Monday, April 13, 2009

Lunch at Prune

By Pat Tanner

As noted in this space recently, Jersey girl Gabrielle Hamilton is among the nominees for this year’s James Beard award as best chef in NYC. A recent lunch at her Lower East Side restaurant, Prune, provided ample confirmation why she is a contender.

Her competitors for the award are ensconced at Gramercy Tavern, Picholine, WD-50, and The Modern. That’s pretty heady company for a what started out in 1999 as a quirky, unpretentious restaurant that seats about thirty but which Frank Bruni of The New York Times describes as “a small restaurant with a large footprint” because of how influential Hamilton’s robust, highly personal style has become.

How quirky is it? Before I share some examples, let me assure you that every morsel was superb. If you haven’t dined here, take my word for it that you will enjoy, e.g., the onion sandwich with fried chicken livers, or bacon and marmalade on pumpernickel toast. Another sandwich combines prepared oatmeal with peanut butter, brown sugar, and fried Trenton pork roll.

Hamilton hails from a talented culinary family. She is the daughter of Jim Hamilton of Lambertville’s Hamilton’s Grill Room, and her sister, Melissa, was an editor at Saveur magazine. Gabrielle, whose childhood nickname was Prune, writes occasionally for The New York Times and her first cookbook - “Blood, Bones and Butter” – will be published soon.

Not everything at Prune is as out-there as the oatmeal sandwich. Take the grilled tuna sandwich with aioli and arugula, above. Only half a sandwich is pictured because the other half was demolished in the time it took for me whisk out my camera. The same held true for a bowl of crispy-skin cod in saffron broth and a dessert of brandied, beer-battered cherries.

The dinner menu is even more exciting, and brunch is exceptional. Check them all out at:

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