Eating Asian in the Big Apple: The Highs, the Lows, the Many

Categories: Walk the Wok
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Bone Marrow at Prune
Having been on a business trip in New York for the last two weeks, I thought, surely I'd be off blogging duties. However, the man had different ideas for me, with a seemingly innocuous send-off of, "Have a safe trip. Send in anything interesting you might find."

Crap.

Seeing as how I've got a double whammy of Asian responsibility/Catholic guilt complex going on, this, to me, signaled that when I wasn't working 12-hour days, I should be looking for some kind of tie-in story to Walk the Wok. Fortunately, finding a story proved easier than I feared, especially when I encountered the $25 bowl of pho.

Prune, 54 E. 1st St., New York, NY 10003 

Although this story would later give my mother a heart attack, I couldn't resist myself: I had to have it. Work brings me to New York fairly frequently, and I always return with a restaurants wish list. Top of my list this visit: Prune.

While the East Village eatery is immensely popular for its fantastic weekend brunch, the restaurant is equally well known for its roasted marrow bones, made famous by an episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. After a drink with an old friend one evening, my brother and I ventured around the corner for a late dinner at the infamously tiny restaurant (seating wasn't available until around 10 pm.)

Taking a look around at all the roasted marrow bones on every other table, it seemed as if everyone else had the same idea. We placed an order for the Jurassic-sized bones and perused the rest of the menu. That's when I saw it: a $25 bowl of pho.

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Short ribs

Technically the menu read, "Pho Style Short Ribs," or something to that effect. The fact that my brother (who went to college in the city) and my mother insist that there aren't many consistently great Vietnamese restaurants in Manhattan made this bowl of short ribs even more fascinating to me. In a city obsessed with really good Chinese, Japanese, and Korean food, it's only recently that I've noticed an insurgence of Vietnamese cuisine curiosity (i.e. Baoguette- a chain sprinkled across Manhattan serving $7 Vietnamese sub sandwiches).

Granted, while there are a few pho restaurants in Chinatown, there's never been much of a mass Vietnamese food movement. That night at Prune, however, I was witnessing an obvious, albeit surreal, shift, as almost every table in sight had ordered the short ribs.

What does a $25 bowl of pho taste like? Apparently, it tastes bland. The diners sitting at the table next to us requested salt. The dish came with three large pieces of short ribs, sitting in a shallow pool of beef broth, garnished with typical pho accoutrements, but sans pho noodles. While the consensus leaned toward bland, in all fairness, not all bowls of pho are created equal. From my past yammering, you might recall that northern pho typically is less seasoned with salt and spices than its southern counterpart. Chef and owner, Gabriele Hamilton, wasn't available to comment on the specifics of her inspiration, but it would be safe to say her homage to pho veers toward a northern Vietnamese interpretation.

Despite the lack of salt, the broth was quite fragrant, and the meat was nicely cooked to tender.

As for the roasted marrow bones, the dish lives up to its hype. Served with toast, pickled parsley onion garnish, and sea salt, the marrow was delectable. While the $16 a plate appetizer is pricey, the restaurant makes up for it with its generous serving of velvety fatty tissue. (We had to order an extra plate of toast just to sop up all the savory goodness.) Along with Blue Ribbon's legendary beef marrow and oxtail marmalade, Prune's roasted marrow bones are a must-try for visiting fans of the delicacy.

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