Entries came in by the bagful for our Taste of New York contest, but, sad to say, only one entry could win the tickets. Most of the pleas took a similar tack, berating us for not including either a well-known chef (David Chang and April Bloomfield being most frequently mentioned) or restaurant (DeNino’s, davidburke & donatella, even Ruby Foo’s!). What most entries lacked was a “why,” too often, we were just told that “his food is awesome!!” The winner stood out as much for its detailed reasoning as for the strangely masochistic impulse which lay behind it one so purely New York that we felt compelled to grant it primacy. So congratulations to Jim “don’t call me Captain” Kirk, for his nomination of Prune‘s Gabrielle Hamilton. Having always had an unhealthy appetite for backhanded compliments and ambivalent attachments, we felt Kirk’s entry stood apart.
You can’t get much of a clambake going at Brighton Beach, which is about as close as we at Grub Street get to the ocean these days. But we still pine for the crude pleasures of a summer ritual that has almost no presence in the daily life of New York. Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune felt more or less the same way, and so came up with tonight’s special, a dish of steamed Manila clams, merguez sausage, and corn (for $23) meant to summon the experience, if not the setting. “I think it’s like a clambake,” she says, “just not in a pit of sand in the ground. But it has all the other elements, plus ones you wouldn’t normally find, like smoked paprika, cilantro, piquillo peppers.” But why Manila clams? That doesn’t seem especially traditional. “It isn’t,” Hamilton says. “But we love their saltiness, and they are the perfect size to open at just the right time it takes for the merguez to cook.”
Kimberly Witherspoon and Peter Meehan's fine new book, How I Learned to Cook, is a collection of first-person accounts of celebrated chefs' rocky beginnings. Some of the best chapters are by New York cooks: Andrew Carmellini of A Voce, Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune, David Chang of Momofuku and Ssäm Bar, and Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin. In case you have any doubts about adding it to your Amazon wish list, here's a breakdown of the hometown highlights.
The Underground Gourmet expects nothing less than divine sandwich inspiration from Gabrielle Hamilton at Prune. After all, this is the woman who introduced Triscuits with sardines and Dijon mustard to fine dining — to say nothing of a brunch that's like a cross between Barney Greengrass and H.R. Pufnstuf. Now Hamilton has added a lunch menu to her superb repertoire, and the centerpiece is a bacon-and-marmalade-on-pumpernickel sandwich. Hamilton says it's an old suburban-Jersey-family favorite, but its roots may in fact be British — something an eccentric grouse hunter might bring along with him for sustenance on the shoot.
Ask Cynthia Rojas what she overhears in Prune's tiny dining room, as we did, and you might blush (as we did). She often finds herself defending bone marrow to the finicky, but here she tells us how to beat the interminable brunch line.