Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Publican - Brunch

Paul Kahan is one of my favorite chefs/restauranteurs.  As one of the owners of One Off Hospitality, the James Beard Award winner owns and runs seven, and soon to be eight,  restaurants.  I have been to (and written about) two of his places (Blackbird and Big Star).  I have also had the food of Publican Quality Meats although I have never been inside the restaurant/butcher shop.  The one problem with these restaurants is that they are so popular that they are sometimes hard to get reservations.  This was what stopped me from going to The Publican.  What I didn't consider was the fact that The Publican keeps a certain number of seats free for walk ups, so I had not been to this highly lauded restaurant.  Recently however, a friend came in from out of town and suggested this place for Saturday Brunch.  Some phone calls were made and a reservation was made for our large group.  The Publican is a large space modeled after a European beer hall.  The dining room is open and most of the seating is on the U-shaped communal table in the center of the room.  There are some booths on the outside of the room and a very long bar on the inside with some standing high tops, which are more for waiting, in the middle.  The floor, tables, and chairs are all a heavy looking, light colored wood, as are the pillars in the middle of the room.  Lighting is provided by a combination of a very large window in the front with smaller windows on the booth side of the restaurant and a large number of hanging globes.

The menu at The Publican is pretty wide ranging but it concentrates on pork, oysters, and beer, and we made sure to partake in two out of three of those.  We started with the Oysters.  There were six oysters on the menu (which vary based on the season).  We went with the large Chef's selection which gave us a selection of all of the oysters and allowed everyone that wanted one (or more) to try them out.  The oysters were served on ice with a cocktail sauce and crackers on the side.  While some in the party were taking the oysters out of their shell and eating them on the crackers with the cocktail sauce, I prefer my oysters al fresco and sucked them directly out of their shells.  I did use the crackers as palate cleansers so I could recognize differences in the oysters, but I didn't try the Cocktail Sauce even though I am sure that was stellar.  Visually, you could tell the difference between the oysters by the shape of their shell.  There were some textural differences as well, the one that I remember specifically was the deep shelled oyster that was more dense than the others, but they all tasted like oysters as you might expect.  They were all briny and had a slightly fishy flavor, but they were all clean and fresh and very good.
As this was brunch, I had to try some of their baked goods, which they make in house.  They had a coffee cake, a doughnut, and a pecan sticky bun on the menu.  I went with the Pecan Sticky Bun and was very surprised when it arrived because it was enormous.  It would have been easy to share with others at the table, but they all had their own things to work on.  The pastry was a couple of inches thick and, as it was a sticky bun, very sticky.  I could have eaten it with my hands, but it would have been very messy, so I attacked it with a knife and fork.  It was everything you would expect from a sticky bun.  It was sweet and sticky with crispy edges and a pillowy soft interior.  The pastry itself tasted like bread fresh out of the oven, but it was liberally covered with sweet and buttery caramel and pecans.  It would have been great to share with someone, but I labored through it and was able to enjoy this by myself.
While we were waiting for our main courses, someone in our group ordered another side dish for which The Publican is famous, their Pork Rinds.  I am generally not a huge fan of Pork Rinds, which is not to say that I don't like them, I just am generally indifferent to them.  Having said that, I had seen and heard about The Publican's Pork Rinds, so I was interested in trying them.  They arrived in a paper cone and looked very light and lightly spiced.  While these were obviously pork rinds, they were a step above everything that I had tried previously.  They were very light and positively melted in your mouth.  As these are very light, the flavor is light as well but their is a very definite fried pork flavor.  The seasoning was light as well, but it was sufficient to add some salt and a little spice.  These were a definite win and I would definitely have them again.
The main course that I had is a course native to North Africa and Israel and while it doesn't necessarily sound great on paper, having had a version of it before, I knew that I liked it and was interested to try it here.  I ordered Shakshouka which is a dish of Eggs that are poached in a sauce of Tomatoes and Red Peppers and frequently spiced with Cumin with bread on the side to sop up the sauce.  In this case, it was also prepared with Morcilla - a Spanish Blood Sausage, Spigarello - a leafy relative of broccoli, and a white cheese that was uncredited.  It was also served with Focaccia to sop up the sauce.  It was cooked and served in a steel pan which came out very hot, so I had to be careful when starting to eat it.  The dish was very rich, with a good spicy tomato flavor from the sauce and a meaty flavor from the morcilla.  The eggs, the feature part of the dish, added a richness to the entire thing.  It was very good and interested other people at the table.

I was very glad I finally had the opportunity to try The Publican.  I will definitely make an effort to return, both for brunch and for dinner.  The food was very good as was the service even if the open space made for a loud room.           

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