I first visited Public about three years ago, when it was still relatively new. My impression then was that the food didn’t quite live up to the high-concept ambiance. Last night, I decided to give it another try. My verdict remains the same: Public is more about the “scene” than it is about the food.
To be sure, it’s no mean feat to remain relevant three years later. That’s more than enough time for fickle diners to find a new favorite. Just as it always did, Public still seems to fill up, at least on weekends. We had no trouble getting a 7:15 p.m. reservation on Saturday night, but the next available was past 10:00 p.m. By the time we left, it seemed every inch of space was occupied.
Typical of restaurants in its genre, Public would not seat me until my dining companion had arrived—either a sensible strategy for managing tables in demand, or a cynical way to run up the bar tab. So I went to the bar, where I struggled to get a server’s attention. Once I did, I enjoyed both of the infused vodkas that I tried. Naturally, the tab wasn’t transferable to our table.
Public offers an Australian/New Zealand fusion menu that is really difficult to categorize.
Cured wild boar ($13) sounded interesting, but was probably a waste of a good wild boar, as it didn’t taste particularly distinctive. With the cheese and crostini, it was at least a tasty snack. My girlfriend had the lentil salad, which was just fine, but didn’t launch any culinary fireworks.
Manuka braised lamb shank and truffled swede mash with watercress, poached pear and pickled onion salad
We both had the braised lamb shank ($25.50), which was satisfying comfort-food, though as my girlfriend pointed out, the degree of difficulty is low. It’s hard to screw up a braised meat. I thought that both the swede mash and accompanying salad were boring.
Service was inconsistent, and one server spilled wine on my shirt. The décor, a public library cum post office circa 1940s, is one of design firm AvroKO’s most stunning creations. The new-age sound track is too loud, and the exposed brick tends to amplify the sound.
You won’t eat badly at Public, but you won’t be wowed either. Perhaps the best bet is to come for a drink, admire the design, then try somewhere else for dinner.
Public (210 Elizabeth St. between Spring St. & Prince St., NoLIta)