A Brunchy Return to New York: Brunch with Lisa at Prune

My first official meal when I returned to New York last week was brunch at Prune in the East Village. (The first unofficial meal was Chinese food I ordered, half-delirious, the Saturday night of my return. I had major jetlag.) I’d been hearing all about Prune from lots of brunch-happy people (and, also, dinner happy people who’ve had great meals there) and I wanted to thank Lisa for taking over my blog. So off to Prune we went.


The rumor was that Prune’s brunch wait was crazy long but I didn’t find it too bad. I got there around 11 (maybe that’s why?) put our name down and by the time Lisa arrived at 11:30 our table was ready. The crowd waiting outside was mostly young–(according to New York magazine, it’s a “hipster” crowd. Does that make me a hipster?).

Once inside, we studied the brunch drink menu. Prune’s famous for a huge Bloody Mary menu and Lisa, a fan of Bloody Marys chose a Southwestern one with spicy tabasco in it and other southwesterly ingredients. Surprisingly (well not such a surprise to me because I read that they do this) they served it with a beer chaser. Here’s Lisa holding up her boozy liquid lunch:


And while her Bloody Mary was quite tasty it was a bit too strong for her so she didn’t finish it. I ordered a more delicate mimosa. That didn’t come with a beer chaser so I held up my side of Canadian bacon:


That’s the second time you’ve seen me in that shirt! (The first time with the chef in Monaco.) I swear, though, I have other clothes! (Does wearing a Lance Armstrong bracelet make me a hipster? Or does it mean I support cancer research? These things are perplexing.)

Now for the food. I’ve never been a big pancake fan but Prunce converted me with this gigunda, oven-baked blueberry monster covered with sour cream and powdered sugar and fresh blueberries.


I loved this pancake. It’s big and crunchy on the outside edges but tender in the middle. The syrup, of course, ties it all together and though Lisa and I were sharing I wound up eating half of her half of the pancake too.

Her dish was ricotta raspberries and figs and pine nuts and honey with a side of fried scones:


Tell me that’s not a beautiful presentation, I dare you! Everything was fresh and tasty—I loved those fried scones; kind of like the secret love child of a donut and a scone—and the fruit and honey all worked very well with the ricotta. One complaint, though, once you eat all the fruit and honey the bottom layer of ricotta is a bit bland. I suppose that’s not really a complaint since we eaters are responsible for distribution of fruit, honey and ricotta.

The check came (complete with licorice dog and coin) and it was quite reasonable for all the delicious food we ate.


Compared to Norma’s at the Parker Meridan (frequently declared the best breakfast in New York) this brunch was a steal. And in my opinion it was simpler and in its simplicty better. Plus the room is very bright and the staff is so fun and warm-spirited. (The hostess is a hoot.) So check out Prune sometime. You’ll love it.

Sunday is for Brunching: Sunday Brunch with Seth & Amy at 9th Street Market

One nice thing about my web site is that it brings people back into my life who fell out of orbit. Seth and Amy are high school friends who knew me before I was the glorious specimen you see above you now in a red sweater holding a pot. Amy and I e-mailed a bit last week and we decided to have Sunday brunch. I asked her to suggest a place and she suggested the 9th Street Market.


The 9th Street Market is on (shocker!) 9th Street between 1st and 2nd Aves. I arrived a little before 10 and there was already a crowd gathered outside. The door opened and the crowd went in. Then Seth and Amy arrived and we put our name on the clipboard outside. The place is really small so if you don’t get in on the first cycle, you have to wait for the first seating to rotate out.

That was fine. It went fast and Amy, Seth and I caught up. Then our name was called and we went in.

The brunch menu had a Prixe Fixe that came with coffee and orange juice or an a la carte that was really only a la carte because it didn’t come with coffee or orangew juice. I ordered from the a la carte menu a smoked salmon scramble with homefries and sourdough toast.


The eggs were great, the potatoes pretty good (they had an interesting flavor), I loved the blackberry preserves but the sourdough toast was inedible. Literally, I don’t know if they intended for it to be so hard to bite into, but each slice should come with its own dentist.

Amy picked the winner: apple pancakes that she let me try. Here she is with Seth: you can see her apple pancakes in front of her.


So if you go to 9th Street Market get the apple pancakes. Amy said: “I hope too many people don’t find out about this place.” She has a point: with the tiny space and the big wait times (it apparently gets crazy around 11, 12) I am really sacrificing our future brunch happiness by sharing this info with you. That’s how much I care. So if you go and you get there before us, put our name on the list? We’ll give you a dentist in return.

Overrated? Overpriced? Back to Momofuku (Featuring: Soft-Shelled Crab Buns)

I admire Momofuku for its food, yes, but also for its sense of humor. Look at what was on the door Thursday night when we went there after class:


[For those whose vision precludes them from viewing pictures, it says: “Momofuku’s Overrated and Overpriced!” – Starchefs.com intern.]

I like that this is on their door. No pretension here—here’s what people are saying about us, and we can handle it. It does beg the question, though: is Momofuku overrated and overpriced?

Well, in my book definitely not overrated. I think the food is really terrific: when Momofuku is mentioned I say “ooh! let’s go!” even if I’m doing something important, like saving a baby from a comet.

But when it comes to whether or not it’s overpriced, it may be. I know many who think so: my cohorts at dinner certainly did. But there’s a difference between being expensive because you’re taking advantage of people and being expensive because your ingredients cost more, because your preparation is exceptional. I think Momofuku falls into this latter category: they’re not con artists, they’re passionate about what they do and in order to serve you the best you have to pay a little more.

I paid a little more on Thursday when I ordered this seasonal treat for my dinner: soft-shell crab buns!


This was an extraordinarily unusual dinner, to say the least. They’re not eating this in military school, I’ll tell you that. I keep writing sentences, that go like this.

The soft-shelled crab in the bun worked really well. I liked the combination of flavors and textures. The chips that came with it were fiery hot but for my latino compadres they were amateur stuff. “This is amateur stuff,” they said.

In conclusion, Momofuku is still a place that makes me say “mmm” even before I arrive–I do not think it’s overrated, I do not think it’s unfairly overpriced. These are my thoughts. If you disagree, maybe they’ll post your comments on their door!

Hearth: The Comic

I just discovered this amazing new program for mac called Comic Life. You can use your iPhoto pics and make a comic strip! Have I discovered a new format for restaurant reviews and cooking adventures?

Perhaps. As an experiment, I just created a strip from our meal at Hearth last week. Check it out! (Click to make it bigger!)


We Heart Hearth

Behold Hearth!


Hearth is in the East Village on 12th street and 1st Ave. For the longest time I’ve wanted to go there, and on Saturday night the opportunity arose. It arose when I called Lisa at 5 to see what was going on (we decided to hang out Saturday night)—she had to shower and nap. “How long will that take?” I asked. “A while,” she responded.

When it became clear we’d be eating a very late dinner, I spontaneously called Hearth. Literally: my body flailed and shook until the phone was out of my pocket and I was dialing. After a few rings a woman answered. I asked if they had any reservations for two people sometime that evening.

“Only 10:30,” she said, dismissively, and prepared to hang up. Who would want a 10:30 table?

We would! So I said “we’ll take it” and she asked for my name. When I told her she said: “Is your number 646-555-1212”? (That’s my cell phone number. Go ahead, dial it, I dare you.)

I said: “Yes, how did you know that?”

“Because,” she quipped, “you made a reservation here once before and didn’t show up.”

Snap! Was this true? I harken back to a former life when I might have called Hearth, made a reservation, without showing up. The only thing that seems like a possibility is when Lauren came to town and I made a reservation at Hearth and didn’t show up. Maybe that’s what she’s talking about? I think so! (But I was so sure I cancelled that reservation…)

“I deeply apologize,” I said sincerely. “It won’t happen again.”

When, later in the evening, Lisa and I convened we killed time in Barnes and Noble in Union Square. “Wouldn’t it be funny if we didn’t show up?” I said.

“Not really,” said Lisa. She had a point. Restaurants rely on people to keep their reservations–it’s how they guage how much to buy, how many waiters to keep on, etc etc.

We arrived at 10:15 and said: “We know we’re early but can you seat us anyway?”

They did. They were really nice. Hearth is so cozy—it has a very homey feel about it. Homey as in home-like not “homey don’t play that.”

Soon we were given bread. The bread was small and crusty and covered in sesame seeds. Lisa hates crusty bread and she had a hard time tearing it open:


Usually I defend crusty bread but I have to agree with Lisa here. This bread was not enjoyable. Was our meal off to a bad start?

Maybe, but it soon recovered when we were brought a little amuse (“amuse bouche!” shouted Lisa Turrets-like) of fennel soup in a shot glass:


“Aahh,” I said slurping it down.

“Mmm,” said Lisa, consuming hers.

It was creamy, springy and anisy. Anisy as in tastes like licorice not…well…

Anyway, we had the sweetest waitress ever. She made no judgment when we ordered no drinks and helped steer us through the menu. Well for Lisa it was pretty easy: there were three vegetarian appetizer options and one entree. (Luckily, as you’ll soon see, she loved it all.)

When it was my turn I gave a little speech: “You see,” I began, “I”m really excited about eating here–I’ve wanted to come here for a long time–and I want to eat something brave and interesting. I’ll eat anything. What do you suggest?”

The waitress rose to the challenge. “Will you eat rabbit?” she probed.

Images of bunnies running in a field popped into my head—my friend Jordan had a bunny in college, he treated it like a cat. Could I eat rabbit?

“Sure!” I said.

“We have a wonderful rabbit appetizer,” she explained. “It’s light—and if you get that I’d suggest you get something heavier for an entree. Like the lamb–our lamb is terrific.”

“Lamb it is!” I nodded, folding my menu. I’m very impressionable and grateful for waitress guidance counselors.

Lisa and I had some deep conversation while we waited for the first course. It concerned religion and faith and what’s real about the Bible. Luckily, my rabbit soon arrived.


What a strange dish! The rabbit itself tasted fine—a cross between chicken, turkey, and pork. Light and flavorful.

But let’s not ignore all the other components. There was prosciutto stuffed in the rabbit with fig and some kind of liver, I think, because it sure tasted like liver. Those little orange squares tasted like gellied stock–chicken? beef? Either way, I’d never tasted anything like it. The salad was a nice contrast and nicely dressed. You can see a prosciutto strip in there too. And what’s that mustardy looking paste in the upper right corner? I have no idea. It didn’t taste like mustard—it was very muted, quite enigmatic.

This was a very exciting dish. I ate it with relish. (By relish I mean with great enjoyment not strong tasting pickle sauce.)

Now normally I never (and I mean NEVER) photograph my companion’s food. My site server doesn’t have space for it—and I can’t responsibly blog about what someone else ate if I only ate a bite of it, can I? Well Lisa was so in love with this salad she grabbed the camera out of my hands and took a picture of it:


This salad contains fava beans and cheese (pecorino, I think?) with olive oil and salt and pepper. Simplicity itself and Lisa devoured it. “This is so good,” she said.

Lisa, by the way, is a very judgmental eater—you should take her accolades more seriously than you take mine. I love everything. Lisa’s wary of expensive over-priced fancy-pants food. But this she loved. Write that down.

Enter my entree!


It’s funny, now that I’m looking at these pictures there’s things I notice that I didn’t even notice in the restaurant. Like here, you can see they sprinkled whole Rosemary leaves over the dish. (And on my appetizer, I notice Thyme leaves.) What a nice touch.

This dish had all kinds of lamb going on. There was a lamb short rib (in the bottom center) topped with something (I can’t tell what), actual lamb chops on the right and then lamb sausage (up top) wrapped in sage. Those were the most delicious.

Then, more fava beans on the right and braised artichoke hearts on the left. These were outrageous: the outsides had a great crispness and the inside was so soft.

If I have to articulate what makes Hearth great (at least in the dishes I ate) it’s excitement on the plate: so much going on, you never get bored. It’s Thomas Kellar meets Babbo. (I say that because Thomas Kellar is all about small doses of delicious things so you don’t get bored of them; and Babbo because it’s similarly in love with its ingredients and rooted, like Hearth, in Italian cuisine.)

Lisa, again, snatched the camera away and snapped this picture of HER dinner:


This had her rolling on the floor in ecstasy. It’s ricotta tortellini with asparagus and morels in some kind of springy sauce that Lisa scooped up passionately. “This is SO delicious,” she kept saying. Lisa was in love with Hearth.

Maybe here I’ll tell you about this really loud guy one table over? He was extremely loud and incredibly close (name that book reference!)—pratcically yelling his opinions to his table mates and shattering the air with his laughter. This woman at this table looked like she was about to punch him. Lisa and I found it amusing until it became annoying and if I were more vocal, I would’ve asked them to move us. But it’s ok—the food more than made up for it.

Then there was dessert. If there’s one thing I heard of associated with Hearth it’s these apple cider donuts:


Lisa doesn’t really like fried dough. (“You don’t like fried dough!” I shouted the first time I heard this.) So she ate a few bites of these delicious donuts. The rest was up to me and I performed my duty quite honorably.

Though, I will say here (full disclosure) I’m not sure what makes these donuts more spectacular than the ones you’d find at a Krispy Kreme or, more appropriately, Doughnut Plant. If I were an agressive critic I’d write: “these are nothing more than glorified donuts.” “What does that mean?” my editor would ask and I’d be fired.

Hearth was a fun experience. I like their attitude, their atmosphere (minus loud guy), and–especially–their food. It’s a place with a real food philosophy—they even post it in their bathroom:


If you’re in the neighborhood and you’re hungry, take it from me and the cast of Damn Yankees: You Gotta Have Hearth.

When My Baby Smiles At Me I Go To Bistro: Resto Leon

(I put great effort into that title. Who knows what song I’m parodying? Who among you, who? Hugh Jackman?)

Saturday night I called up my dear friend Diana and said: “Dear friend Diana, with whom are you dining tonight?” And dear friend Diana replied: “With no one, darling, shall we dine?”

It was then we decided to meet at school and sojourn somewhere snappy. I brought along Robert Sietsema’s “Best Ethnic Eating” guide and we honed in on page 87: East Village Bistros.

NYU is near the East Village so it was just a matter of which one. Sietsema gives two stars to Lucien and says it’s the best in the East Village (“this is the East Village’s best bistro,” he writes) but there is a $ symbol and Diana and I didn’t want to spend mucho dinero.

So we settled upon Resto Leon, Sietsema’s “former favorite East Village bistro.”

Here is Diana outside pointing up:


Inside we were transported to Paris, or at least the East Village’s conception of Paris. It was really dark. The characters were quirky and colorful. Our waitress was non-existent. We sat for a long while before the front door flung open, a woman with a knit hat and a big jacket scuffled in, ran to the back, and quickly came to our table. Our waitress was late on the job!

But she tried really hard. And she had a lovely French accent—so much so that I couldn’t understand what she was trying to tell us about the wine list. Apprently they were out of “mumble jumble mumble” so I ordered a Syrah and Diana ordered a Muscadet. (Am I spelling that right? I hope I am.)

For an appetizer, Diana and I shared this awesome appetizer that is so simple you should go run now and make it at home: (Sorry for the glarey pic—it was really dark in there!)


Basically, this is goat cheese on french bread that has been drizzled with honey and put in the oven (maybe under the broiler?) It was terrific. And the salad was perfectly dressed. This was the best part of the evening, food wise, so enjoy it.

Otherwise, my hanger steak wasn’t so good:


Look how buttery it is! No wonder it’s so dark in there, health nuts like me would run away screaming if they saw that under bright light.

But even if you weren’t a health nut and gluttony was your middle name, this had no flavor! I think it was under seasoned. And the sauteed scallions added little. The salad, again, was great but I’d already had that with my appetizer. And the side of scalloped potatoes that came with it—which looked so naughty and exciting it could have had its own DVD informercial during a Howard Stern commercial break—was all bluster, no flavor. All talk: no action. Diana confirmed this and spent the rest of her time disappointed with her duck confit.

Oh well. The atmosphere was fun. The company made everything excusable. I do not regret going here. But I do regret going afterwards to Cold Stone Creamery—-Diana loves it there, but my “Cookie Doughnt You Want It” (or whatever it was called) was a sticky, gloppy, unappetizing mess. And how depressing it was when someone tipped the lady at the register so everyone behind the counter had to sing a song. Everyone in the store watched these women sadly. Don’t make women sing songs, Cold Stone! And season your meat and confit, Resto Leon!

Thank you.

I Cheat Because I Care: Pearl Oyster Bar, (Red Bamboo), Chikalicious

Oh you dastardly website. Were it not for you, would I have said “yes” to Kirk yesterday and broken my four days of healthy, nutrtious eating to enjoy a lavish, wildly expensive and mayonaissey lobster roll at Pearl Oyster Bar?

Ok, yes, I would have. And it wasn’t Kirk’s idea—it was mine. But we don’t change our lifestyles overnight do we? Baby steps, people, baby steps. Four days of healthy eating, then a little cheating, and back on it. I was so back on it today—all my sins are forgiven. Enjoy my sins.

So Pearl Oyster Bar. Funny, remember how I said Bleeker Street was my favorite food street in New York? And that Cornelia was my favorite side street off my favorite food street? Well it ends up that Pearl Oyster Bar is ON Cornelia right next to Home where I went with my brother. I’ve walked past it 1000 times and never noticed it. Even when it was our destination, Kirk and I walked past it and had to call to see where it was. It’s kind of invisible there on the street. Here’s the doorway:


Amanda Hesser has a whole bit on Pearl Oyster Bar in “Cooking For Mr. Latte.” She has recipes for their Caesar salad and their lobster roll, I think. It’s supposed to be the best lobster roll in the city. I’ve read that other places too. Kirk heard that also. We anxiously anticipated the lobster roll.

On the menu it says: “Lobster Roll….MKT price.” On the chalkboard, it stated what that market price was: $22.

“Wow, that’s a mighty expensive lobster roll,” I said.

But Kirk and I were not dissuaded. We each ordered a lobster roll and pretty promptly they arrived:


When I told my mom about it today and how much it cost she asked, rather logically: “Well, was it the best you ever had?”

I thought about it and answered: “Yes.” It really was. I think Kirk thought so too. He said, “Damn, this is a really good lobster roll.”

I mean the meat was so fresh. Sometimes I’ve had lobster rolls where the meat was stringy and hard to bite through. This wasn’t the case here. And the mayonaisse herb mixture had a perfect balanace. The brioche roll was the perfect vehicle for everything. And the french fries were my favorite sort of fries—skinny and salty. I love skinny, salty fries.

So I loved my cheating lunch at Pearl Oyster Bar. If you’re going to cheat, why not cheat in style?

Then it was off to do work. I’m trying to write the first acts of two separate plays for next week. That’s a lot of work. I’m going slightly batty over it.

When dinner came around, I had plans with John. You know John, you met him in Chinatown. John recently returned from Iceland and he’s going to do a write-up of what he ate there for this site. (Sneak preview: he ate whale!)

We went to this place near his dorm called Red Bamboo. Everything that Zen Palate did wrong, Red Bamboo did right. Their food was great vegan food. This is the best fake chicken I’ve ever had:


Several times I said to John, “Are you sure this is fake chicken?”

“Yes,” he said, hitting me in the head with a fork.

The best things about this fake chicken are: (1) the marinade, and (2) how they cook it over coals. It says it on the menu. “Cooked over coals.” So you get all that magic of real chicken cooked over coals without all that chickeny evil vegans hate so much. I enjoyed it.

But now on to more cheating. That was a healthy dinner, you must admit. But then we were bored. We wanted dessert. We were walking to the East Village. A dark mischevious light bulb went off over my head: “Chikalicious!”


Chickalicious is my dream restaurant. A dessert lover by trade, this place was made for me. It’s two pastry chefs who give you a three course dessert “dinner” for $12. The place is tiny and you can watch the women work as you sit and chat—they’re the ones who serve it to you too:


When John and I arrived, there was no wait. We sat in a little booth and a friendly waiter man guided us through the menu.

Oh, so many choices! How to choose, how to choose. And the menu changes every three days. It’s not like you can come back and try the ones you rejected. So I made my choice (which you’ll see in a moment), John made his, and we were brought our amuse.


This picture’s blurry and strange looking—-almost ethereal. Well that’s how it tasted: rosemary gelee and yogurt sorbet. What a weird combo but it totally worked. We both “mmmed” our way through it. The yogurt sorbet was creamy and luscious, the rosemary gelee subtle and only slightly perfumed with rosemary.

For my dessert choice I chose cinnamon baba au rum that came with cherries and some kind of cream:


Of course, it was delicious. I loved it. And small enough and subtle enough not to make me feel TERRIBLY guitly.

John had an apple dessert:


It was baked apple in some kind of pastry with creme fraiche and apple sorbet. His was tasty too.

I must tell you now, sadly, that the petit fors kind of sucked. Believe me, I wanted them to be delicious, but they weren’t:


I know, I know, they LOOK pretty. The coconut marshmallows were ok. But the little poppy seed cream thingies with orange peel on them didn’t taste like much of anything, and the banana cake slices tasted like someone pushed the “mute” button on flavor.

But still, by the end I was enchanted—I love Chikalicious, I’m totally going to go back. And if you have to cheat on your healthy healthy plans, this is the way to do. My penance will be a week of tofu and yoga. These are the things we do for lobster rolls and dessert.

Cleanse Your Soul (Among Other Things) at Zen Palate

My dear friend Stella, who catsat for me over Christmas break, left me a windy message the other day that went something like this: “Adam (wind wind wind) saw a cool restaurant (wind wind wind) Zen Palate (wind wind wind) let’s eat there sometime.”

After deciphering this message, I called Stella back and made plans to eat with her tonight. Zen Palate is located on 16th and Union Square East. This Wednesday night it was packed—full of young health-conscious people looking to save a buck. It’s like something you’d find in a college town minus the college.

“Table for two,” we said and the hostess pointed to a table near the door. The door kept opening and closing and huge gusts of cold air came in so we asked for a different table.

“The only other table we have is near the bathroom,” she replied.

“I’d rather sit near the bathroom than near the door,” said Stella. Gentlemanishly, I obliged.

As you can see, this made for less than ideal dining circumstances:


But I made do. (Haha—“made do.”)

Stella ordered herself a rice milk milkshake.

“It’s peanut flavored,” said the waiter. Stella said, “That’s ok.”

I said “nothing now” strategizing that I would try Stella’s and if I liked it I would get one for myself. The peanut rice milkshake arrived and Stella sipped it curiously.


“It’s kind of gross,” she said, “but I like it.”

I took a sip and agreed. “It IS kind of gross but I like it too.” I ordered one for myself. As I sipped it throughout the rest of the meal I thought to myself: “What was I thinking?” Because it was REALLY gross, not just “kind of gross” as previously determined.

As for an entree I had the eggplant in garlic sauce. I figured this was a safe choice for my new health consciousness, though I’m not sure how much oil it was cooked in:


Actually, that picture above presents an editorial challenge. I think the food in that picture looks nasty. Also, it tasted pretty nasty. I mean it wasn’t bad, but I’ve had much much better eggplant in garlic sauce in my time. I post that picture because I want to show what people are eating out there in the real world—at a restaurant that does a fairly good business. It’s no coincidence they sat me by the toilet: they know what the average consumer will tolerate.

I tolerated it and had fun with Stella. I’m no food snob. (Ok, maybe a little.) I left feeling healthy and boisterous. And it was nice to know that had I needed a bathroom at any point during my meal, I need only have turned my shoulder.