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Dinner at Public - a review

biondanonima Sep 26, 2011 08:18 AM

Hit up Public a few days ago as the third stop on my parents’ culinary tour of NYC (first stop was Tocqueville, 2nd was Eleven Madison Park, followed by Degustation and finally Del Posto). I chose Public for this trip because I hope it would offer something interesting and different, while still being an upscale, Michelin-star-worthy experience.

We enjoyed a cocktail at the bar first - parents and DH stuck to wine and beer while I had a guava-red chili margarita. Not terribly spicy but there was enough going on to add a little interest to the standard margarita formula. While we waited, we noted both the noise level (high, lots of loud music) and the ambient temperature (also high, as the walls are open to the street and there was no air conditioning). It was far too warm and humid that night for them to have cut the AC, and the millions of oil lamps in the room didn’t help matters. This grew worse and worse as the night wore on.

They delivered an assortment of lovely breads with our second round of drinks - sour cherry saffron rolls (a bit spongy in texture but a nice flavor with the cherries), sun-dried tomato focaccia (excellent if you like sun-dried tomatoes, as the flavor was quite strong) and sourdough (good, but the crust was chewy, not crisp). Unfortunately, the wine I ordered came at room temperature, which was a good 15 degrees warmer than it should have been. Ditto the water, which was served European-style, aka without ice. This is a huge pet peeve of mine - I get enough dirty looks when I ask for ice in Europe (where they are apparently allergic to it), I shouldn’t have to deal with it here too. I asked for (and was given) a glass of ice, but it was gone in seconds given the heat (and never refilled). Service was okay, if disinterested.

We started with the boar, beef tongue, oysters, lentil salad and kangaroo. The boar was a rather pedestrian presentation of prosciutto with a wedge of Spanish cheese - fine but nothing special. The beef tongue was quite nice, very tender and flavorful. Oysters aren’t my thing but I did sample one - it was fine, for a deep-fried oyster, and the honey wasabi sauce that came with it did an admirable job of covering up the oyster flavor. The lentil salad was a very nice idea that just didn’t quite come together - it needed more salt, more brightness (maybe some additional balsamic) and the lentils were just a bit underdone. The kangaroo, which we really ordered just as a lark, was actually everyone’s favorite - rich, tender (though lean) meat atop a nice crispy falafel. I didn’t love the seasoning of the falafel (not enough salt, too much coriander), but everyone else seemed pleased.

Anyway, for our mains we selected the beet gnudi, pork tenderloin, venison loin and oxtail ravioli. I ordered the venison against my own better judgment - I really like venison, but every time I have it in a restaurant I’m disappointed. I think it’s because it’s always a loin served rare, and venison is just so lean that no matter how perfectly it’s cooked, it ends up a little tough. I prefer a fattier cut in a braise. My bad. As I said, the venison was cooked to perfection, but the cabrales dumplings underneath were just wrong. They were heavy, dense potato cakes with a gummy consistency and nary a hint of cabrales flavor.

The beet gnudi were also a little on the heavy side but the dish was much more successful overall - the lemon ricotta was lovely and the almond and celery leaf pesto was fresh and delicious. I don’t care for beets but their flavor was quite subdued in the gnudi. The pork dish came with the requisite fatty chunk of pork belly, which was good (not the most tender or best I’ve had, but fine), and the tenderloin itself was fine as well. The braised daikon was sort of a mock-sauerkraut preparation that was actually the best part of the dish. Overall, though, it was just a little bland - it sounded a lot more interesting on the menu than it actually was.

The runaway winner was definitely the oxtail ravioli. The filling was rich and meaty and mouthwatering, everything you want from oxtail. I couldn’t taste the snail at all, but the deliciousness of the filling in general made up for that. This is a dish I’d order again and again. My father, who actually ordered it, enjoyed it as well but felt the oven-dried tomatoes were a bit overwhelming.

For dessert we split the yuzu-lime tart and plum upside down cake. I also inquired about their chocolate dessert, and found out that they use Guittard chocolate in their preparations (which pleased me as most upper end restaurants seem to favor Valrhona, which I HATE with a passion). I should have gone with the chocolate - the plum cake was totally unbalanced. WAY too much butter (this is coming from someone who has been known to eat butter with a spoon) and not enough of any other flavor in the cake, which was also not sweet enough to offset the very tart plum on top. The garam masala ice cream was EXCELLENT, though - I think there may have been some tamarind in there as well. Delicious. The yuzu-lime tart was also superb, although I could have done without the meringue aspect in the coconut ice cream (which was otherwise good).

All in all, I enjoyed Public, but I certainly wouldn’t hurry back, especially not while the weather is still warm. Also, having eaten at a couple of other 1-Michelin-Star restaurants this week, I cannot fathom how Public has a star. While the food was mostly good, it wasn’t anything particularly special, and the service was competent at best. I will post more on this topic later, but for now, thanks for reading!

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Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010

Del Posto
85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

Public
210 Elizabeth Street, New York, NY 10012