Valentine's Day is a dining minefield: Many restaurants jack up prices and edit menus down to rote exercises in "aphrodisiacs."
Others abuse the heart-shaped cookie cutter. (On goat cheese. In a salad. The horror!) And the company in the dining room is typically even more of a problem.
So it's surprising that Prune--the elbow-to-elbow egalitarian bistro, where saccharine sentiment seems as likely as customer coddling--hosts the best Valentine's Day dinner in the city.
For years, Gabrielle Hamilton, the restaurant's acid-witted chef, offered a "lovers' menu" for $69 next to a "cynics' menu" for $25. The former would feature dishes like "handmade Venus's bellybutton" and "poached beef tongue and marinated octopus, together" (which the waitress would decipher in a naughty tableside whisper). The cynics' menu would start with a bourbon sour, detour to bitter greens with "broken" vinaigrette and conclude with a blackberry fool.
But while she was planning last year's menu, Hamilton says, "I started to realize that both positions on love--cynical or gushy--are postures that I no longer could relate to. I was thinking about love and the project of love in a more clear-eyed and truthful way, with neither sneering nor swooning."
So she created a menu that will run again this year, with six three-course choices on offer. Each bears a place and date in its title, e.g., "West Yarmouth Mini-Golf Arcade, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, 1988" (which includes lobster with anchovy butter) and "Ferry Boat, Bosphorous, Istanbul, 1985" (featuring toasted manti, tiny Turkish dumplings).
The dates and locations set the mind running: What happened at the West Yarmouth Mini-Golf Arcade, and with whom, and was it after hours? We pressed Hamilton for answers.
"The dates and places have terrific significance for me," she said. "But I like how they let people's minds wander and wonder. Doesn't yours? And doesn't it make you think back over some of your own key moments?"
It does. She got us again.
Prune, 54 E. First Street (between First and Second aves.); 212-677-6221 or prunerestaurant.com