Publican: Part Beer Hall, Part Gastro Pub, Part Fill in the Blank

May 25 2009 - 5:19 PM

What Paul Kahan touches seems to turn to gold, and it is largely because whatever he sets out to do he does very, very well. .  His first restaurant in the West Loop, Blackbird, has been wowing diners since 1999, and avec, which was really supposed to have been a wine bar, typically has a very long wait (and always well worth it).   His hidden retro cocktail place in Wicker Park , The Violet Hour, makes amazingly delicious cocktails, and keeps the number of patrons down to a minimum in a very relaxing atmosphere (unlike avec and Publican, ironically).  

I have been dying to go to Publican since it first opened last fall, and I finally was able to pursuade my wife to visit.  For starters, the place is gigantic, with huge ceilings and room for many diners, many of whom will be seated on long communal tables.   I almost felt like I was visiting one of those suburban style mega-restaurants like Maggiano's or the Cheesecake Factory.    Running over a half hour late, surprisingly we were able to be seated, although apparently at the expense of the group waiting to eat behind us.

To start out I had a nice English bitter ale, which was a great, food friendly drink to start out and served in a pint glass.  The very rustic sourdough bread served on the side was a nice touch.      We started out with the halibut served with a greens.  At $35 it was pricey but very moist and not drowned in a broth like many restaurants seem to prefer.    My one complaint is that at that amount, we did not get very much halibut, and the going rate for the  fish is not quite so expensive that it needs to be marked up so high.

Another one of our first items was the duck hearts, and there were lots of the tasty little snacks in the relatively low-priced entree.  I wanted to have beef heart, which appeared on the online menu at the time of our visit, but unfortunately they made a change. (I haven't had beef heart in eight years.)    Still, the duck hearts were fantastic, and though something like heart may turn a lot of people off it is one of those things I would recommend trying once.

Next we had the burrata –an amazing cheese delicacy consisting of a slightly firmer mozzarella membrane on the outside and somewhat of a softer mozzarella/cream mixture on the inside. 

We followed up with a boudin blanc, which was a combination of  what I remember to be as veal and pork.  The sausage over the mustard didn't need the mustard, as it stood well on its own.  This was followed by a giant sweetbread that is known as the "heart" sweetbread as opposed to typically smaller "throat" sweetbreads, also very tasty, but I was particularly fond of the spiciness of what we were served.

Toward the end of the meal I ordered an Oude Boon Gueze, a type of Belgian lambic that is made from a blend of lambics that do not contain fruit.  In other words, only ingredients such as  wheat, hops, and malt typically are included, and the beer has a sour taste much like the more traditional unsweetened fruit lambics.

One of our favorites was the curried pork belly, in all its fat, was a succulent and thick strip that we devoured.  I believe this was an influence from Blackbird, which has carried the pork belly entree on its menu for years.

We ended the meal with a yummy waffle served with pear and honey butter, and we were gently reminided that a table was waiting for us (which was understandable, given that we were initially late in such a crowded place).  My overall impression was this is a very place worth coming back to (hopefully) many times over.    Having said that, the pricing was all over the place, and it also would have been nice to have our waiter be more attentive to our needs.  It would have also been nice to have the plates explained to us in more detail.    Publican is a unique experience that gives people an opportunity to try some unusual things they can't find elsewhere.


845 W. Fulton Market