I was in Chicago for the weekend and hit up the Publican for dinner on Saturday night with my brother and parents. First impressions: really liked the casual, European vibe of the place - communal tables, wine served in stubby water glasses. One nitpick - no ice in the water and the water itself was room temp. This is a very European thing but it irritates me there too - I like cold water, with ice (I’m sure they would have provided it if I asked, but I didn’t bother). Anyway, interesting and inexpensive wine list - my brother chose an Austrian rose that went perfectly with the rich menu and was only $35. Coming from NYC, I felt that portions overall were quite generous and reasonably priced.
Anyway, as for the food - we ordered most of the meat menu to share and really nothing disappointed. My dad and brother enjoyed some raw oysters (not my thing), while I munched on their freshly made pork rinds, which were light and airy, coated in a tasty spice mixture. I also enjoyed the crackers that came with the oysters - very savory and delicious, made in-house with tarragon and chives. We sampled their Serrano ham and charcuterie plate, both excellent. I particularly enjoyed the rustic pork pie, served cold. We also had the pork rillettes, which were perfectly paired with white peaches, and the chicken liver pate (very creamy and earthy, just as it should be).
After a short break, we received a salad with quinoa (not particularly interesting, but my mother needed a palate cleanser) and mussels, which were fine but nothing special. The loaf of hot fresh bread that came with them was excellent, though. We also sampled the fried veal brains as a novelty - they were light and crispy, but more or less tasted like tempura battered tofu - I wouldn’t bother with them again.
Finally, our “mains” arrived - steak tartare, served with a hard boiled egg. The texture of the beef was incredible - just chewy enough, with deep beefy flavor. I liked the omission of the traditional runny egg yolk because I hate runny yolks, but I think my dad and brother would have preferred it the traditional way. Next up, pork belly, which fortuitously came at the same time as the side of cavolo nero I ordered - just awesome. The piece we received was mostly fat, but if you like fat, it was PERFECT. Meltingly tender, so porky. I didn’t bother with any of the other stuff in the bowl because I enjoyed it so much with the cavolo nero, which was probably the most insanely addictive vegetable preparation I’ve ever tasted. Hello, bacon AND escargots with kale, what’s not to love? The last thing they brought us was the boudin blanc, which was a surprising WOW and actually one of my favorite dishes of the night - a perfectly seasoned, tender and deliciously textured sausage on a crispy potato pancake. The sausage just melted in your mouth - divine!
Anyway, suffice it to say, these people know their meat. The dessert list looked good but we were stuffed to the gills. I can’t wait to go back and try more of their seafood offerings, but it will be very hard to resist the meat. NYC needs a place like this!
837 W. Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607