marys are where Prune earns its fame. Caroline, who went with the Eggs Benedict and mimosas, said she really enjoyed both.

All in all, I agree with the hype. Prune is a great place for brunch and a perfect fit for the quirky homespun charms of the East Village. My only hesitations remain the frequently unbearable waits and my own unwillingness to wake up that early to eat. However, if I knew there was a seat waiting for me at Prune, I’d be more likely to start setting my alarm, hipsters, socialites and all. 7/10

Dinner -

Chip Shop - 383 5th St., Park Slope, Brooklyn
Battered Haddock and Chips, a 20 oz. glass of Old Speckled Hen Fine English Ale, half of a Fried Snickers bar

When I was in London, my friends and I wanted to try some authentic fish and chips on our last day in town. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday afternoon and all the pubs were closed, and we practically had to wander the entire city before we could locate a place willing to serve us this supposedly iconic dish. To add to the disappointment, I didn’t really like it all that much. If they’d just called it fried fish and fried potatoes, we wouldn’t have gone so far out of my way.

Enough time had passed to work up a fresh craving for the food. Chip Shop, the restaurant in Park Slope that I’d picked, specialized in it. I’d also heard good things, so I ventured out to Brooklyn, optimistic but cautious. Vince and I met (we actually ended up sitting in the adjacent Curry Shop, which focuses on the Indian segment of British cooking) and ordered pints. Right away, a good start.

With a little input from the waiter, we also both chose the Fried Haddock. It was a large-sized piece of breaded and fried fish, with the golden-brown color of a Chicken McNugget. The chips were thick, somewhat greasy and stubby, most closely approximating steak fries. Both parts of the dish tasted good and the fish was fresh, though I still had trouble getting past all of the oil and fat. I don’t mind eating somewhat unhealthily when dining out (if I did, I doubt I’d have too many places to eat), but finishing off that fish made me feel almost as guilty as a conversation with my mother.

Apparently, I didn’t learn my lesson though, because almost as a dare, we decided to finish off our caloric spree with a fried Snickers bar. I knew that fried candy bars are very popular in Great Britain, but the entire concept just seemed so baffling and horrific to me that I had to try it out. In the end, it turned out to be neither as bad or as good as I feared. Instead, it tasted like a candy bar covered in the same tempura coating you’d find in a Japanese restaurant.

As the meal ended, I felt like I understood why people enjoyed the food. It was sinful and tasty and went well with beer. It’s also a nice rebellion from the food pyramids and self-imposed salad days thrust into many Americans’ diets. Still, I don’t think I would be able to justify eating fish and chips more than very occasionally. That’s thankfully about as often as I have the craving to do so. 6/10


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not entirely sure where you get your British food facts from but I assure you fried candy bars are catergorically NOT a usual treat in GB.

11:47 AM  

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