Public: Not Exactly for the General Public…
Public is clever, innovative, pretentious, and impressive. In short, it’s a top-notch New York restaurant with true pizzazz and a fierce cooking staff. Hidden away in a discreet building on Elizabeth Street, Public is easily bypassed. However, what’s found inside is hardly plain.
The restaurant is, strangely enough, modeled after ‘public spaces.’ The bar area is open and airy like an atrium; the coat check is flanked by public library books and card decks; behind the hostess are public lockers like those found in transportation hubs. Industrial touches like filament lightbulbs, heavy sliding doors, and a rough hewn entryway add to the effect. Even the menus stick to the theme, presented on clipboards and stamped like order forms.
The clientele fit the highbrow design, not lacking in pretention or style. They are well-dressed and swanky, moneyed, and there for the snazzy scene first and the heralded cuisine second. The service yoyos between too saccharine sweet and frigid. Our waiter was verbose; his explanation of the menu was flowery, over-the-top, and interminably long. Both of the hostesses were snotty and generally inflexible; I noticed that one couple was unhappy with their cramped table and asked to be moved. Despite many open tables, they were refused. You’d think a Michelin star would indicate near perfection…
While the attempt to mimic quotidien public spaces seems to clash with the extremely haute cuisine, the inspiring menu plays and flirts with conflicting tastes, textures, colors, proteins, and aromas. Each dish on the menu sounds like carefully-constructed art with layers upon layers of flavors. My party of 6 sampled a number of appetizers, including two orders of the tantalizing mushroom ceviche with miso aubergine and ginger ponzu sauce, the anchovies on quinoa croquettes in a spicy saffron aioli, the grilled scallops with sweet chili sauce, and the pan-seared foie gras with pineapple chutney, bacon, and spiced french toast. The mushroom ceviche was the star of the show with an addicting sauce and hefty cuts of marinated mushroom and eggplant; The scallops were a tad overcooked, but the sweet chili sauce made them entirely worthwhile; and the foie gras itself was absolutely divine, so divine in fact that the french toast, pineapple chutney and even the bacon were unnecessary.
The entree section of the dinner menu is a laundry list of high quality expensive proteins. We opted for multiple orders of the roast lamb sirloin on crispy goat cheese polenta with saffron baby vegetables and harissa aioli, the venison loin, and the duck breast with cactus pear relish and confit duck empanadas. Delicious, inventive, and playful, the food catapaults Public into New York’s restaurant elite. Whether or not its worth a Michelin star (which is absolutely debatable), Brad Farmerie’s self-name ‘Australasian’ cuisine is worth the price (note: pricey) and the slightly irksome pretentious design.
Maybe I’m being too tough on Public; however, when thrust into the spotlight with Michelin’s golden stars, a restaurant must expect higher expectations. In terms of the grand scheme of the New York dining scene, Public rises above with its truly excellent cuisine. Yet, now that it is hob-nobbing with the best of the best, there are some notable flaws.
Excellent for impressing guests, dates, family and clients, Public wows with a unique menu and cuisine. The sheer size of the place makes it great for special occasions (they host weddings!) and group events. Additionally, in the mood for some great people-watching? Public won’t disappoint. It’s a constant parade of pretty people, and when I was there, Christian Siriano of Project Runway was noshing at the table behind me!