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Note: For a more recent review of Public, click here.

Public is a double James Beard award winner for both restaurant design and restaurant graphics. The motif is that of a public library circa 1964. Who knew that card catalogs and leaded glass restroom doors would be modern chic? Even the menu comes on a clipboard that looks like it’s been pulled from manilla card stock.

Unfortunately, you can’t eat décor. When it comes to food, Public’s catalog entry is: almost, but not quite. My friend’s Grilled Mayan Prawns with asparagus were very good, but she thought the chef was too parsimonious with the ingredients, especially the asparagus. My sister-in-law’s Tasmanian Sea Trout was very good, but a tad too spicy. My brother’s Roast New Zealand Venison Loin was “very good, but not great,” for reasons he didn’t specify. My Roast Lamb Chump was stringy, and in fact not as good as the accompanying vegetables.

So we had a happy evening, for which we had no regrets, but no one in our party of four felt that the food quite lived up to the design. Luckily Public is very reasonably priced for a high-concept place, with mains in the $18-25 range. However, they do clean up on the appetizers (we weren’t that hungry, and didn’t order any), which are expensive compared to the rest of the menu at $8-19. Desserts are $8.50-$11.50; we shared two between us and were satisfied without being overwhelmed.

Public (210 Elizabeth St. between Spring St. & Prince St., NoLIta)

Food: *
Service: **
Ambiance: **½
Overall: *½

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