Prune and Sea Grill: Two Fun New York Restaurants

NEW YORK -- Scrumptious is not a word I use often. But it’s the first word that came to mind reliving a superb meal at the tiny New York eatery known as Prune, a tiny, bare bones bistro headed by chef Gabrielle Hamilton in the center of the trendy East Village.

Armed with a selection of hearty, robust, energetic fare, I opted for the bar menu, loaded with creations that aimed straight for my heart. I can still taste the marvelous trio of marinated ultra-fresh anchovy fillets, lots of chopped celery hearts and celery leaves, and a mound of top-quality Marcona almonds from Spain.

Rarely have I seen a menu with such a sense of humor – why not radishes, sweet butter and Kosher salt, or perhaps a platter of buttered brown bread, Spanish goat cheese and salted red onion? The menu seems to wander all over the place, but somehow keeps you well-grounded and curious nonetheless. I was a goner for the platter of fried oysters with a can’t stop eating-it homemade tartare sauce. The oysters were mammoth the coating thick and crunchy, and I could have gone on for more if I didn’t have other treats in store.

I was less enthusiastic about the grilled homemade lamb sausages (they were just a bit too tentatively seasoned), and felt the same about the unusual combination of braised veal tongue, grilled octopus and gremolata. When you go, do save room for the fried dark meat chicken, with that same extraordinary breading, served with a fantastic cold buttermilk dressing.

Next time, I’ll be sure to try the ruby shrimp boil with sausage, potatoes and corn, and am curious as to how the buttered wide egg noodles with small curd cottage cheese might be.

The brief wine list is intriguing and I loved the almost sweet German Riesling (quite different from it more acidic French counterpart), from the estate of Dr. Burklin-Wolf in Pfalz ($8 a glass; $31 a bottle), and savored every drop of the very meaty, harmonious Oregon pinot noir, the Cristom Mt Jefferson cuvé priced at $52 a bottle.

The restaurant is beyond no frills: Diners sit elbow to elbow on tiny café tables, seated at hard wooden church-style banquets. Service is friendly, helpful and lacks attitude, hurrah!

On the face of it, the Sea Grill has all the making of an overrun tourist trap with bad food and lousy service. There it is, smack dab in the center of town, Rockefeller Center no less, with a ringside view of the amateur skaters on the Center’s fabled ice skating ring.

Oh, how wrong that all is. Instead we have a light airy, bustling, New York grill, a refreshing oasis in the center of Manhattan. The executive chef, Edward Brown, is hand’s down one of my favorites and one of the best fish chefs working today. I stopped in one sunny day for lunch and the place was alive. For starters, the grill has something for everyone. In a hurry? Take a seat at the bar, and feast on just a touch of sushi or sashimi with a glass Chilean Sauvignon blanc from the Manta vineyards. Or is it oysters that are on your mind: tiny Peconic Bay oysters from New York, briny Pepperell Cove specimens from Maine, and cold water St Anne’s from Nova Scotia where the choice the day I lunched.

We opted for a table with a million dollar view of the skating rink, where – among the happy group of skaters -- a pair of twin girls were flipping and flopping as their patient mother lead them through the paces. Sushi was on my mind, so we selected a pair of rolls from the compact menu. I’d go back tomorrow just to sample Brown’s clean, elegant, well-mannered creations. Crab and avocado are a combination made in heaven, and here, the duo did their job, offering texture, sweetness, smoothness and satisfaction. A glass of Dr Loon’s “Dr. L” (at $10 a glass) German Riesling from the Mosel district, was lush and tangy and made the quick lunch all that much more satisfying. Even better were the spicy tuna rolls – six bite-size rounds – filled with a spicy tuna tartare, encased in rice, then topped with sliver-thin slices of raw tuna and more avocado.

The wait staff was gracious, and as you watch them flow past with platter after platter of seductive fare – the world’s best crab cakes, grilled calamari with a garlic and pine nut crust, or seared Chatham cod with a butterbean ragout – all made us want to stay on, or at least race back for dinner.

54 East First Street
New York, NY 10003
Telephone: 212 677 6221

Bar selections $5 to $10. A la carte, $30 to $50, not including service or wine.

Sea Grill
19 West 49th (between 5th and 6th )
New York, New York
Telephone: 212 332 7610.

Open daily. Sushi rolls from $7 to $10; sushi platters at $27; oysters $2.50 each. A la carte, $45 to $55, not including service or wine.