Thursday, April 07, 2011

Blood, Bones, and Butter, Metal Mountains, etc.

the lamb roast fig. a: the lamb roast

We'd been itching to check out Gabrielle Hamilton's Prune for years. People we trusted kept urging us to go, and we'd heard nothing but the most enthusiastic reviews. Then we started to catch wind of a new book by Hamilton--not a cookbook, but a memoir. And then her story "The Lamb Roast" appeared in the January 17, 2011 issue of The New Yorker--a little foretaste of the book, now officially titled Blood, Bones, and Butter and slated for release in March--and that sealed the deal. The next thing you knew, Michelle was talking a lot about extravagant outdoor roasts--lamb and goat roasts, mostly. The next thing you knew, Prune had become a #1 priority.

The story was about a lamb roast, yes. More specifically, it was about an elaborate lamb roast her eccentric set-designer father threw for friends and family on their sprawling property in rural Pennsylvania, an undertaking inspired by "a photograph torn from a magazine of two Yugoslav men roasting a lamb over a pit." But, really, it was about so much more. And although there was a certain nostalgia to Hamilton's story--the "sexy black cat-eye eyeliner" fashioned after '60s icons like Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren that her mother wore; the pre-McMansion innocence of the Pennsylvania/New Jersey landscape; the insouciance of riding untethered in the back of a pickup truck; the traditional family-owned butcher shop in the days before "artisanal," "organic," and "free-range"--this was a tale of heartbreak, or, perhaps more accurately, a tale of innocence lost.  Either way, there was a lot there that the two of us could relate to--the artistic milieu, the barbecue, and the "meadow filled with people and fireflies and laughter," the freedoms of childhood in the '60s and '70s and the Led Zep--and it got us pretty excited about the impending release of Blood, Bones, and Butter, not to mention a Prune pilgrimage.

Near the end of March, we decided to make a last-minute trip to New York for Michelle's birthday. It was Saturday morning, the day before we were scheduled to leave, and we were brainstorming about things we wanted to do while we were there. We knew we wanted to be in the East Village on Sunday night--there was a concert there that night that we wanted to catch. "The concert's at 8:00. Should we eat before? Where should we go?" "I know," Michelle exclaimed, "Prune!" Yeah, right. As if... But we did want to eat early. Hmmm... Nothing to lose from calling, right? So we did. And sure enough they were booked up. But then the woman on the other line revealed a little secret.

"How many are you?"


"We always keep a table for two open for walk-ins, and you can't reserve the seats at the bar."

We liked where she was going with this.

"We open at 5:30. If you show up right at 5:30, I can pretty much guarantee you'll get seated--either at a table or at the bar."

"Pretty much guarantee..."? Perfect. We'd make sure to be there right a 5:30.

It worked like a charm. We showed up at 5:15, and by 5:30 we were seated at a very small, very cozy table in the very small, very cozy space that is Prune. The Velvet Underground's Loaded was roaring over the stereo. The room was filled with a golden, late-afternoon light. We couldn't have been happier. We took a quick look at the menu to get our bearings, ordered a bottle of Frappato on the recommendation of our waitress, and made our final deliberations.

prune 3 fig. b: wine

Prune's menu is simple, elemental, and ever so tempting. We wanted to try everything, but settled on just a few choices.

Marrow bones to begin with.

prune 1 fig. c: bones

(Hamilton describing her mother's kitchen: "Her burnt-orange Le Creuset pots and casseroles, scuffed and blackened, were always filled with tails, claws, and marrow-filled bones that she was stewing or braising on the back three burners.")

Then a grilled lamb chop with skordalia, a whole grilled striped bass stuffed with fennel and herbs,

prune 2 fig. d: fish

and leeks vinaigrette with mimosaed eggs (again, just like Hamilton's mom used to make).

We felt so good after that meal, we strutted out of Prune and into a surprisingly warm early-spring evening in the East Village. And twenty minutes later we were immersed in the psych-folk sounds of Metal Mountains.

2/3 metal mountains fig. e: 2/3 metal mountains

A couple of hours after that, we found ourselves at Rai Rai Ken again,

chez rai rai ken fig. f: inside Rai Rai Ken

not so much because we were hungry, but because we were in New York, and the night was young.

We ate a lot of great things while we were in New York, but the simple elegance of that meal at Prune was particularly memorable. I'd even go so far as to say that it left Michelle positively Prune-obsessed. Maybe a little too Prune-obsessed.

You see, I had it on good authority that she had a copy of Blood, Bones, and Butter in her future. But she was so Prune-obsessed that she wanted it now. My feigned indifference must have tipped her off, because she really started pressing buttons.

"I really want to read Blood, Bones, and Butter. Should I buy it right now? Should I order it? What do you think? Should I get it now? I should get it now."

I've gotten pretty good at withstanding these barrages, but this time I crumbled. "No, probably best to hold off on that one, honey."

Wouldn't you know it? The pressing of buttons subsided. And, sure enough, Michelle got her copy of Blood, Bones, and Butter a couple of days later.

She made quick work of it. Almost as quick as that meal at Prune. For a couple of days, there it was, sitting on her bedside table.

boris, blood, bones, butter fig. g: blood, bones, butter, boris

And then it was gone. The verdict? Particularly memorable.

Now it's on my bedside table.

Prune, 54 East 1st St., # 1, New York, NY, (212) 677-6221

For more about Blood, Bones, and Butter, check out Hamilton's book-related website.


* Apparently, there were many of these elaborate affairs, including an exotic Moroccan party, a "Valentine's Day Lovers' Dinner that featured a swan motif prominently because, as her father explained, "Swans mate for life," and a Russian Winter Ball styled after the ice palace scene from Doctor Zhivago (naturally).


Amber said...

Wonderful post! My fave bits were the VU soundtrack, the marrow and Michelle's insatiable Need for that book...I can relate to that kind of obsessing. I'm taking inspiration from this for an upcoming weekend trip to NYC.

andrea said...

A fine post. Had not heard of this book. You, like her father, were inspired by a magazine.

You know what would be a great job? Writing the abstracts for the New Yorker web site, changing first person into third.

"The night before the party, the writer and her siblings slept by the fire."

Greg said...

Happy birthday, old friend.

aj kinik said...

thanks, Amber,
when are you going to NYC? need any tips? we can hook you up...

thanks, Andrea,
you're right--that would be a great job

hi, Greg,
why, thank you!

Julie said...

I just finished this book last night and I too am now Prune obsessed! One day I will make the pilgrimage to this restaurant and will know to show up just before 5:30... Lovely post.