Prana Bar: The Great Re-Imagining in GB
Photo: Scott Barrow.
By Nichole Dupont
I admit, I think it’s been more than a decade since I’ve seen 325 Stockbridge Road after 2 p.m. Its last incarnation, Haven Bakery and Café (sister eatery to the Lenox mothership) was a bright, almost stark daytime joint where I would gobble down polenta and pesto after a self-destructive leg day. With vaulted ceilings and an odd shape (like a fat L) the space, which was more akin to an art gallery, is not one that I would ever have called cozy. But somehow, the newly branded Prana Bar is warm, even inviting, at night. Soft lanterns float high above, reminiscent of a Shanghai side street, and the walls are painted red and black and adorned with a giant gold mural of Krishna and other henna-esque imagery, with a few vintage posters scattered around for edge. (Fear not, the Venetian plaster by Isha Nelson still adorns the walls at the “back alley” of the space.)
Prana Bar, which is still owned by Haven creator Shelly Williams, markets its fare as “global street food,” and this description is totally on point. The menu is divided up according to appetite; by the bite, in a bowl, on a crust, and sides and snacks. There is a hidden invitation here to stick around and experiment as the night wears on. Specialty drinks have their own menu, and classics like Mai Tais and caipirinhas offer transport to faraway places. An extensive beer and wine list boasts Bengali IPA, Monchof Schwartz, Bodegas Breca, and Hook & Ladder chardonnay. I stick to the familiar, and nurse the hell out of a maple old-fashioned with Bulleit Bourbon. Made strong.
We pore over the menu, eyes darting up and down, as if we are actually visiting a foreign place and need to choose carefully lest this be the “last supper.” My foodie companion settles on the smoked eggs and I go “traditional American’” with the veggie fries. Truth be told I wanted to dive into the toasted sesame chicken poppers or the wild mushroom polenta, but thought I’d go with something basic.
Yeah, right. There was nothing basic about the giant mound of crispy beets, sweet potatoes, and thinly sliced squash sections that the super nice server put in front of me. The veggies came with three dipping sauces: a sweet grainy mustard, a Thai curry ketchup with respectable heat, and — the star of the show — a garlic mayonnaise, which I could have seriously eaten by the spoonful if I weren’t in public and wearing a black dress. And the portion was ample and therefore shareable. The smoked eggs, which were accompanied by a crispy pile of pickled cauliflower and carrots, are treasures you savor. One bite and I was already scheming on how I could replicate that smoked Gouda taste in my own kitchen. Compared to the veggies, the presentation of the eggs was spare, yet the rich, creamy flavor did the heavy lifting.
The small bites simply whetted the appetite. The main dishes are more akin to “food moods” rather than entrees. The selection is unique — braised beef rice bowl with roasted daikon, arugula salad with poached pears, banh mi pizza (swear to god). My friend the shameless omnivore decided on the ramen nori, a gorgeous cacophony of tender, slow-roasted pork, bright bok choy, shiitake mushrooms and a second appearance of those coveted smoked eggs. That noodle-y, sweet broth concoction smelled like heaven when it came to the table.
After a little too much pondering, I justified going all out due to the looming shadow of Lent (and the big 4-0).
YOLO, people, with duck confit over spaetzle. The exterior of the duck was crispy and buttery; I thought I was eating a croissant. The meat inside perfectly salty and tender, in delightful contrast to the little “al dente” dumplings and vegetables, all covered (not smothered) with a grainy mustard sauce. It was perfection. My gluttony was totally satisfied.
We opted out of dessert, it seemed over the top. But out of curiosity I asked the server about the sweet treats, which change almost daily. A flight of cookies with dipping sauces? Damn.
Before we could extract our delighted tongues and full bellies from the restaurant, we were presented with two slightly suggestive, melt-in-your mouth fortune cookies. I don’t remember what my fortune said, but I left Prana with a newfound wisdom.
“We’re coming back here, a few times,” was all I could muster as the barkeep waved goodbye.
325 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington, MA
Thursday – Monday, 5-10 p.m.