Hot Chef: David Malbequi serves catch of the day, all day

Chef David Malbequi reels us in with his fresh oysters.

Prima, a one-room wonder in the East Village, starts serving coffee and pastries at 8 a.m. and stays open all day, to an indeterminate evening closing time. You’ll want to hang around.

The pastries come from Francois Payard, and the coffee is from Ninth Street Espresso. At around noon, you can order a beer and a fried hake sandwich. “And then at 5 or 6,” says head chef David Malbequi, “you can start again with a cocktail and an oyster.”

The centerpiece of Prima’s menu is its seafood, which Malbequi hand-picks daily. “We get fresh seafood every day,” he says. “Sometimes I 86 menu items if I don’t get the quality I want. … Fish has to be fresh. It’s nothing you can play around with.”

On a recent visit, he brought out a dish of periwinkles along with a couple of pins stuck in a champagne cork. The pins are used to scoop out the meat, which he serves with whole-grain bread and a rich homemade aioli.

Prima’s oyster rotation includes Montauk Pearls (Malbequi’s favorite), briny St. Simon and sweet, creamy Beau Soleil. They come with a bright, tangy mignonette sauce, but the oysters are so fresh and clean-tasting that you’ll want to eat them bare.
“If you have a top product — if it’s perfect,” Malbequi says, “you have nothing to add.”

Is it unusual to have a dining space that stays open all day?

The idea is to be open all day long — you can have it anytime: breakfast, lunch, dinner. What we want to do here is be like room service: You choose your food from the counter, and we assemble it in the kitchen, everything on one tray at the register. You eat, leave your tray and then go. … It’s easier to not have dining service — especially at lunch; you want to go fast.

Does Prima’s all-day menu mirror how you like to eat?

Personally, I don’t eat fish. It’s not that I don’t like it — I don’t appreciate it. At the end, I’m empty. I have to eat something else. Something more heavy, like meat. I love to cook it, though! I compare fish to women and meat to men.

Can you explain that a little bit?

Fish is very delicate, and with meat, you have to cook it, and then it rests — like a man, always resting. Fish, it’s like a girl;  you have to be gentle, otherwise you’re going to break it. But meat is more tough.
What I also like about fish is you cook it, it’s on the plate. You go right from the pan to the plate. You cannot play with it. Meat, you can always adjust it. If it’s not cooked enough, you can put it in the oven. With fish, it’s like 1, 2, 3 — that’s it.

I’m a huge fan of sardines — it’s a very sustainable fish. What was your inspiration for the sardines rilletes on the menu?

The sardine, that is a classic thing. You know, when you are in France and you don’t know what to eat, you take a can, you open it, you crush it and you add stuff inside.

I used to go to Morocco when I was younger, to Essaouira — it’s a capital for the sardine. And when they are coming back, from the little boat, you know, they take the sardines, fillet them and put them on a piece of grilled bread, butter, lemon juice and mint. Just like that — raw.

If you go
Prima
58 E. First St.
646-559-4823


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