On a side street in New York City’s East Village, on 54 East First Street, David Spain and I managed to get a 7:30 reservation at the much talked about restaurant, Prune.
We went to Prune under the recommendation of my friend and editor of Country Gardens magazine, James Baggett. Since James is a foodie and a post New Yorker, I knew he had an opinion I wanted.
When I traveled last summer to Montreal, James told me to try Poutine. So while the kids and I were spending the day in Old Montreal, we ordered up. Even though I sent a great photo of our treat to James, I felt I disappointed him with just sending a photo instead of describing the taste, texture, and pleasure we each enjoyed savoring Poutine. Perhaps, reporting about my experience dining at Prune will make up for my Poutine faux pas. This food review is dedicated to you, James. I hope it brings you similarly good memories.
PRUNE, the restaurant, not the tree trimming action.
Seated at an end table, our waitstaff, Emma, with lips of a Gibson Girl, pursed as if she knew no one is ever dissatified enjoying a meal at Prune, liked us instantly since we brought our own table decoration, Moss Rocks! As we chatted, we made it clear we were celebrating, since it was the day David Spain first appeared on Martha Stewart TV. Within seconds of telling her this, Emma said she would be right back. When she returned, she wasn’t alone; in her hands were two glasses of something sparkling. I don’t know for certain why we were treated to a glass of a sparkling wine, Cava Brut, Castell Roig sp. Emma knew we were celebrating, but I don’t think it was necessarily because of Martha. It seemed celebrating was enough for Emma to bestow upon us the sparkling wine.
Cava Brut, Castell Roig sp was charming from the first sip after the clink of our glasses, to the empty bottle we finished at the end of our meal. Our little congrats-taste from Emma led us to ordering a bottle. After all, we were celebrating. It seemed appropriate to forego ordering drinks or even wine, and stick instead with this nectar and so we ordered a bottle. With the intense week prior to Martha, preparing and scripting, we were finally relaxing and enjoying our New York experience.
The conversation never wavered; it never does with David Spain. We engaged our table mates in conversation, a chef and a design student at Parson’s School of design, also celebrating, in their case, her 27th birthday.
For appetizers, David ordered lamb sausage and I ordered the grilled shrimp in anchovy sauce. This was James’ recommendation. He was very specific about this.
As an anchovy aficionado, meaning I’ll eat any anchovy from a can, jar, or pickled, added to salads, pizza, or eaten right out of a jar, with olive oil dripping down my neck, I knew I would love this shrimp dish and I did. James didn’t have to recommend it twice.
The shrimp had their heads on, which some of you may not like. Too many people I know won’t even eat a shrimp that wasn’t deveined, let alone with their head still on. But after all, I’m Chessie Chick, born in Chincoteague, raised in Norfolk, so anything from the water is good to me.
If you are one of those people who want your shrimp dressed, skip down. You may not want to know what I did next.
Pinching off the head, I sucked the juice right out of its thumbnail-sized exoskeleton. They were good. Real good.
As I write this, it occurs to me, I didn’t see what David did with his heads. I hope they didn’t go to waste. Nothing worse than a lost opportunity.
Next, the body of the protein packed shell was slowly peeled away to reach the finger length pale, pink meat. Slowly, I dipped each bite in the anchovy sauce wishing there was more or that I didn’t have to share the sauce. I would order this again. Thank you James.
David’s lamb sausage appetizer, these meatball thingies, were tasty even for this Southern girl who doesn’t actually eat (or like) lamb. It’s one of the rare foods I don’t particularly care for, but I felt since we were celebrating, I would try it again. I also didn’t have the heart to tell David I didn’t eat lamb; knowing we would share the meal, I didn’t want him not to get his first pick. And, it wasn’t like I was gonna have to eat okra or anything, so why not try it, right? It was good…for lamb.
After another pour of Brut, we decided on our main course. I choose the quail; David got the lamb shank braised with tomato, cinnamon, cumin, and preserved lemon. I guess David likes lamb.
The table next to us, who arrived while were were having our appetizers, were eating the roasted marrow bones, parsley salad, with sea salt. I wondered what that was like, and wondered more what I could make out of the bones when they were done. They sure seemed like they could make great votive holders.
My meal was presented beautifully, but I did have to get past the quail taking on a human-like quality, I gave one to David and had the other. He shared his lamb with me. It was decided, and it was a wise decision, we would eat the quail first then move on to the lamb. Not unlike switching from a Pinot Gris to a Cab, we felt it was important to start with a more delicate taste first and them move on to a more earthy, richer flavor.
The quail, tasted wild, as if it were shot from a natural landscape where hunters would gather wearing garb advertised in Garden and Gun, stroking their hunting dog afterwards, and sipping a fine cognac. There were no buckshot holes, though, so it’s hard saying how the quail met their demise.
The little wing, no bigger than the leaf of a lotus, was where I started; pink inside, not dissimilar to the shrimp, but meatier, richer, smoother, I let each bite roll around my tonngue until I completely owned it. Next, I moved on to the other wing, the legs and tiny thighs, then the body, which was deboned, succulent and smooth, causing me to groan out loud. This didn’t go un-noticed by our table mates. But it was understood. You see, if you listened closely, a chorus of groans occured throughout the evening, right down the vertical line of tables.
After the quail, we began eating David’s lamb. I enjoyed this lamb flank even more than the lamb sausage. Who knew? But this lamb didn’t taste like the mutton my mother made. Tender and rich, I ate an unrespectable amount. There was no room for dessert….until Emma mentioned caramel, salted ice cream, crouton…maybe not in that order and I’m not even sure we were offered
Smooth, silky, startling savvy tastes only salt mixed with cream can do. We also enjoyed a distilled wine with dessert. With all that gluttony, even we were surprised to have turned down the coffee, but it was getting late.
We enjoyed the meal, our time together, and toasting James for recommending Prune.
As a final departure, with the nod from Emma, I planked the table to the disbelief of our table mates, who, once recovered, raised their glasses, and with a wink, we walked back into the streets of New York City.
Helen Yoest is an award winning writer and speaker through her business Gardening with Confidence ®., Raleigh, North Carolina.
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