Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Publican

As if Lisa's birthday weekend couldn't get any better, my parents decided to take us out to dinner on Sunday night. The idea of going to Joe's Stone Crab was tossed around for a bit, but Lisa and I thought that something different would be nice. A few weeks ago, I went to the Family Farmed Food Expo and got to watch a few cooking demos from some of Chicago's top chefs, especially those with a farm to table mantra. So when delicious and different were the two requirements, I quickly suggested the delicious gastropub of Chef Paul Kahan, The Publican (

The first thing you notice about The Publican is the pig theme. Whether it's the exterior restaurant sign, the monstrous canvas paintings, the food, or even the seating options pigs are everywhere. Honestly, it's the last place you'd expect to find a bunch of Jews out for an early Sunday dinner, but there we were. The majority of the seating is at the community table, a U shaped wood table 3/4 the size of the restaurant where you sit closer to strangers than at a hibachi restaurant. You'll be glad you sat near other parties though because then you'll get a good look at all the intriguing menu options. We had parties on both sides of us, and it wasn't intrusive at all. If you have a reservation, you can take advantage of the other 1/4 of the restaurant seating in a barn stall style booth. You literally can sit at a 4 person booth with a medium height door. Finally, if you're just that hungry or want to take advantage of the extensive beer list, you can stand at bar tables in the middle restaurant.
Communal Table

The wait can get pretty long at The Publican. We got there at 5 on a Sunday (right when they opened), and within the hour we were there the whole restaurant was full. So plan ahead with a reservation or just come at an off hour.
Barn Stall Booth

Another logistical key is how the menu works. Items are listed from top to bottom in order of increasing size. It's suggested that each person order one large and one small item. Then the waiter compiles the group's dishes into a multiple courses and brings out all of the food family style. If you look at the menu and think that you'll just order one thing, you might think it's a relatively inexpensive place, but that is not the case. Also, the "small" items are really small (not to say they're not worth it [they're delicious]), and the "big" items are really big.

The Food
So since the food came out in courses, that's how I'll take you through our meal. Our first course included the Hamachi Crudo, the Daily Pickles, and the Citrus Salad. The Hamachi Crudo is a raw, thinly sliced fish covered in a light broth with mandarin oranges and celery. The five of us were each able to get 2 good bites in, and each was filled with a mix of crisp flavors. Although it was small, I'd be sure to get it again. The pickle dish came with dill and sweet & sour pickles and a hunk of purple feta cheese. This too was a refreshing dish to start our meal, and I'd never tried purple feta before. The Citrus Salad had a delicious mix of orange, tangerine, and grapefruit with a delicious balsamic style dressing that took a nice backseat to the fruit. Ultimately each of these dishes was a light way to start the meal and get our taste buds going.
 Hamachi Crudo

Daily Pickle Dish
The second course included the Frittes with Organic Fried Egg, Ramps, Smoked Char, and Halibut. The Frittes were delicious and soaked up the egg yolk nicely, but in the third course, the chicken entree came with fries, so this was somewhat unnecessary. The Char came on top of a buckwheat crepe filled with fava beans and had a savory smoky flavor reminding me of a thick smoked salmon. The Halibut was cooked perfectly and came with an assortment of clams and veggies. The Ramps were the dark horse in the bunch. As a vegetable I'd never heard of before, this wild leek was covered in a tomato based sauce, making it the table's favorite of the course.

 Frittes and Ramps

Smoked Char

The third course included the Wild Mushrooms, Wagyu Sirloin, and Farm Chicken. The mushrooms were delicious and served with flat bread and an egg custard that melted in your mouth. Now I'd never had Wagyu beef (often known as Kobe beef), but I knew that it was known for being the top quality of beef with a perfect tenderness and high fat content (fat content = taste). What I'd heard was right. This was the best piece of meat I've had in so long I can't remember. The farm fresh chicken came on a huge platter with the pieces set over a bed of fries. The spice rub on the chicken gave it a nice little kick, and the fries found a nice way of soaking up the fat of the chicken.

 Wagyu Sirloin

 Farm Chicken

 Wild Mushrooms

The final dessert course included an Orange Marmalade Waffle and a Rhubarb Crostada with Vanilla Ice Cream. I'd never had rhubarb in anything before I went to Jam, and I was happy to try it again. The flaky pastry crostada came up nowhere short of scrumptious. I'm not one to go for waffles, but this one was so crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside that I had no complaints.

 Orange Marmalade Waffle

If you want interesting and delicious, there's nowhere to go before trying The Publican. The seating is different, the food is different, the eating style is different, and all these are in a good way. For the beer aficionado out there, you won't be disappointed either (plus the microbrew festival had just ended and their menu was extensive as a result). You may have to plan ahead to get in, but you'll be happy you did (your wallet may not be as happy).

In my highest rating yet, I'm giving The Publican 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Also, sorry that some of the pictures are not complete dishes. A few time we were too excited, and I forgot to take a picture until it was too late.

Publican on Urbanspoon


  1. It appears that the protein of at least three of the dishes was harvested in the great state of Maine and you failed to order any of them. That makes me sad.

  2. 1) I'm very sorry for that.
    2) None of those items are Kosher.
    3) What's so great about Maine?

  3. 1) Thank you
    2) I suppose that is acceptable
    3) Well for starters its motto is "the way life should be." Home of the earmuff, moxie, lobsters, delicious Maine blueberries, a mean corn on the cob, the most Easternmost point on the contiguous US, more coastline than California, 63 lighthouses, Joshua Chamberlain. I could go on but I'll stop there.

  4. You should go to Avek. I think its Paul's best restaurant. Focaccia flat bread is a must there. Also Big Star, great tacos.

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