Prune, June 16, 2006

54 East 1st Street.

d.b.a has become my wife's coworkers' default happy hour place...which is a HUGE step up from either of their previous digs. So on Friday we found ourselves near the "nexus of the universe". Fans of Seinfeld will recall (thanks Leo for the head's up and thanks to BC Beat for the confirmation) that Kramer, venturing far from his uptown safety zone during the landmark sitcom’s final season, was lost on the Lower East Side. Frantically, he phoned Jerry. "I'm on First and First. How can the same street intersect with itself?" Kramer wondered. “I must be at the nexus of the universe!".

We had to bail a little early (last minute father's day presents and such) but as luck would have it, we walked by Prune on the way to the SoHo outpost of Bloomingdale's which is on First at First - or close to it.

I was excited. This was not just Prune, home of one of the most celebrated NYC brunches, but also a stop on my top 10 must-get-to-as-soon-as-possible dining destinations. So with very little prodding, Danna agreed. The place was fairly empty (it was early...6:45 or so) and, after realizing the confusion we stirred in one of the waitresses (you could tell she was trying to figure out how to balance a walk-in (us) and her 7:00 reservations), I mentioned that we were in a hurry and would be out quickly. She said "Ok, great" and sat us at one of the window seats. Perfect. That would be the last we saw of her.

On the table already were some soggy, orange/burnt umber colored peanuts and a salt bowl. the peanuts, it turns out, were boiled in water with cumin. They were interesting. I wouldn't say they were great, but they were different. The iced-tea, however, was very good, and didn't need the simple syrup that they served on the side, though that was a nice touch...something I'd seen earlier in the week at The Modern.

To start, Danna ordered a warm artichoke appetizer ($11). This was pretty good. Danna seemed to like it as well. The buttery glob you see on the bottom was superflous.

I decided to go for the Sorrel Soup ($7). This was very good and was my first foray with sorrel. I know its at or near its peak season and wanted to give it a shot. It's not a timid green and does pack a wallop of flavor in soup form. The creme fraiche pictured here hid a few cubes of potatoes which were well boiled and added the appropriate texture balance to the soup. Solid.

Danna had another appetizer for her main course...but when they came out, two beef ribs with lots of mean on the bones, we were both shocked. A nice portion size, though I think the size of the bones made it seem bigger than it was. But still, there was a lot of meat on those bones, and tasty meat as well. I don't recall the rub used on it, but it almost had a mole taste to it...perhaps a coffee flavor as well. Very good.

I went for the poussin dish. Chicken can be used as a barometer of a restaurant. If you can make a chicken sing, you have yourself a great chef in the kitchen. I don't have to tell you that Prune has a great chef in the kitchen, we all know Gabrielle Hamilton is a NYC culinary hero, but I'd yet to see why. This simple dish was truly terrific. A nice-sized poussin was served whole/intact with some crispy skin (just not on the legs) in a pesto broth and adorned with a "dry" pesto-like sauce. The bird was perfectly seasoned, juicy and crisp where it needed to be and the sauce and "broth" were a perfect foil for the bird. I think my pairing of the soup and bird dishes (pats oneself on the back) was a great fit. They worked well with each other. I'd recommend this dish.We were going to pass on dessert but as always, like to hear what they have. Today's special - a strawberry sandwich - couldn't be passed up. Thank goodness we didn't. YUM! Sugary sweet and youthful. This was a great dessert and I bet it made many people happy this afternoon. Wow. The strawberries, it should be noted again, are also most likely from the Greenmarket as several vendors had fresh, naturally-grown (or perhaps even wild) strawberries for sale this week. I'll be by to pick some up on Wednesday no doubt.

Service on the other hand is where Prune runs into trouble. There are maybe a dozen tables at Prune and their had to be five people with pink shirts on in charge of these tables. We dealt with three of these people. That in itself isn't a problem.

It's the preferential treatment that some guests get and that others do not. A table that sat down next to us (actually, there was a table in between us) received two slices of bread with some good looking stuff all over it. An amuse to be certain. I asked our skinny blond waiter what that was. He said it was something (he kind of mumbled it, knowing that he was busted in a way) and then asked if I would like some bread for my soup. I said yes I would. I never got the bread I was offered and I certainly never got the amuse dish that the other couple to my right received. This preferential treatment is bogus and the waiter received a less-than-what-I-usually-tip-tip because of it.

I will go back for brunch...something both Danna and I are excited to try. The menu looks delicious.


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