There's been a trend for the past few years of restaurants serving their versions of "comfort" or "homestyle" foods. I like this idea, when it's done right.
Some dishes really do evoke a feeling of extreme satisfaction and comfort and I like to see old favorites in new interpretations. But sometimes I feel the envelope is pushed so far that the dishes become unrecognizable - and, more importantly, unpalatable.
This was the case during a recent visit to Prune (54 E. 1st St., between First and Second Aves, 212-677-6221), an East Village purveyor of "American Nouveau" cuisine. Prune's brunch is much-hyped, but we were there for dinner. The menu was... hard to describe. I guess I could say it was creative. So creative, in fact, that we were all thoroughly confused about how to order and three of us ended up choosing from the bar menu.
The end results were disappointing at best and nearly inedible at worst. I ordered german sausages (from the bar menu) and got overly dry lamb meatballs. The chocolate cake "heels" served for dessert were practically embarassing. The disappointment was compounded by the fact that the meal was extremely pricey! For the money we paid we at least expected good service and an impressive meal, but unfortunately Prune was just dried up.
Not to compare apples to oranges, but we recently had one of our best dining experiences at a truly "homestyle" restaurant in Windsor, Nova Scotia. Lisa's Cafe (30 Water Street, Windsor, 902-792-1986) is really ALL about the food. The service is warm and friendly, mainly because Nova Scotians find it hard to be anything else.
The menu offers simple dishes like fish and chips, hamburgers and salads, but each dish is accented with a secret twist of Lisa's own. Lisa's philosophy is to "keep it simple and not mess around with the food too much." Dishes consist of fresh, mostly local, ingredients and simple recipes that are not over-analyzed.
On our first visit, we enjoyed a pork schnitzel that sang in the mouth and a simple but delicious chili con carne with spinach salad. A return visit was specifically planned to try the "Fred Burger" - a juicy and excellent take on a double-patty burger.
Lisa really stops the show with her collection of home made desserts. Bread pudding, a nearly endless selection of pies, gingerbread cake with warm lemon sauce... The ones we tried were all nearly perfect.
"I want people to feel like they're at home," says the petite, energetic Lisa. "Except they don't have to do the dishes... unless they want to."
Now that sounds like a good deal to me!