Review: Prune (East Village)

Sunday Brunch at Prune

I fell in love with Prune before I’d ever eaten there. Naming her restaurant after her childhood nickname, Chef Gabrielle Hamilton documented her experience opening Prune in her New York Times Bestseller, Blood, Bones, and Butter. By the time I had finally made dinner reservations, I already knew about Hamilton’s affinity for Negronis, her love of the simplicity found in radishes and butter (a favorite we share), and the attention to detail involved in cooking a hare. Like the menu that values “simple” delicious food, the restaurant itself is easily overlooked- so much so that after reading at length about the restaurant’s façade and 30-seat bistro dining room, I walked right past the distinctly purple awning and wide windows that look out on the sleepy residential street it’s nestled in. After a few 180˚s, I entered the dining room to be greeted by a blonde woman in a dress who showed me to my table.

(Spoiler Alert: I realized months later while attending a Taste Talks event that this blonde woman listening in on my know-it-all accounts of Gabrielle’s life, was the chef-author herself. Cue: me physically cringing for the next week with flashbacks of me rattling off Did-You-Knows about Gabrielle while she refilled my water glass).

Prune Carbonara

The menu, which recently underwent an enormous overhaul that coincided with the restaurants fifteenth anniversary and Hamilton’s first cookbook, featured a list of dishes inspired by the Italian countryside Hamilton loves: Duck breast with cipollini onions, dandelion greens, and agrodolce dressing, Escarole salad in the Ruman puntarelle style. I ordered a lamb dish with chickpeas, and a chicken broth with a poached egg. While the components of my meal were simple, the flavor of each dish was incredible. The broth in particular had a depth of flavor that I’ve never experienced from broth alone.

This past Sunday, I returned to stand outside of Prune at 9:30 AM, thirty minutes before doors opened with roughly forty other people layered in coats, hats, and mittens for brunch. While I love brunch, I’ve become distrustful of eating out for brunch after one too many botched Eggs Benedict and watered-down mimosas. Prune’s brunch was enough to earn my trust back instantly. Seated by the large front window, I felt like I was in an open-air French bistro despite the ice-cold pane of glass to my left.

Egg en Cocotte

As soon as the menu hit the table, my boyfriend and I went a little crazy and ordered all of the foods (many of our restaurant outings begin this way, but this was excusable for an anniversary brunch). Spaghetti a la Carbonara; fresh Ricotta with raspberries, figs, toasted pine nuts and honey served with Merveilles; Egg en Cocotte served with chicken, buttered white toasted and a mixed level vinaigrette. Drinks and sides all around!

While some of the foods were not perfect (the chickpea side wasn’t particularly interesting and the ricotta could have used some more honey), the meal was. From the slightly tart and salty center of the Merveilles to the friendly waiters, reasonably-priced food, and Beatles-heavy playlist, consider my dislike for brunch gone. Carbonara is often done too heavily, relying on a thick egg-cream sauce for its flavor. At Prune, however, the cream was traded for a significant dose of pepper and thorough coat of parmesan, allowing us to easily polish off a huge bowl of the lighter-than-expected dish. See you next Sunday, Prune.

2014 Best of New York

Buttermilk Channel Lamb Salad

Bear with me, but I’m about to make a huge claim: 2014 was my best food year ever (and maybe best year ever?). After graduating in May, then moving to New York City this summer, I made it my goal to try just about every restaurant I could get into – which was a lot. Eight months and countless bites (and pounds?) later, here are the restaurants and meals that have excited me the most this year:

The Best of the Best:

Favorite Overall Restaurant: Pok Pok Ny
Best New Restaurant: Cosmé
Best Cocktail BarEmployees Only
Best Beer Bar: The Cannibal
Best Brunch: Prune
Best Fancy Date Night: The NoMad
Best Easy Date Night: All’onda
Best Set Dinner for Two: Pig Out at Tuome
Best Cocktail: Hunny at Whiskey Soda Lounge
Best Bite: Uni with Truffle Salt at Sushi Nakazawa

Honorable Mentions:

Best Pop-Up Restaurant: Mission Chinese Pop-Up
Best Tasting Menu: wd~50
Most Unexpected Taste: Popcorn Parfait with Concord Grape Sauce at Contra
Best Ramen:Jin Ramen
Best Fried Chicken: Buttermilk Channel
Best Cocktail Name: Sippy Cup at The NoMad
Best Late Night Dessert: Salty Pimp at Big Gay Ice Cream
Best Ice Cream: Vietnamese Coffee at Morgenstern’s
Best Pastry: Blueberry and Cream Cookies at Momofuku Milk Bar
Best Piece of Food Writing: An American Ramen Master by Pete Wells

Review: All’onda (Greenwich Village)

Before moving to New York City – when the uni craze was at its peak – I saw a photo on Kate Krader’s Instagram. Captioning a bowl of Bucatini pasta nested in breadcrumbs, she wrote, “Yes on Bucatini with smoked sea urchin & spicy bread crumbs.” Although I had not yet graduated school, yet alone found an apartment in New York, I made a reservation for two at All’onda in May.

Yes on Bucatini with smoked sea urchin & spicy bread crumbs.

A photo posted by Kate krader (@kkrader) on

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Review: Pok Pok Ny (Brooklyn)

Pok Pok Fish Sauce Wings

Every time the New York Times Dining section reviews a restaurant, Pete Wells attends the restaurant three times. No more, no less.

Visit 1: The first time my boyfriend and I went to Pok Pok Ny, it was on the advice of the Wells’ 2012 list of his favorite restaurants in New York. We made our pilgrimage through the freezing February weather, taking the F train into Carroll Gardens then walking a mile to the Thai restaurant, a nondescript spot on the edge of a quiet residential neighborhood. As soon as we stepped inside, we were ushered across the street to the adjacent bar, the Whiskey Soda Lounge to order a drink while we waited for our table.

The bar, filled with haphazard multi-colored Christmas lights and video monitors playing Thai movies, felt like something directly out of Bangkok. We found a spot at the bar and ordered two Hunnys, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice with honey drinking vinegar, tequila, and lime. Thirty minutes, four Hunnys, and a contemplated tattoo later, we were called across the street to our table.

Pok Pok is a New York outpost of Andy Ricker’s Thai-inspired Portland restaurant. And while one would think that joining the New York cluster of Thai restaurants is the equivalent of restaurant suicide, Pok Pok has survived, serving the food of northern Thailand not usually found in the city. Rather than use Americanized classics like coconut soup, Ricker opts for grilled meat-centric dishes with fresh chiles and herbs.

By the time we sat down at a gingham-covered table in the back of the dining room, we were starving. Just short of saying “One of everything,” we ordered the legendary Fish Sauce Wings to start, with pork collar, duck salad, and Tiger beers coming shortly after. As a lover of spice, I persuaded my boyfriend to ignore the warning signs of “green chili,” “served spicy,” and “Thai chilis,” and order the authentic preparations.

The Fish Sauce Wings came first, doused with sugar and deep fried before being covered in caramelized Puh Quoc fish sauce and garlic. They were everything we had hoped for: spicy and incredibly flavorful with tons of roasted garlic. By the time we received our second course, we were drunk, laughing, and eager for the next dish. So eager that I premptively poured half of the pork shoulder sauce onto my order of sticky rice. This proved to be a Pok Pok Rookie Mistake.

To say the pork shoulder was spicy would be an understatement. To say my boyfriend and I caused a scene, fanning our tongues, jumping up and down with tears in our eyes, and staring mournfully at my poisoned rice would be more like it. But it was delicious. Like a masochist, I went in for each bite preparing myself for the pain, but needing more of the delicious meat.

Pok Pok Whiskey Soda Lounge Anchovies

Visit 2: Naturally, when given a two-hour wait time for Mission Chinese’s eight-course popup restaurant, my boyfriend and I decided that that was the perfect amount of time to head to Pok Pok and get a couple beers and fish-sauce wings. Thinking we could eat a plate of fish sauce wings immediately before an eight-course meal is another prime example of a Pok Pok Rookie Mistake.

Visit 3: No longer amateurs to the incredible spices and highly-alcoholic drinks at the Whiskey Soda Lounge, we returned this past weekend for Pok Pok Round 3. Walking into Pok Pok, we welcomed the two hour wait time (“No seats? No problem!”) and sauntered over to our bar stools at the Whiskey Soda Lounge. “Two Hunnys, please!” Branching out from “the usual,” we ordered a bowl of Plaa Lek Twat Krob, a bowl of deep-fried baby anchovies with sriracha sauce, and Huu Muu Thawt, five spice fried pig ears with black vinegar dipping sauce. Both were… crunchy? I can’t say that I loved them, but my boyfriend downed the little flounders in one fell swoop. Call me impressed.

Thoroughly liquored and fish-breathed, we took our seats at Pok Pok just over an hour later to order our beloved fish sauce wings and pork collar, with a side of milk.

The trick is to look at Pok Pok as a portmanteau establishment of incredible dishes and daring exploration. Just as important as the delicious food is a healthy sense of adventure. Just be sure to mind the chilis.

Review: Sushi Nakazawa (West Village)

Sushi-Nakazawa-Exterior-Review

In 2011, Daisuke Nakazawa cried when his mentor, Jiro Ono, told him he had finally succeeded at making egg sushi, a yellow custard that I would not ordinarily associate with sushi, somewhere between a cake and pudding. Relegated to making a dozen egg sushi a day, this acknowledgement of craft is what the student has been waiting for. Nakazawa recalled this moment while sitting in a tunnel of the Ginza train station in Tokyo, filmed for the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, about the three Michelin-starred Sukiyabashi Jiro, tucked into a Tokyo subway.

At Sushi Nakazawa in the West Village, the sushi chef behind the counter is nothing like the monk-like man in the documentary, head bowed in servitude to his mentor. Today, he can only be described as jovial, more of a blushing Buddha.

Throughout the 21-course omakase meal, he laughs and jokes in between serving single pieces of incredible sushi: Ivory King Salmon, a sea scallop freshly scooped from its shell, a melt-in-your-mouth piece of fatty tuna. At one point, Nakazawa throws four tiger shrimp onto the counter in front of a respectable Scandinavian couple. The lively shrimp squirm and the woman jumps back in her seat before Nakazawa retrieves them and instructs us to repeat after him: “Sayonara!” Laughing almost satanically, he proceeds to pop each head off in rapid succession before filleting the recently deceased and placing them on a burial mound of rice.

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