Saturday, March 31, 2007

Birthday eats

I turned 30 on March 30--my "golden birthday" according to my friends. To be honest, I wasn't so thrilled. An ex-boyfriend says I've been 30 my entire life, and in a way, it feels natural to finally be 30. But trying to make that day somehow more special, brighter than the days before and after, it's just the kind of pressure I don't need.

Even choosing a place for a celebratory meal felt tiresome. As I get older--and become a better cook--I don't like eating out as much any more. It's hard for me to enjoy food that I could have cooked myself at home better and for less money, and I have less patience for food that tries too hard. So I was relieved when Lina and Leslie, my oldest friends, invited me to have dinner at Leslie's place.

Spaghetti with clams--this is the kind of simple food that Leslie makes perfectly. The clams were juicy, clean and salty, the pasta just al dente. Lina and I agreed, it's a dish we love but never order in restaurants because it's often executed so poorly. And in classic Leslie-style, it was preceded by simple antipasti--fresh mozzarella balls; roasted eggplant, onions, and peppers; and crusty bread--and followed by a green salad and the lightest, most delicate cupcakes.

The next morning, we went to Prune for brunch. We had to get there by 10 am to get seated in the first seating, and it was really too early to eat a big meal, but we made a good effort, starting with bloody Marys. I'm quite proud of my strong stomach and its ability to eat pickled herring and fennel early on a Saturday morning. It came with a "side" of beer.

Prune is the kind of restaurant I would open if I were ever to own a restaurant--simple, satisfying food cooked perfectly. (There's a theme here.) Stewed chickpeas with poached eggs, which were somehow coated with buttered bread crumbs, and served with a little plate of harissa, preserved lemon, some unidentified pickle, and oil-cured olives. My favorite kind of food.

The rest of the dishes were similar pleasures, hearty and straightforward, not relying on anything other than the ingredients. The famed Dutch pancake wasn't the puffy, eggy pancake I've always called a Dutch pancake, though obviously cooked in a cast-iron skillet. It was a thick with a crunchy crust, but somehow light like a good cake and not too sweet.

When the check came, these little licorice dogs came, too. Perfect, again.

But I can't say I'm going to rush back. In the end, it's still a Manhattan restaurant that's too hard to get into, with prices that are slightly too high for brunch (though not for what it was, very good food). Prune is the kind of restaurant I would open if I were to own a restaurant, but only if it were less popular. I care more about food than most of my friends, and I think about food almost every second of the day, but in the end, I don't think it should be such a big deal. I want good food to be an everyday part of my life, not something revelatory or inspired or mind-blowing, not something rare to strive for, I guess in the same way I want my birthday to be as good as any other day of my life.

1 comment:

Lina said...

Leslie's cupcakes are really the best that I've ever had. Billy's Bakery, Cupcake Factory, etc. don't compare to hers. Leslie's cupcakes stay moist, are light and fluffy, and have just the right amount of buttercream frosting (applied perfectly of course). I can't wait to try the recipe but am anxious that they won't turn out as well.

- Btw, Ookie had all three that evening although he did pace himself. I think it took him a few hours to devour them.