Few chefs posses the serious writing chops of Gabrielle Hamilton. Like a feminine Anthony Bourdain, the owner of the popular NYC Prune possesses a strong point of view that she’s not afraid to share. As her delicious new memoir Blood, Bones, and Butter climbs The New York Times bestseller list, we asked Hamilton to recommend the city’s best restaurants for a variety of occasions. The selections—several off the beaten track—may surprise you.
Fodor’s: How would you describe Prune?
Gabrielle Hamilton: Prune is a tiny restaurant in the East Village. It is casual with not-casual cooking techniques. We cook delicious food with professionalism and we serve it with professionalism, but it’s relaxed as if you were in the home of a good friend at a dinner party. The food is very rooted in Europe and the Mediterranean food culture. It’s pretty classic and traditional with a very strong identity or personal point of view. Also, if I may say that it’s not conceptual food in any way. It is delicious craveable food, the kind of food you want to eat several times, not just once.
Fodor’s: In terms of food, what do New Yorkers do better than anyone else in the world?
GH: I think we do excellent cooking with attention to detail, using great ingredients and nicely raised animals, with capable cooks in a setting where you can show up in your t-shirt and jeans. It’s high-end, quality cuisine, in a casual setting.
Fodor’s: If you were going out tonight for dinner, where would you go?
GH: Blue Hill in Washington Square. I’ve been in the Dominican Republic for a few days, so I need a little bit of luxury and some tasty, edible food. I’m not going to get too much foam and craziness there. It’s real, edible food with a little gilding, which I like and I’m in the mood for now.
Fodor’s: What’s an underrated restaurant that you think people should know about?
GH: Bamonte’s (32 Withers St., Brooklyn, 718/384-8831). I love Bamonte’s. If you order properly I think it’s one of the best dinners in Brooklyn. Order anything that’s got a little parsley, lemon, and white white wine in there, like a simply prepared fish. I love their cold broccoli salad. They’ve got good baked clams. And the bartenders make a perfect Negroni. I also love that it’s an 80-year-old waiter serving you who’s been doing this for 65 years. They treat you so well there.
Fodor’s: Where do you go for a romantic evening?
GH: Boy—I gotta think about romance. Where would I go? I like my romance separate from my meal. I like to have romance, and then go have the roast chicken. But I would go to Degustation. I love how Jack Lamb takes care of you and comes over and does his incredible dog and pony show with the glasses and the wine. And you can sit side by side with your partner and glance away when you want to watch the chefs in the kitchen, and the atmosphere is warm with dim lighting. That would be a fun, intimate dinner for me. And you can grope under the counter.
Fodor’s: What’s your favorite bar or cocktail lounge?
GH: I like it very old school. We’re talking about Bemelman’s Bar and King Cole Bar, and places like that with a 65-year-old bartender in a white butler jacket cracking open a bottle of tonic over your gin. I’m not into the hipster bartenders wearing suspenders and the places making pineapple gomme syrup. That not my deal.
Fodor’s: Where do you like to take your kids out for a meal?
GH: We like to go anywhere that allows savagery and nudity. Ikea is good. Otto has it down—the kids can really get something they like there. They have an Italian dad, so they can eat prosciutto and pasta ‘til the cows come home. Also, in my neighborhood, there’s a very kid-friendly pizza place called Pala. It has great pizza and a good glass of wine for the grownups and they treat children like the Italians do, like they have a place at the table.
Fodor’s: For a pull-out-all-the-stops celebration dinner, where would you go?
GH: Marea. That was a killer experience. The food is excellent, just delicious. You know how sometimes at high-end restaurants they tone down the flavors so they don’t offend anyone? That’s not happening there. It’s just delicious, all of it. The crudi were exceptional, the pasta was excellent, there was nothing bad about that meal.
Fodor’s: What’s a cheap, good restaurant you’d recommend?
GH: Where did I have a good meal lately? My old standby has been poor lately, so I’m also looking for a good cheap place. Right now I’d probably go to Roman’s in Brooklyn. Last time I was there, the food was good, the wines were nice, the people were sweet. It has a whisper of Italian and what they call New Creative American, which is really just Northern Italian.
Fodor’s: If you had foodie friends in from out of town, where would you take them?
GH: I’d take them to Roberta’s (261 Moore St., Brooklyn, 718/417-1118). That’s an experience that would blow the minds of out-of-towners. You go out to Bushwick and it looks like the most desolate place. You’re passing giant lots and warehouses, and the doors and ATMs are all graffitied over. I went there and I though it was probably how someone from the Upper West Side felt arriving at Prune in the East Village 11 years ago. Then you walk in and menu is something quite serious. The food is real, expertly prepared food. That’s a fun experience for out-of-towners.
About the Chef: Gabrielle Hamilton is the chef/owner of Prune restaurant in New York City’s East Village, and a writer whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, New York Times, GQ, Bon Appetit, Saveur magazine, and Food & Wine. Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef is her first book.
Photo Credits: Gabrielle Hamilton Courtesy Melissa Hamilton, Bemelmans Bar Courtesy Rosewood Hotels Resorts