Prune is so cute that it seems almost dangerous; it's easy to think that surely the pink t-shirts and mismatched flatware, the tiny tables and cheerful staff are all part of a downtown neighborhood bistro gimmick. But the constant crowds at Prune all seem to indicate that the food can stand up for itself (especially at brunch, as Prune is known for the wait as much as the fare), so I was anxious to finally eat there.
I ate with a party of nine people, and negotiating a party that size in a space that small can sometimes be tricky, but Prune welcomed us eagerly. Prune's menu has a sort of an eclectic home-cooking slant to traditional bistro dishes, with some Mediterranean flair as well. The table started off with several appetizers to share, and the bone marrow and sweetbreads both won raves. I split an order of three generous bones - roasted and full of rich marrow, served with toasted bread, sea salt and fresh parsley - and was digging with my friends, flipping the bones over and over, scooping out every bit of the yummy goo. The table also split several of the vegetable sides, and we were in agreement that the roasted yams in brown butter were the favorite, although I personally was a bigger fan of the creamed chestnuts, served with a generous dollop of ricotta.
I had P.E.I. mussels in a spicy almond-chili broth as my entree; the mussels were plump and sweet and the broth rich and vibrant. Several of my friends ate the slow-cooked pork shoulder with salsa verde which was tender and tasty, and the whole fish of the day - a grilled branzino stuffed with greens and lemon, and dressed with fennel and herbs - won raves as well.
The dessert menu is somewhat limited, and we again split a few items among the table; I was most intrigued by the "sugared hay" dish, which turned out to be sweet shredded phyllo dough (imagine shredded wheat, but with phyllo, sort of) topped with Greek yogurt and squares of candied pumpkin. I'm not a fan of too-sweet desserts, and this dish could have been a breakfast as much as a post-meal treat, and won points for being something utterly new to me.
One impressive note: Prune boasts an extensive cocktail menu, surprising for such a small restaurant, but there were a good number of wines by the glass available, many beers, and well over a dozen cocktails - both classic and signature. I had a glass of Cava and then two glasses of a crisp, refreshing Chardonnay from a new-ish Sonoma winery - Lioco - that I almost never find on a wine list and was more than happy to encounter at Prune.
Dinner and drinks came out to just under $90 per person, including cocktails, appetizers, sides, entrees and tip/tax. The menu is priced moderately high for the casual neighborhood spot it is, but the foodie crowd that's found a fit on East 1st Street doesn't seem to mind (The Tasting Room is just a few doors east of Prune). Prune (212.677.6221) is located at 54 East 1st Street and accepts all major credit cards, but doesn't allow cell phones.