Sunday, August 05, 2007

Public

I'd been walking by Public a couple times a month for more than a year before I ever got around to making a reservation. From the outside, the restaurant's decor was intriguing: towering ceilings, exposed stonework, and funky lighting lend the space an industrial look. So much effort is put into the look, however, that I had assumed Public to be the sort of restaurant where diners pay to eat in a nice-looking restaurant with nice-looking people, never mind the food. Luckily, a friend's recommendation led me to challenge that assumption one Saturday night in March.

Public is a four year old restaurant in Nolita (location) serving "Australasian" cuisine, which encompasses a wide variety of seafood and Southern Hemisphere meats. I get the impression it has passed its peak of "buzz", which is great for the diner: it's not very difficult to get a table and the service was excellent.

We started with the grilled scallops with sweet chili sauce and crême fraiche and the cured wild boar with Garrotxa cheese. The scallops were the highlight of the meal, with a perfect crispy char on the top and bottom that soaked up all the flavors of the dish.

Our main courses were the braised lamb shank and the mushroom-crusted venison loin. The lamb was on the dry side, but the venison was moist, tender, and not excessively gamey. The diners the next table over were busy raving about their pan-seared New Zealand snapper. The wine list is broad, but trends expensive. We tried a Semillon from L'Ecole No. 41, a Washington vineyard.

The service was good, and most notably, the waitstaff was exceedingly polite. I realize that I've spent enough time in New York that I've become inured to casually rude service at finer restaurants; our waitress at Public stood out for common courtesy and a smile. I've already returned once, and it's on my short list of places to take friends and family.

DON'T MISS: The grilled scallops with sweet chili sauce and crême fraiche.

NEXT TIME: I'll write about The Monday Room, a wine and small-plates bar located above Public through an entrance behind the host's table. They have reasonably-priced wine tasting flights and an extensive selection of wines by the half or full glass.

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