LTH Home

The Publican

The Publican
  • Forum HomePost Reply BackTop
     Page 1 of 10
  • The Publican

    Post #1 - October 10th, 2008, 9:24 am
    Post #1 - October 10th, 2008, 9:24 am Post #1 - October 10th, 2008, 9:24 am
    Oh hells yeah I had to go be one of the first ones at the opening. I've been stalking the place for months now. Doors opened at 3:30 and we got there at 4:30.

    The room has a cool layout. it's 4 huge communal tables so when they seat you they ask one person to walk on the other side of these long tables. they also have kind of hidden banquettes with closed doors so all you can see are the peoples heads.

    Food initially struck me as a bit on the pricey side but after considering the quality of the ingredients I don't think it's bad at all. Portion size wasn't an issue either. We started off with a Cormandel Oyster (delicious clean New Zealand oyster) and I miss ordered a Belon (I wanted a Beau Soleil) Belons are HUGE about the size of a tennis ball. It's allot of raw booger to chew but it was still tasty. they came with an briny champaign vinaigrette that complimented the salty boogers. I started with a gumball Head and she had a Cidre Bouche Brut E Dupont.

    We followed the oysters with a killer ham plate of Benton Country Ham from Madisonville Ten that came with peasant bread and goat butter. this was the shiznet. It smelled like pork should smell. It was nice and dark and gamy with an almost musty smell of light smoke. thinly shaved, dude it was good. I'd go back and just order all three of the ham choices and have beer and I'd be totally content.

    Next we had Boudin Blanc with roasted grapes truffles and hash browns. It said Becker Lane Farm, Iowa but I'm not sure if they made their own sausage from that farms pigs or if they bought the sausage from the farm. Either way it was a nice piece of sausage and you know how I loves me some sausage. The hash browns were kind of dry and Ore-Ida like but the roasted grapes were prit-tay not bad. I had roasted grapes at Chicago Gourmet from Chaise Lounge a couple weeks ago (first time I saw this) and I must say I'm a fan of the technique, I'll be stealing this idea in the near future.

    We also had the potted Rillete of pork shoulder and duck with fig, grilled red onion and balsamic. It wasn't what I was expecting. It was rillete scooped out into a bowl topped with the figs and served with toasted bread. It was good but I was hoping for the cool single serving rillete you get in the jar that has the layer of fat on top. the flavor was still there though, nice and tender pulled meat soaking in fat.

    Next beer was a Sam Smith Pale Ale and she had another frog cider. Waitress made a great suggestion on this one cuz I wanted something lighter. I was getting stuffed. I had to try the frites and found them a bit greasy but it's totally possible I was just too full to enjoy anything else.

    Beer selection was insane, something like 70 choices of a whole bunch of crap I have no idea what it is but would love to return to try. Service was slow but it was the first night so it was expected and our server was hot with tattoos peeking out from under her sleeves and on her chest. she was pretty knowledgeable too. Hot girl who knows her food and beer is always a plus. We dropped a hundo on all that and I think it was worth it. Seriously the quality of the ingredients was the highlight. I'd definitely go again soon if you want to join me. I'd give it a 7.5 on the CG scale of awesomeness.

    The Publican
    845 W. Fulton Market
    Chicago, IL 60607
  • Post #2 - October 10th, 2008, 11:36 am
    Post #2 - October 10th, 2008, 11:36 am Post #2 - October 10th, 2008, 11:36 am
    I am intrigued by your ideas, and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

    Great writeup, thanks!
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #3 - October 10th, 2008, 12:00 pm
    Post #3 - October 10th, 2008, 12:00 pm Post #3 - October 10th, 2008, 12:00 pm
    Nice opening review of what will surely become a lengthy thread.

    Re. the peasant bread that accompanied your ham plate, could you tell if the bread had been made in-house a la avec? In any case, how was the bread? As well, do you know if Publican has a wood-burning oven?

    Finally, given Publican's beer-centric focus, was there any wine to be had?

    Last edited by Bottle of Red on October 10th, 2008, 3:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #4 - October 10th, 2008, 1:04 pm
    Post #4 - October 10th, 2008, 1:04 pm Post #4 - October 10th, 2008, 1:04 pm
    That sounds awesome... I think I have to go tonight.
  • Post #5 - October 10th, 2008, 3:06 pm
    Post #5 - October 10th, 2008, 3:06 pm Post #5 - October 10th, 2008, 3:06 pm
    There were many wines available by the bottle and by the 'carafina' which are small carafes similar to what they give you at Avec. Our table had several carafinas of italian rosato followed up by a couple of different Argentinian Malbecs. Good variety of inexpensive off-the-beaten-path wines (also in the vein of Avec).

    Prior to the wines our table drank quite a few pints of locally brewed Munsterfest, an Octoberfest beer from 3Floyds Brewing in south suburban Munster, Indiana. Also had a chance to taste Goose Island's new specialty beer Juliet. It was a type of belgian sour fermented with blackberries in oak I believe. Good stuff ! Props to all of the beers of provenance from Europe and the rest of the world. This is one of the best lists that I've seen yet. But, at the end of the day I still lean toward the locally brewed beers. Think Global. Drink Local !

    Respect to our server, Chris. One of the best we've met in a long, long while. This place is full of friendly, enthusiastic servers who know their way around this menu and its food and wine selections.
    Last edited by ChicagoRob on October 10th, 2008, 3:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #6 - October 10th, 2008, 3:09 pm
    Post #6 - October 10th, 2008, 3:09 pm Post #6 - October 10th, 2008, 3:09 pm
    MenuPages gives CG's review credit for being the first piece about The Publican-- out of the zillions to date-- to actually review the food.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #7 - October 10th, 2008, 3:42 pm
    Post #7 - October 10th, 2008, 3:42 pm Post #7 - October 10th, 2008, 3:42 pm
    Mike G wrote:MenuPages gives CG's review credit for being the first piece about The Publican-- out of the zillions to date-- to actually review the food.

    Hey pretty sweet! To answer someones question, well not really, I'm not sure on the bread weather it's made in house but I'll be back at the table on thursday for our weekly "guys night" so I'll find out then.
  • Post #8 - October 10th, 2008, 8:55 pm
    Post #8 - October 10th, 2008, 8:55 pm Post #8 - October 10th, 2008, 8:55 pm
    Ya gotta love a joint that sells big, raw, salty, chewy boogers.
    I love animals...they're delicious!
  • Post #9 - October 10th, 2008, 10:47 pm
    Post #9 - October 10th, 2008, 10:47 pm Post #9 - October 10th, 2008, 10:47 pm
    I was fortunate to have today off of work, so RAB and I decided we'd spend our evening on the Blue Line by enjoying an early dinner at the Publican, followed by drinks at the Violet Hour.

    We arrived at the Publican just before 5pm to find a near-empty restaurant. We were warmly welcomed. There are three types of tables - - small round tables for standing/waiting, long communal tables, and odd closed-in, sectioned-off booths. The booths are surrounded by wooden walls, creating a private space, but cutting you off from the rest of the space.

    The Publican’s décor, in general, is a bit perplexing. I was expecting a gastropub - - perhaps a combination of Avec and Hopleaf. Instead, the restaurant is an open, fairly cold space. Although the wood communal tables and sectioned-off booths are attractive, the beige/gold walls and bright modern lighting don’t work. The place is neither cozy nor cohesive. It looks expensive, but misguided. It is neither intimate like Blackbird, nor hip like Avec.

    However, we weren’t there for the lighting. As the hostess at the Violet Hour asked as she seated us for our post-dinner drinks, “Did you have oysters, pork, and beer?” I responded that yes, in fact, we did.

    Please note that currently the Publican only serves a limited food menu until 5:30 pm - - oysters and ham. They are also offering complimentary sparkling water (all the time - - not just before 5:30 pm), which might just make up for the fact that four slices of bread cost $3.

    We started the meal with a carafe of white wine (forgettable) and the chef’s selection of oysters - - two each of six different kinds. The Kumamoto and New Zealand oysters were favorites, but all were extremely fresh and delicious. The oysters were expertly-shucked - - almost no grit and plenty of liquor. The champagne mignonette was pleasant, but not memorable.
    Next, we ordered beer. The draft menu was interesting, consisting of many beers with which we weren’t familiar. A bottle of Founder’s Centennial IPA (MI) for me, and a draft of Charles Wells Bombardier (UK) for RAB. Both good, but RAB thought the dominant hop flavor of my beer would overwhelm almost any food. I’m a sucker for hoppy ales, though, and enjoyed the beer.

    We eagerly turned to the Benton Country Ham with peasant bread and butter. We selected this over the La Quercia Rossa because we’d already enjoyed the wonderful Iowa pig several times elsewhere. The Country Ham was slightly smoky, very salty, and quite tasty, but not amazing. It lacked the depth of a good prosciutto or jamon iberico. Be assured, though, that we liked it and were happy to finish it.
    At this point, it was 5:30 pm, so we were able to order from the full menu. I would suggest that you order no more than a few hot dishes at a time. We ordered sweetbreads and sardines next, and they arrived almost simultaneously, meaning that one dish would be on the lukewarm side by the time we got to it.

    The sweetbreads, prepared schnitzel style, were the evening’s best dish by far. The sweetbreads are flattened for at least 24 hours, according to our server. They are then breaded, pan fried, and served with a caper, parsley, and lemon sauce. Really amazing. This was clearly one of the best sweetbreads preparations I’ve enjoyed. I’m certain that I will order this again on our next visit.
    The wood-roasted sardines were solid. Okay, so not as good as in Italy or Barcelona - - but, we aren’t in Europe, now are we? They were served with an eggplant caponata, which added to the dish, but wasn’t revelatory. I’m still regretting that I didn’t ask for a few lemon slices. A bit more acid would have helped.
    Our third wave of food included the steak tartare with fries, pork rinds, and pickles du jour. The fries are cooked in duck fat and were of medium-thickness, crispy, and greaseless. Perfectly fried. The tartare was somewhat coarse, composed of cubed, very heavily-marbled wagyu. The balance of the ingredients was spot on – egg-y, salty, herby, beefy.
    The pork rinds, with sea salt and malt vinegar, were fried to order. Hot, pop-in-your-mouth deliciousness served in a paper cone. There were a few pieces we had trouble chewing. But, nearly all of pork rinds were perfect. I’d definitely order these piggy wonders again.
    Lastly, we had the daily pickles. Today, they were featuring a small plate of cherry tomatoes and squash. The squash was pretty good, crunchy, sweet, and vinegary. As much as I like green pickled tomatoes, these didn’t work. They were ripe yellow sungold cherry tomatoes, and they were bitter, mushy, and just altogether bad - - the only thing we didn’t finish. For a brand new restaurant, one little miss amongst half a dozen solid dishes can easily be overlooked.
    For a new restaurant, the service was outstanding. Our water glasses were filled quickly. Empty plates were speedily removed. Our server, Jen, had already tried all the food on the menu, was confident in recommending dishes, and was able to answer questions about food preparation. She also frequently stopped by to make sure the food was okay and that we had everything we needed. Honestly, the entire service team appears to be working very well together.

    Paul Kahan was there, greeting friends with a big smile on his face. I think he has something to smile about - - after that meal, I can only think that he and his colleagues have opened another winner.

    We finished the evening by “keeping it in the family” and going to the Violet Hour for the first time.

    [edited to add pics]
  • Post #10 - October 15th, 2008, 9:51 pm
    Post #10 - October 15th, 2008, 9:51 pm Post #10 - October 15th, 2008, 9:51 pm
    My waiter at Avec tonight mentioned that The Publican experienced three hour waits over its first weekend of service. That might be one reason why no reviews have popped up since last week.

    He also noted that the pork rinds and rillons are emerging as the go-to picks.

    On the plus side--and I say this with caution as to not invoke a false positive--Avec may be a little easier to get into now.
  • Post #11 - October 15th, 2008, 10:26 pm
    Post #11 - October 15th, 2008, 10:26 pm Post #11 - October 15th, 2008, 10:26 pm
    Ate at the Publican tonight. No wait at 9:00.

    We had the heirloom apple salad, aioli with roasted root vegetables, potée, and roasted chicken over frites. To drink, St. Bernardus Witbier (bottle) (I misread the menu and thought it was the Abt 12 when ordering, so was surprised with the Witbier, but it was good), La Trappe (draft), and Surly Coffee Bender (draft) with dessert. Very good beer list, although the draft list skewed domestic (but mostly local).

    The food was all really good -- the roast chicken in particular was very good, succulent, juicy chicken with a nice salt and herb mix and nicely charred skin, cut into pieces and served over a bed of frites that soaked up the chicken juices. The potée was very good as well -- pork shank, pork loin and pork belly with braised brussels sprouts, carrots, onions and some other vegetables. Not necessarily a traditional presentation/preparation (I suppose depends on where you're from or have had this in the past); this was served on a plate with a thin pool of broth underneath, as opposed to in a bowl as a soup or stew. The salad and aioli with root vegetables were both quite good as well. We also had a waffle for dessert with sweet butter and figs that was outstanding.

    The space was quite loud, and definitely is lacking the intimacy of, say, Avec -- like REB, I was surprised at how large and stark the space was; it's just not what I envisioned. Overall, though, very nice place that will make it into our semi-regular rotation as it's not too far from home and what's not to love about really good beer and really good food.
  • Post #12 - October 16th, 2008, 10:46 am
    Post #12 - October 16th, 2008, 10:46 am Post #12 - October 16th, 2008, 10:46 am
    Loved the food. The sweatbread scnhitzel completely rocked my world. I'll put it on my list of addictive Chicago food. But please, please, turn down the lights. They used soft lighting but just way too much of it. I didn't feel like I wanted to hing out there for along time...hmmm...maybe that was the point! I ate, paid, and left quickly! BRILLIANT!
  • Post #13 - October 16th, 2008, 11:20 am
    Post #13 - October 16th, 2008, 11:20 am Post #13 - October 16th, 2008, 11:20 am
    ate at publican last night, thought i caught a glimpse of G wiv but did not see him after the first glimpse

    anyways, 3 of us started with dozen oysters, very fresh and the vinegary accompliment was very good
    then we had the pork rinds, thought they were good but both of my friends said they would have wanted to have some sort of sauce to dip it with. I, on the other hand, liked them the way they were served

    had the ham plate, nothing to complain about

    the sweetbreads is easily the best dish of the night, we actually ordered a second round because it was so damn good
    the potee was good, esp the pork shank but the pork belly portion was so so so salty that it was inedible, we did inform the waitress about it and she apologized and mentioned that someone in the kitchen must have made a mistake

    we also had sardines, which was only ok, and wagyu beef tartare.... now that was tasty, the beef was very tender and definitely wouldn't having a second round of that either

    then we had some roasted vegetables with aioli, the aioli was creamy and accented the sweetness of the various vegetables very well

    rounded up dinner with the waffle and panna cotta for dessert, the waffle was airy but the panna cotta was only average

    we tried many different types of beer, belgium, norway and some domestic microbrews... also a peachy tasting dessert wine that the name absolutely escaped me

    all in all a wonderful experience, definitely will be back
  • Post #14 - October 17th, 2008, 10:48 pm
    Post #14 - October 17th, 2008, 10:48 pm Post #14 - October 17th, 2008, 10:48 pm
    Went to The Publican tonight with a friend after work. I really like this restaurant.

    We had a ham plate, the steak tartare, pork rinds, and half a chicken with frites and summer sausage. Everything was very, very good. The steak tartare was tasty but had a few pretty chewy bits mixed in with the rest of the meat. Flavors were balanced overall though. The pork rinds are phenomenal. They should put these out at the bar. The chicken was moist and flavorful, but I could see how some would find it too salty.

    I had the waffle with honey butter and figs for dessert. Man was that good. My friend had some sort of almond meringue thing which he pronounced very good as well.

    We got there at 5:30 and had no trouble getting seats. By the time we left at 7:30-7:45 there was an hour wait.

    Oh, the decor...they need some art or something on the walls. It just looks unfinished.

    I've started blogging about the Stuff I Eat
  • Post #15 - October 24th, 2008, 7:02 pm
    Post #15 - October 24th, 2008, 7:02 pm Post #15 - October 24th, 2008, 7:02 pm
    My sister and I had an early dinner at the Publican tonight. I really, really wanted to like this place, but my experience this evening was thoroughly underwhelming. I didn't care for the decor at all, the brown-ness of it all. The configuration of the tables and lighting fixtures was odd, maybe too rectangular? Actually, the angularity of the space was the one thing tonight that reminded me of Blackbird, a space which in my 3-4 otherwise lovely meals there has never made me feel at ease. (For the record though, I'm a big fan of eating at Blackbird's bar.)

    Our water glasses were indeed kept full, but I thought the service was otherwise undistinguished. I needed some guidance with beer, being familiar with only about a quarter of the very extensive list, and our waitress had a difficult time describing selections about which I inquired. She wasn't very articulate when it was time to order food either. Mainly she said that each dish was just very different than every other one--a fair enough statement, just not helpful at all.

    We started with the chef's selection of six oysters, which our waitress told us were the first six oysters on the list. The person who brought out the oysters then identified them differently, so I'm not even certain what we ate. (I was annoyed enough with the service by this early point in the evening that I didn't feel like it was worth the effort to get clarification.) Before tonight, I hadn't had oysters in almost a year, the last time being by the trayful one early morning on a dock at the Sydney Fish Market in Australia. I liked the range of oysters on offer at the Publican, being able to try them side by side, but they were otherwise just OK.

    After oysters, we had a cone of pork rinds, the sweetbreads prepared schnitzel style and the potee. The pork rinds were still warm and reminded me of what real crackle is like--by far the highlight of the evening. I ordered the sweetbreads because they're from my native Quebec, and I enjoyed the schnitzel preparation. I just wish that there were about three times more of it. The potee was fine, the quality of pork outstanding, but the flavors were otherwise pretty muted. Because I was still very hungry after the sweetbreads, my sister let me eat about half of the potee. It was more filling, but ultimately left me unsatisfied and not excited about trying any more of the Publican's food.

    I proposed that we leave to have dessert down the street at Otom, but I decided to make one last effort to like the Publican and decided on the chili chocolate cake, which our waitress explained had a strong spiciness. The spice was very mild, and the chocolate and texture of the cake completely forgettable. We should have gone to Otom.

    Overall, the Publican left me and my stomach disappointed and definitely not happy. I didn't feel compelled to stay and drink or eat more. I left hungry and eager to get home and make a sandwich.
  • Post #16 - October 26th, 2008, 12:09 pm
    Post #16 - October 26th, 2008, 12:09 pm Post #16 - October 26th, 2008, 12:09 pm
    If your a foodie and love blackbird and Avec....Lower your expectations your in for a disappointment. If you want an eclectic selection of European beer and spirits with the best bar food in Chicago and a hip atmosphere this might be your spot.

    Initially they were slow to seat us when there were seats available. When I pointed this out I was able to get seated. We waited about 15 minutes with no one greeting us or taking an order. We flagged down someone to take an order. Servers we very pleasant, but service was not on the ball. We were served a dish with no silverware? A good number of small mistakes like this occurred through the night. The oysters were generally all very good. But the largest one was the dog of the group. (not sure of the name, but I do remember the largest of all the oysters)

    Everything we had was just ok. But the "toro" or fish soup for two was very good. Rich spicy complex broth with shrimp perfectly cooked plus mussells and clams. The Walleye Pike fish fry was nothing more that the description...OK.. it was good, but far from memorable. The truffle hash browns were ok...I missed the truffle and did not realize it came with a chicken was ok..natural high quality...but not the fattieness of traditional brats. The sardines were nice, but not memorable. If you go to Campanolia in Evanston they have a nice wood flavor octopus appetizer that would be more what I would of hoped the sardines would of been like. French Fries were good..but not something blackbird would of put out.

    If you go with the right expectations and are not expecting a hard core foodie experiance you might have a great evening..We left disappointed. I'm generally a flat 20%+ tipper...I left 15%.
  • Post #17 - October 26th, 2008, 8:10 pm
    Post #17 - October 26th, 2008, 8:10 pm Post #17 - October 26th, 2008, 8:10 pm
    HI JimmyG -

    Nice first review... but... you mention the "best bar food in Chicago" and then don't like anything you got! I'm confused how those two things go together... More info, please :)

    SAVING ONE DOG may not change the world,
    but it CHANGES THE WORLD for that one dog.
    American Brittany Rescue always needs foster homes. Please think about helping that one dog.
  • Post #18 - October 27th, 2008, 6:56 am
    Post #18 - October 27th, 2008, 6:56 am Post #18 - October 27th, 2008, 6:56 am
    Best Bar food in chicago was a little tongue and cheek...all the food is good...but relative to my expectations with the brother/sister relationship of Avec and Blackbird we were disappointed
  • Post #19 - October 27th, 2008, 12:24 pm
    Post #19 - October 27th, 2008, 12:24 pm Post #19 - October 27th, 2008, 12:24 pm
    Went last Friday for dinner. Quoted an hour wait at 8:30PMish, but only waited for about 20min. There were obvious empty seats around while the high-tops were fully occupied (waiting room), so I'm not sure if those folks were just there to hang at the "bar" like high-top area, or there just weren't enough server/busboy to turn around all the tables for patron. While we were standing around the bar/high top area, the service was very good. One of the hostess took our beer/drink order herself and served us.

    Food I think is definitely on-and-off for us. We had the
    Frites: very good, but it's French fry, *shrug*.
    Rinds: crispy, but otherwise, boring, I actually dipped it into the Frites dipping to add more flavor.
    Charcuterie: Headcheese was fantastic, one can really taste the "freshness" if there was such a thing for headcheese, while the wild game terrine was so so, the moretaugh sausage was very good, but otherwise, not distinctive.
    Sweetbreads: along with the headcheese, this was the highlight for me. Just order and you won't be disappointed. Then again, it's deep fried, so...

    Entree wise, we had Portee and Crab (forgot the name of the dish), both were good while I would order Portee again but probably not the crab which is just not distinctive enough (you can find similar quality crabs else where). The pork belly in the Portee were extremely juicy and fatty just to the way I like it (may not appeal to non-meat lovers) while pork cheek(?) were cooked medium and tasted good, if not a bit boring. The pickles in the dish seemed a bit of out of place.

    I would go back to try more things on the menu, but I would say it's not on par w/ Blackbird/AVEC.

    Inicdentally, I saw Kahan (who placed a chocolate rendition of Obama in the fish/oyster holding ice mountain by the bar) and Brian Huston busy directing activities in the open kitchen the 20min or so while I waited for my table.
  • Post #20 - October 28th, 2008, 9:31 am
    Post #20 - October 28th, 2008, 9:31 am Post #20 - October 28th, 2008, 9:31 am
    A group of us had a wonderful dinner at Publican on Saturday night.

    We arrived around 6:30 to avoid a long line. Once the last person in our party arrived, we were seated immediately. We sat in one of the "boxed in" booths, which we really liked. As the restaurant became busier over the course of the evening, we felt sheltered here and had no problems hearing each other talk.

    The highlight of the evening was the excellent beer selection. We spent a good deal of time talking with Michael (didn't get his last name), the head "beer sommelier. He is incredibly friendly, passionate about beer, and really knowledgeable. We had seen other reviews indicating that the beer was very expensive. On first blush, it may seem expensive. But note that many of the beers come in 500 or 750ml bottles. Also note that many of the beers (especially the trappists) are quite expensive at retail. We didn't have any qualms about the prices - I'm glad it's becoming easier to find these great beers at restaurants. We tried a lot of beer on Saturday. I'd say the two highs of the highlights were the Brouwerij Verhaeghe Vichtenaar (a Flemish Red) and the 2003 vintage Aventinus (from Germany).

    The food ranged from good to excellent. We tried the pork rings and fries with a fried egg on top. We were intrigued to try freshly made pork rinds. They were good, but I wasn't sufficiently impressed to try them again. The fries were probably the only disappointment of the evening. Had we eaten these fries at a run-of-the-mill restaurant, we would have been impressed. But we expected to be blown away here and we weren't. The fried egg was a bit overcooked and therefore the yolk didn't really impart a sauce to the fries. We wondered whether the fries themselves were previously frozen.

    Other dishes really hit the mark: the boudin blanc, the prawn sausage, the fluke, the sweetbread schnitzel, and the daily pickles were all great. I'd especially like to have the schnitzel again. On the one hand, it is the best schnitzel I've ever had: really light on the inside, flavorful, and crunchy on the outside. On the other hand, you lose a little bit of the succulence of sweatbreads by preparing it this way. But it is a really innovative treatment and, like I said, I'd have it again anytime. Looking at the pictures above, I would have liked to try the sardines. Our waited left us with the impression that one order would have two small fillets, not three whole fish.

    We thought the service was great. Servers weren't intrusive at all. Early in the evening we finished our beers and wondered why someone hadn't been around in a while to take our order for more. But we would much rather have to wait a little bit to order than have servers constantly topping off our glasses and pestering us to order another round of drinks.

    We'll definitely be back. I expect Publican to get better over time as they figure out which dishes work best. Hopefully the larger space will mean that the wait times won't be as long as they are at Avec. (Incidentally, we left around 10pm and the wait for a table didn't seem that long. We were surprised.)
  • Post #21 - October 28th, 2008, 4:16 pm
    Post #21 - October 28th, 2008, 4:16 pm Post #21 - October 28th, 2008, 4:16 pm
    happy_stomach wrote:Overall, the Publican left me and my stomach disappointed and definitely not happy. I didn't feel compelled to stay and drink or eat more. I left hungry and eager to get home and make a sandwich.

    Was at Publican last evening and we were not so much disappointed as underwhelmed. For example, crispy sweetbread schnitzel is a tasty dish, but there is no sensory indication one is eating sweetbreads, it could have been just about anything encased in crisp from pressed tofu to a quarter inch slice of Sara Lee deli chicken.

    Tripe and Blood Sausage Gratin suffered the same fate as sweetbreads, no distinctive offal flavor, tripe and blood sausage 'chefed' to appeal to a broad spectrum of diners. Pork rinds were light, crisp with a faint hint of lard lusciousness though lacked the porky crackle I was hoping for.

    Potted Rillettes were a puzzle more evoking stringy slightly greasy pulled pork without the benefit of smoke flavor than rillette. Slow Cooked Cavolo Nero was tender with a lovely bitter edge and the Boudin Blanc's garland of roasted grapes provided meltingly sweet counter point as well as style.

    Overall I found the Publican did not live up to expectations, the room odd verging on oppressive and prices out of line even for a trendy see and be seen every ingredient has a back-story joint catering to the nouveau gastronome. I am sure there are any number of items on the Publican's menu, aside from the obvious well sourced items such as Iberico de'Bellota for $37, and what I am guessing is a 2-oz portion, that I would find interesting and delicious, Chef Brian Huston's porchetta at the Reader Mulefoot dinner was phenomenal, I'm just not sure I'm willing to spin the wheel with $100+ a person to find the winners.

    After our first round of beer and bites we looked at each other, there were six of us, shrugged and said where should we go eat. It seemed somehow appropriate to bounce from one of Chicago's newest to one of Chicago's oldest, Won Kow established in 1927.

    Won Kow was exactly as you might think, rock solid, if somewhat antiquated, American Cantonese with the bonus of $3 Beefeater martinis and an edible history lesson. A perfect, and immensely satisfying, way to cap the evening.


    The Publican
    845 W. Fulton Market
    Chicago, IL 60607

    Won Kow
    2237 S Wentworth Ave
    Chicago, IL 60616
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #22 - October 29th, 2008, 11:42 am
    Post #22 - October 29th, 2008, 11:42 am Post #22 - October 29th, 2008, 11:42 am
    I went to The Publican late last Friday. The service was prompt and friendly. We had several people wait on us throughout the night. Donnie Madia even came over and went through the menu with us. Paul Kahan apparently knew the guys sitting next to us and stopped by to talk to them twice during the evening.

    Winners: The Belon oysters were huge and briny. The aioli was also very tasty.

    Still Good: I had the pork rinds, but I think I made the mistake of not eating them as soon as they came out. The dungeness crab wasn't bad, but I don't think it was worth the effort to eat it nor the price we paid for it. We also had some sort of fluke sashimi that was pretty good.

    Losers: The tripe and blood sausage gratin was surprisingly disappointing. One of the servers and Madia both expressed how much they liked this dish. I found it to be way too salty and the tripe lacking texture. I had the chili chocolate cake for dessert and found it to be too dry.

    Overall, I'd say The Publican is an excellent restaurant. Only two out of the seven dishes we ordered disappointed and one of those was dessert. I'm definitely looking forward to going back and sampling the rest of the menu.
  • Post #23 - November 5th, 2008, 12:53 am
    Post #23 - November 5th, 2008, 12:53 am Post #23 - November 5th, 2008, 12:53 am
    Publican was empty except for staff and one lingering couple at 9:30 tonight, and in fact they had posted an early 10:30 closing, presumably so they could head to the same place as their prospective diners. We therefore got to really explore and enjoy the full room and full menu without rush or noise (except for some spontaneous applause, in which we happily partook just as we were leaving).

    I think the room has all the right elements for inviting, comforting dining, and is just missing the harmony of good lighting. The space is at once too uniformly bright, and then not focused enough over the actual eating areas. I love the tables, which are richly reminiscent of Bavarian beer halls and Asturian siderias, and the fact that there are some small roundels and square tables for couples away from the communal banks. Service was a little fussy, "guiding" our pronunciations overmuch when repeating the order (a major pet peeve) and suggesting that our initial $100 of food order for 3 people "probably [left] room for more, yup, you could do a few more dishes there, unless you're just going light, which is fine," but then proved quite knowledgeable about the wines and meats, and was efficient and pleasant on table setting maintenance. They also didn't rush us out, which was gracious.

    As called out upthread, the beers, while well-selected, are inexcusably marked up 150% over places quite nearby (including Otom). This is not Gage-level chicanery but getting close. The few unique selections are the full brewery bottles for sharing, and are quite pricey. Places like Hopleaf and Bluebird realize that you need a balance to warm people up to a sharing mood for the good stuff; Publican hasn't quite caught on. You're spending $6 for the least expensive, small pour on the menu for starters, and with the food pricetag, are then less inclined to dive into the interesting selections. The room says "beer hall," and then the menu says "please sip respectfully, and leave the premises to really enjoy yourselves."

    I have a similar concern with the food portions. Avec has some true steals (see current $10 chicken and root vegetable clay pot, dates, flatbread, etc.) which provide rich sustenance up and down the table, making the communal setting feel right. Publican's plates do not seem structured for the same level of convivial enjoyment. The pork rinds and tartare can be passed with a smile, but I'm missing a condiment on the former and a Paramount-sized mound on the latter for my Hamilton. The La Quercia ham and bread could be procured for a fifth to a third of the price here at Panozzo's. I'd expect double to have it served to me on a platter with butter, but not quintuple.

    This said, ingredient quality and execution are demonstrated at a high level, and with some adjustment (either in their portioning or our expectations), this place could be a lot more welcoming. Walleye fry-up was imaginative (delightful battered capers and root vegetables, zingy remoulade, succulent fish), and potee very flavorful and divisible, with generous cuts of shank, hock, and belly and good vegetables. I did think pickles were stellar, on par with Mado, particularly the pepper relish and tangy asparagus spears. They were out of trotter and tail, something that looks promising to me for next time.

    We left full for about $50 a head, having sampled a variety of savory items with a beer each, but it just wasn't very much fun. I liked my company and the quality of food on my plate; what was missing was a unified beer hall experience. The cognitive dissonance between the room design and the pricing and portioning was hard to shake. That said, I'll be giving them another shot for unexplored menu items and hopes for some reformulation.
  • Post #24 - November 15th, 2008, 7:09 pm
    Post #24 - November 15th, 2008, 7:09 pm Post #24 - November 15th, 2008, 7:09 pm
    Where to begin with "Uglican."

    Grilled sardines--surely you jest. There was nothing resembling a grilled sardine on our plate. Rather, a mealy, bland trio of fish that lacked flavor and any hint of wood griling--this is cooking 101 and I am perplexed as to how one can screw this up. The opening course was a harbinger of things to come. Lackluster bread in various guises--as compared to avec and blackbird (or your local diner)--overpriced wine--coupled with uninformed/unknowledgable servers. A whole dover sole that weighed in at $40+ was underseasoned, soggy, and reminded me of a $5 tilapia. Our side of rapini would be better described as a "sprig."

    This place needs to realign its culinary compass sooner rather than later.
  • Post #25 - November 16th, 2008, 10:23 am
    Post #25 - November 16th, 2008, 10:23 am Post #25 - November 16th, 2008, 10:23 am
    Bottle of Red wrote: This place needs to realign its culinary compass sooner rather than later.

    I don't know if it needs a realignment so much as it needs to explore the land a bit more before taking on the compass. This restaurant is going to need some time--probably another six months or so--to work its kinks out.

    I've been here twice now and understand the frustration: both the menu and execution are inconsistent, the service is lousy, and the lighting is severely harsh. My oysters last night were not shucked correctly (though they were tasty); the sweetbread schnitzel was the worst thing I've eaten all year. But I thought the whole fish--loup de mer on Saturday--was a pretty solid carryover from Avec, and the pork rillettes are great; no complaints about a foie/mushroom dish that was rich and creamy. The duck egg with tripe gratin is an interesting--albeit overly salty--experiment that I have no need to order again but felt worked well with the beer we were drinking.

    They are making their own burrata, btw.

    I do agree, though, that the bread they are serving is pretty bad. Kahan is rather oddly into brown bread this fall, as it's all over Avec's food--maybe he ate a moldy piece and had visions?

    In sum: my guess is that the critical reviews, when they come out in a few weeks, will be more modest in praise than expected; maybe this will encourage a realignment and refocusing. I suspect the restaurant will find its groove over the course of the winter.
  • Post #26 - November 17th, 2008, 1:48 pm
    Post #26 - November 17th, 2008, 1:48 pm Post #26 - November 17th, 2008, 1:48 pm
    Hoping to try some of the dishes everyone agrees are great and to see, in general, what the fuss is about, I stopped at the Publican last night (ie. Sunday). Imagine my surprise that the normal menu was completely gone -- Sunday nights is a family-style, multi-course meal. At least last night, there were 4 courses (romaine salad with grapefruit, white beets, fennel and a buttermilk-dill dressing, mostly sourced locally; loupe de mar stuffed with pine nuts, chard, raisins; grilled (local) lamb with roasted broccoli and fingerling potatotes; cranberry-apple pot pie) and at $45/person, this seemed like a steal. My friends, who arrived before me, were informed that this menu requires reservations ahead of time, but we were seated anyway. The room was pretty much empty while we there (6pm-8pm or so), with never more than 8 parties.

    I was a little thrown off by this menu (as far as I could tell, no one here has mentioned it), but it turned out to be an amazing dinner. Very nice salad, esp the white beets, even if it was a little over-dressed. The fish was outstanding and the lamb... easily some of the best. The lamb platter had short ribs, neck meat, tenderloin, leg and another cut that our server couldn't recall -- this 'mystery' quadrant, as we referred to the selection, was especially good, having a nice amount of fat. The dessert was a bit of let down, though -- seeing the snow falling outside, I was excited for a 'pot pie' with warm, rich apple-cranberry filling. But the pie was served cold. Really cold. And with a fair amount of space between the filling and the top layer of pastry. Not that I wanted more filling, but it was odd to jam my spoon through the pastry and all the way to the bottom (note to Publican: use smaller bowls for this dish and please serve warm). We were provided a complimentary glass of Goose Island's Harvest Ale which was as good as it has been all season, and we opted for a reasonable ($33) bottle of Chilean red that matched up pretty well with all of the dishes. We didn't get any bread, which I missed only when we had finished the lamb and was left with a platter of delicious looking juices (then again, given the bread complaints above...).

    I don't know if there's a minimum number of people in a party to get this menu, though we did see a few 2-person parties so I'd wager not. Service was fine over all, though we were approached by 3 different people within about a minute of sitting down -- let the party get a little settled, please? For as much as people talk up its beer list, the one at Small Bar is larger (or Jerry's or, obviously, the Map Room -- a point I bring up for those that just want a quality beer and don't care as much about fancy pork rinds). The room, though... it's all brown. And light brown. And dark cream. The really, really low lighting didn't help much. While I can see it feeling a little more lively when full of people, when the cavernous room is empty, it's a bit disastrous. They even use their own (tall, wooden) tap handles at the bar, robbing it of that expected mix of shapes and colors.

    All in all, though, this was a terrific value. I was concerned about getting enough food from their normal menu and was feeling especially hungry last night. $45 was a steal for the amount of food -- and its quality! -- that we got. Again, I don't know if this is every Sunday and how strictly they will enforce the 'reservations only' policy that we were quoted.
  • Post #27 - November 17th, 2008, 9:09 pm
    Post #27 - November 17th, 2008, 9:09 pm Post #27 - November 17th, 2008, 9:09 pm
    My understanding is that the family style dinner is, indeed, every Sunday and that parties of two can be accommodated.
  • Post #28 - December 6th, 2008, 10:49 pm
    Post #28 - December 6th, 2008, 10:49 pm Post #28 - December 6th, 2008, 10:49 pm
    Well I hope Brian hits his stride and does great things. I used to baby-sit him and his brother and sister back when I was in high school, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.
    The most dangerous food to eat is wedding cake.
  • Post #29 - December 11th, 2008, 1:14 am
    Post #29 - December 11th, 2008, 1:14 am Post #29 - December 11th, 2008, 1:14 am
    Just an FYI: the Publican now accepts reservations every night, not just for Sunday.
  • Post #30 - December 15th, 2008, 9:54 am
    Post #30 - December 15th, 2008, 9:54 am Post #30 - December 15th, 2008, 9:54 am
    Made my second visit to Publican on Saturday night, and had a quick snack at the bar. The operation was running much smoother than the first week (thank goodness) and the restaurant was packed when we came in around 930 (not so much at 11- kind of interesting how quickly it cleared out.)

    The whole operation probably could still use a bit of tweaking, and I am surprised that the menu remains so esoteric- especially for a sizable, mainstream restaurant. What impressed me the most, was that Paul Kahan was there front and center- expediting, shucking oysters and plating other cold apps. He also came out from behind the bar a few times to bus tables. I was very taken by his dedication and he still found the time to be friendly and accommodating. As most know, Saturday is the night when chefs ask off to avoid the suburban crowd, and for him to be rolling up his sleeves sets a great example for the staff and speaks volumes to his commitment to making Publican a success on par w/ Avec and Randolph. Hats off to Chef.

    NB: The Sweetbread Schnitzel was one of the best things that I have had all year. Other dishes were more uneven.

    More to come about the food after some additional visits.