Have you read Blood, Bones & Butter? It is a superlative memoir written by Gabrielle Hamilton, chef-owner of Prune, a New York City restaurant that just celebrated its fifteenth anniversary. B,B & B was masterfully crafted, a result of or perhaps the natural entrée into the MFA in Creative Writing that Hamilton received before becoming a chef. It's the kind of book I couldn't put down and also one that has stuck with me since. In fact, the longer I've thought about and processed Hamilton's words, the more I've gleaned and learned from them. Though Hamilton didn't attend culinary school, she opened Prune in 1999 and was awarded the James Beard Best Chef NYC award in 2011. In 2012, Blood, Bones & Butter won a James Beard award for Writing and Literature.
It goes without saying that Gabrielle Hamilton is a multi-talented woman.
As such, when I saw that she will be in DC presenting her new book, the Prune cookbook, over dinner at a nearby restaurant later this month, I eagerly wrote a friend, whose husband was as wowed by B, B & B as was I, to see if they wanted to get tickets and join T and me for the evening. Long story short, the four of us had tickets within five minutes, are looking forward to the 20 November event with much anticipation and I knew I simply had to make to Prune, finally.
Lucky me, we were, as you know, heading to NYC last weekend. Sunday morning was free, and I was as keen on seeing my dear pal Shawn (the one I took to Ghibellina last month and the one who urged me to start this blog) as I was intent on eating brunch at Prune. He's always game for anything, as is Tom, so we met on the curb out front the tiny restaurant just after it opened at 10am.
Prune is way downtown on East 1st, just north of Houston, and if you weren't looking for its magenta awning which overhangs tall, plate glass windows that allow passersby to peer into the tiny interior, you might very well miss it. I don't think Prune can seat more than twenty-five guests, and the nook of a kitchen is the sort only non-New Yorkers might wonder about, but the cramped style works in this cozy place: you're all in the experience together.
Diners and wait staff dance an intimate samba, as some devour what others deliver. A hot-pink-shirted woman with a fifties pinup coif deftly delivered a full round of drinks and dishes to our table-for-two made table-for-three. Here is T's Monte Cristo, the small bowl of currant jelly just holding onto the lip of the plate. His orange juice nestles snugly between his and Shawn's waters, Shawn's coffee and other usual suspects so often on restaurant tables. My ovoid platter of Huevos Rancheros slides neatly at a forty-five-degree angle between my own juice, the Prune (a mix of juices that does not include prune), and Shawn's Soft Scramble with Rosti. The waitress suggests he jettison his coffee cup saucer, and then the table looks as if it were made just to hold all of our dishes and the occasional elbow.
Tom wishes his warm, meaty sandwich had been left to chart only a savory course; in this vein, he wipes all powdered sugar off the buttery bread and refuses the addition of currant jelly. I eat that from a spoon. Shawn eats his perfectly cooked eggs first, with bites of English muffin, but not its rims, here and there. The rosti will have to wait, which was a wise decision because although it glistened with an entrancing golden hue, it wanted desperately for salt, the one usual suspect missing from our table's fauna.
My huevos were terrific- the chile sauce was smoky and complex, the perfect accompaniment to beans, avocado, chips and eggs. I was full afterwards but not so stuffed that I couldn't later make room for a slice of New York cheesecake, which I bought for and ate on the train home.
At Prune I felt happy. I felt like a neighborhood regular even though I'm obviously not. The food wasn't perfect or even that memorable really. But I'd return in a heartbeat just to feel in that mix again. A blip of a moment in time in a microcosmic speck of New York. It's not every restaurant that can draw people in like that. That's what made Prune special to me and likely part of what has made it special to so many others over the past fifteen years.