So what’s really funny is that despite all the work I do around food, researching and writing about it day in and day out, I’m actually quite resistant to eating at restaurants. I worked in professional kitchens. I know that even in the best kitchens things go on that make me leery about eating out. However, while I was in New York for a residency for my MFA, I had no choice. I decided that my big treat would be eating at Prune in the East Village, a restaurant owned by Gabrielle Hamilton, whose 2011 memoir Blood, Bones & Butter first put the bee in my bonnet to eat there. I’ll get to Prune in a moment.
During the week I tried to find the most economic ways to nourish myself while still trying things that I wouldn’t get to try at home. There are some really great, relatively inexpensive lunch places that became my go-tos and I found that my favourite became Hale and Hearty. I wish we had one in Toronto. Really great soups and simmer bowls, flavourful and satisfying, and service that was genuine, welcoming, and helpful.
However, the best damned thing I ate in New York was an accidental kale salad. Why accidental? One of my fellow students and I decided to walk up from lower Manhattan to the Whitney. It was about a 40 minute walk, and we hadn’t eaten for hours, so by the time we arrived at the museum we were pretty hungry. We decided to try the restaurant in the Whitney and sat down. After being handed a menu, we both scanned it, stood up, put our coats back on and walked out. A kale and squash salad for $22? And of course I translate that into Canadian money so it’s actually $4,000,000 Cdn, or something like that. Either way it’s too much to pay when we’re heading to Prune that night and I wanted to splurge there.
We trudged across the street to an adorable place called Bubby’s. There, on the menu, is a kale, beet, and squash salad. It’s $12. It comes with a dressing that tastes like lemon merengue pie. It has pomegranate seeds on it and pecans and GOAT CHEESE. The service is warm and perfect, the salad is up there among the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth and did I mention it was $12?
I was saving my pennies for my big treat – Prune! I was so excited. We ended up being a group of six and in a tiny restaurant, we took up a lot of space. It started out so great. The hostess was a professional – welcoming, warm, showing us where the shawls were and taking our coats. I chatted with her briefly about Gabrielle Hamilton and how much I enjoyed her book and her attitude towards food, which is mostly that it needs to taste good. What? That’s crazy talk, right? It was all so lovely.
We shared some bar snacks, which were okay – nothing that made me roll my eyes back in my head – but did the job of holding us over. Then my friend and I shared a whole grilled fish with toasted fennel oil, which was freaking delicious, and I ordered some braised escarole, because I couldn’t imagine how one braised escarole and made it taste like anything other than slimy lettuce. Well, it seems, you can’t. It was awful, over-salted and slimy as I imagined. But I had to try. I tasted bits from my other companions’ dishes and everything was uniformly delicious.
So what was the problem? I’m sorry to say that the warmth and the humour of the hostess did not trickle down to our server. She forgot a side dish, charged us for drinks that we didn’t order, and generally had the warmth of a Winnipeg winter, and that’s being harsh to Winnipeg. It was really too bad. I would like to go back sometime, maybe with just one other person this time (figuring out the bill was an irritant. Why oh why can’t American restaurants split bills?) because there was so much about it that was good. But the server kind of cast a bit of a pall over the evening, I’m sorry to say. I did, however, have one of the best ciders I have ever had in my life there. I guess at $16 a bottle, it should be, but it was quite heavenly and worth it.
I also had a bloody delicious sandwich at a vegan place called Blossom. Anyone who knows me would probably find it amusing that I went to a vegan restaurant because they know that I think that all you can order there is endive with a side of moral superiority, but Blossom proved me wrong. It was delightful and welcoming and the food was super flavourful. They also let me and my friend chat for a couple of hours without giving us the hairy eyeball. I forthwith reserve all judgment of vegan restaurants!
So there you go. This was eating in New York on a budget (plus one indulgence). I won’t be back there for at least another four years now, and I’m sad because I love New York. I love the rhythm of the city and the energy. I love how people move through the city, purposeful and lively, everyone seeming to move to the beat of “Staying Alive”. I’m going to miss it.
I wonder if Bubby’s delivers to Toronto?