Public

by Susan on February 26, 2008

[Food:3/5]

On a wintry and wet night, Public was packed with hipsters. Public is as cool as its NoLIta surroundings and it comes as no surprise that five years after its opening, it can still be difficult to get a reservation. Head chef Brad Farmerie was born in Pittsburgh but there is nothing resembling a Pittsburgh sandwich on his menu (that’s when the coleslaw and fries go between the slices of bread). Farmerie has sculpted sophisticated fare by fusing flavors from Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.

The themed décor is based on Public institutions. Rows of mail boxes and keys greet you at the door, a card catalogue is stationed by the coat check, and the menus are fashioned as Product Record forms. Even the soap dispensers in the bathrooms are part of the fun – they’ll make you reminiscent of your elementary school days. Somehow, combining these quirky props with white-brick barrel ceilings, dark wood floors, and low hanging lights, creates a cool and sexy space. It’s important to note that the noise level is a few decibels too high for either a romantic evening or a larger sized party.

Our brows creased in concentration and our conversation ceased as we intently studied the menu of interesting flavors and ingredients. There are dishes for the more adventuresome: grilled kangaroo, cured wild boar, and a snail and oxtail ravioli to name a few. But more accessible dishes, like grilled scallops, baked cod, and lamb also exist for those who don’t want to venture out of their comfort zone.

As our dishes began to arrive, we realized that although the dishes appear ambitious in print, the actual results were tamer than we expected. It would be unfair not to mention expert preparation – both in cooking and presentation – but, despite tender cuts and medium rare centers, all the meat dishes we sampled were mild. One might call the flavors subtle; our table thought them too bland. Despite long lists of ingredients and seemingly intricate combinations, nothing delivered big flair or punch.

The time gap between our starters and entrees was a bit too long, but service was otherwise excellent. Our server was knowledgeable, helpful, and attentive. Our wine and water glasses were always full and we never felt rushed.

Thinly sliced Grilled Kangaroo was completely overpowered by the potency of its accompanying falafel and lemon tahini. Fried Oysters were elegantly presented in half oyster shells. They arrived crisp from the fryer and thickly battered. Their addictive wasabi-yuzu dipping sauce was sublime. The table’s favorite starter was the Mushroom Ceviche, a generous portion of thinly sliced abalone mushrooms topped with finely diced, miso-laced aubergines. The dish was completed with a dousing of ginger ponzu. It was a delightful vegetarian homage to one of my favorite hamachi preparations.

A perfect medium rare wedge of Tasmanian Sea Trout could be separated flake by flake and melted on one’s tongue. Its’ lovely pink hue and celeriac-vanilla puree evoked candied sweetness, but its slight fishy taste kept it balanced and grounded.

There weren’t enough slices of the New Zealand Venison, though a larger portion would not have made the meat more robust. It was some of the more Vension I’ve had; absent was the rich and meaty taste this cut of meat often boasts. Though attractively assembled, potato hash and Yorkshire pudding did nothing to bolster the dish.

In contrast to the Venison, there were too many pieces of Roast Lamb Sirloin and the butter knife it came with, a bit too self-congratulatory. Baby root vegetables were tender and earthy but the harissa aioli and the goats cheese polenta were devoid of much needed boldness.

For dessert, it was hard to resist the Muscavado Pavlova, a Meringue-like confection topped with formage blanc and cherry compote. It was a bizarre concoction of contradicting textures: it’s chewy and crumbly, soft and crisp, sweet and sour. It actually made me crave the Salzburger Nockerl at Wallse (but then again, what doesn’t make me crave that!). The more traditional Sticky Toffee Pudding was more cake-like than expected, but sweet and rich all the same.

Everything was well-cooked and consistently good, but the intrigue and excitement that tantalized our palate upon ordering vanished as soon as the forks reached our mouths. On the other hand, if you’re normally a timid eater, you can easily impress your dining companions by ordering the Kangaroo.

Public
www.public-nyc.com
210 Elizabeth Street
New York, NY 10012
(212) 343-7011

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