This past summer was my third living in New York, and it was the one that solidified that I love August in the city. Specifically, I love August weekends in the city. The heat is often unbearable, the humidity at its peak, and the air thick with the funk of hot garbage, but it is a fantastic time to explore the city. Why? Because everyone is gone. Whether it be to Long Island or upstate, locals flee the heat on the weekend and leave the streets noticeably quieter. With the majority of tourists crammed into midtown and at museums, it is easy to avoid them, and thus, have the spoils all to yourself. Forever a city slicker, I will always choose cement over sand, so I do not feel lonely or jealous when everyone else is getting salty, beach waves and sun-kissed skin. The city on an August weekend is relaxed and easy to manoeuvre. My favourite part has been seeing how easy it is to get into restaurants that are usually horrible for wait times.
Prune—small and famous and always busy—had a whole row of bar seats for me to choose from one Saturday night. A few days prior, I had begun listening to the audio version of Blood, Bones, & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, the memoir by Prune’s lauded chef Gabrielle Hamilton. Having always wanted to eat at Prune, perhaps never desperately, I was definitely drawn to it now that I was listening to Hamilton herself tell her story and the beginnings of Prune. And once sitting down and taking everything in, the appeal of the restaurant is obvious. It has the small, simple, charming, effortless vibe down pat. The lipstick pink accents do not feel contrived, and the just-a-smidge too tight feel of so many New York restaurants seems less pronounced. Perhaps it was the warm light, white walls, and complete openness to 1st street that made it so that evening.
I came shortly after Hamilton had done a major overhaul of the dinner menu, so I had no chance to try any of the classic dishes like radishes with butter or fried sweetbreads. I made my meal with a few small plates: a daily special of Jersey tomatoes with melted butter, Greek dolmades, a cold roast beef salad, and a blueberry tart.
Although I think she has now returned to the old favourites, I was not disappointed by the new dishes. That is not much of a compliment, so I will rephrase to say, everything I had was delicious and gave me appreciation for why Hamilton is so celebrated. There was overt simplicity to all the dishes, but I know that unskilled hands would have rendered them boring. I can easily cut thick slices of tomato and douse them in melted butter and salt. But I feel that in Prune’s kitchen, they knew exactly how thick to cut the tomatoes, what temperature the butter should be at, and just how much salt to sprinkle. The dolmades were bathed in the kind of olive oil you know you probably could afford to buy but do not, fearing you might slide too far into food snob decadence. The cold roast beef was my favourite. It was served with what was described, I think, as a Thai tom yum dressing, but the combination of beef, mint, and fish sauce had me dreaming of Vietnam. The pink middle of the slices gave just the right amount of chew, and the shallots were sliced thin enough to provide a good amount of bite, not dragon breath. Add in a cocktail and a glass of wine, and I had a very pleasant first experience at Prune.
Hamilton has recently released an official Prune cookbook and with it has come a renewed interest in and respect for the restaurant. I have a little itch of wanting to go back, especially for the well-regarded brunch. But now is not the time to possibly wait two hours for a fried oyster omelette. I think I can wait until August.