Week of March 4, 2002

new menu
You'll Eat Brunch in This Town Again
Prune's phenomenal new weekend brunch is capable of undoing any residual damage that Kitchen Confidential's notorious chapter on that disparaged meal may have inflicted upon you. It's worth the trip just to read chef-owner Gabrielle Hamilton's truly inspired menu. After you've chosen from nine variations on the Bloody Mary theme (the "Chicago Matchbox" contains homemade lemon vodka, a skewerful of pickled vegetables and caperberries, and comes with a beer chaser) or "Prune juice," a fresh-squeezed blend of Meyer lemon, orange, lime, and grapefruit, you've got an embarrassment of beyond-eggs-Benedict dishes to contend with: a marvelously peppery spaghetti carbonara. A killer Monte Cristo with a side of fried eggs and red-currant jelly. Grilled lamb sausages with Malpeque oysters. And a braised-beef-tongue-and-gremolata omelette. Plus plates that pay tribute to neighborhood institutions, like Joe's Dairy and Russ & Daughters. It's a sunny side of Prune we've never seen before, with light streaming through the French doors, no reservations, and no smoking.

54 East 1st Street

best of the week
The Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant
The shad are in — those sweet-fleshed fish with rich roe, once a Hudson Valley staple every spring, now a rare treat. The Oyster Bar is featuring four shad and shad-roe specials in the coming weeks, including sautéed Carolina shad fillet with roasted-garlic crust.

Grand Central Oyster Bar
42nd St. and Vanderbilt Ave.
212 490-6650


in print
The Cheese Plate
In the old dairy days, Kraft and Laughing Cow ruled the supermarket cheese shelf, and "Parmesan" came in a canister. Now, with the burgeoning appetite for handcrafted farmhouse cheeses, we need an expert to guide us through the stinky spectrum of spoiled milk. Who better than Max McCalman, maître fromager at Picholine and Artisanal and outspoken raw-milk advocate? In The Cheese Plate (Clarkson Potter; $32.50), McCalman reveals how to buy ("If a taste isn't offered, ask for one. If it's refused, leave"), store (when too cold, cheeses are "not dead, they're not ruined, but they're not 100 percent happy"), and taste ("We are a culture that is out of touch with its nose!"). Most helpfully, he assembles plates for every season, wine, and meal, including breakfast. And to dispel the notion that his is a life of glamour and gluttony, he guides us through a typical day, from "reading about cheeses as I ride the subway" to his nightly "six hours of unbroken cheese service."

Ask Gael
How far is too far?
By train and by Volvo, my intrepid pals and I converge on Rego Park to sample the cooking of the Bukharan-Central Asian Jews clustered in Queens. Alas, Da Mikelle II, recommended over the phone by a Bukharan bakery, turns out to be — excuse me? — an Italian restaurant. "Don't go," the hostess pleads. "The owner will come to cook kebabs for you." But in broken English on the cell, a voice concedes that it's not too late for kebabs at King David. We arrive to find a noisy congregation celebrating with speeches, song, and crooning guitar at one huge vibrant table. We order from the lone and abused English menu, pointing for the bewildered waitress while one of our wanderlustful pals fills us in on the culture, from youthful treks to Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. "All the salads will be the same," he warns. And so they are. Tomatoes, more or less. And iceberg. The eggplant never comes. But there is wine. Red or white. Don't ask. The cook clearly favors the rambunctious locals. But finally, platters arrive — lamb and beef and wonderful lulu (ground-beef) kebabs. We've been warned it will be a 45-minute wait for manti (pictured), the meat dumplings we're craving. We wait, but none come. And no apologies: Manti is for the weekends, explains a young man sensing our frustration. "I'll come with you next time," he promises, taking our card. So far, not a word.

King David
101-10 Queens Boulevard, Forest Hills

Bites & Buzz Archive

Week of February 25
Breakfast cooking classes for kids; Montparnasse's dazzling duo; Gael gets an eyeful at Mexico Magico
Week of February 18
The lowly radish gets a makeover; Two Little Red Hens take Manhattan; a breadmaker's best friend; Gael racks 'em up at Slate
Week of February 11
Hadom scores; Rockefeller Center gets a Pulse; Mardi Gras at Café Boulud; NoLIta's sweetest couple; Chef Tom Valenti's cookbook; Gael discovers a new talent in Yorkville

and more ...

Photos: From top to bottom- Carina Salvi (2); Dasha Wright Ewing