October 9, 2011

An Imperfect Prune

Sometimes I have an expectation and reality falls short. That happens. However, in the world of award-winning New York restaurants I am rarely disappointed. But, even there sometimes reality does fall just a little bit short. That was the case when I visited Prune Restaurant in the East Village.

Prune is a tiny bistro on East 1st Street owned by chef and author Gabrielle Hamilton, the recipient of the 2011 James Beard award for best chef in New York City. My husband Jonathan and I had wanted to try this restaurant out for a while. So, one weekend we decided to take an impromptu trip to New York and called and got a reservation. The reviews of Prune I had read in magazines were all glowing, however Jonathan noticed on the bus ride to New York that many of the Yelp reviews were mixed. (Most of these reviews complained about poor service, rude host staff, tables cramped too close together, and greasy food.) So, by the time we were settling into our hotel I was a little concerned about our restaurant choice for the night.

When we arrived at Prune I instantly wanted to love it. It is an adorable bistro with decor that is reminiscent of old world restaurants. And the menus were the matched the exact color of my shoes - purple. It looked charming! We had to wait a few minutes but the hostess was very pleasant and soon we were seated at our table. Yes, this place is small and that tables are close to each other but it is not uncomfortable. And our server was cheerful and kind. I did notice that some of the servers tended to smile less than others, but our experience was positive.

But, nice service people alone do not make a restaurant exceptional - there has to be outstanding food as well. And, here is where my experience at Prune hits a snag. While we were perusing the menu our server brought over a small ramekin of fried chickpeas. They were very tasty - a nice start to the meal. We shared a half bottle of wine from Chinon and it was very good. At this point my concerns about Prune were fading.

Then our food arrived. I ordered the grilled Branzino and my husband Jonathan ordered the roasted suckling pig. The fish was grilled with lemons and fennel and served whole. And that was it - just a whole fish on a plate. Nothing else. For the price I expected a bit more. Maybe some bread or potatoes? No, just a fish. That said, the fish was well prepared. I would even say it was good - but it was not wow and when dining at a restaurant owned by the recipient of a James Beard award I would anticipate something exceptional. Jonathan also felt his food was good, but not exceptional. His more balanced then mine - his suckling pig was served with black-eyed peas and some delicious pickled tomatoes. (The pickled tomatoes were actually the highlight of the meal.) At the end of our meal our server presented our bill on a plate with two fresh cherries.

This was one of those meals where my expectations far exceeded what reality was able to deliver. Was our meal at Prune good? Yes, but it not memorable or interesting. Would I return? Probably not, I have enjoyed dinner at other New York restaurants far more and I think the menu prices are too high for the quality of the food. Next time in the East Village or Lower East Side I will go back to Momofuku Ssäm Bar, Pata Negra, or Ten Bells - or try a restaurant, cafe, or wine bar I have not been to yet...


Anonymous said...

you probably didn't read her book...the mission of prune is to deliver simple food she encountered while traveling in Europe. Correlating the James Beard award and expectations of a 3 star establishment is an error. enjoyed reading your review anyway!

Jessica said...

I did not read her book, but I had read that she wanted it to reflect the experience of a European cafe. I have traveled extensively in Europe and the atmosphere instantly brought back memories of sitting at a cafe in a European city. Unfortunately, the food did not match the atmosphere. Oh well! I did love the atmosphere of Prune!