Though I don't do it very often, I love slowly getting drunk and spending more money than usual on fun food combinations. By the end of the evening, I'm never sure if I was blown away by my meal or if I'm in an unusually agreeable state of mind because of the wine and cocktails. I wish I had more experiences like this, and I suspect from reading reviews and blogs that quite a few New Yorkers blow hundreds of dollars on dinner numerous times a week. I don't know any of these gourmands personally, but one can only guess that sugar daddies, comps or expense accounts are involved. While a mildly peculiar resolution (to spend money more freely), I intend to attempt biweekly fine dining in 2006.
Public is one of those sort of high concept uber designed (I have to admit an attraction to the whole library chic motif–card catalogs, faux typewritten menus on clipboards, children's magazines on shelves, tempered with non-institutional gauzy panels–despite it not making much sense) places that I fully intended to visit when it first opened, but never got around to. There are just too many options in the city. But I'm glad that I chose it for our Christmas dinner this year.
We weren't the only ones who had the same idea. An office party, that I almost accidentally crashed, was going on in the "wine room" and large groups were also convivially celebrating throughout the space. We were seated next to one such family, so Manhattan. I can't even imagine my mother taking us anywhere classier than Poor Richard's, if we went out to eat at all. We spent a good portion of our meal trying to figure out if the diminutive female, sitting at her own table next to us, odd one out of a clan of six in three two-seaters, was a child or an adult. We ultimately decided on well behaved eleven-year-old. I don't think anyone said a word to her through the multi-course meal. Maybe that's very Manhattan, too.
For a starter I had the fried Coromandel oysters with shiso, sansho pepper and wasabi-yuzu dipping sauce. I don't know if I tasted the pepper, but wrapping the bivalve in the Japanese leaf was a nice contrast and cut the richness, sort of like using lettuce around Vietnamese spring rolls. My first choice would've been James's confit rabbit, foie gras, and Tahitian vanilla terrine with quince glazed grapes and breakfast radish (I have no idea what makes it a breakfast radish) but I was tipsy and didn't care enough to force him to relinquish his wise choice. Plus, he gave me a generous portion of the foie gras to shut me up.
I've noticed that I'm a complacent diner, meaning I'm not demanding and rarely ask questions. I frequently see waiters spending a good amount of time with tables and I guess this is expected and that I'm the weird one for knowing what I want and keeping the ordering process brief. But waitstaff seem to be disappointed when you don't need clarification. So, I was almost relieved when I saw an ingredient in my intended entre, grilled New Zealand snapper on curried cauliflower and kasundi with a crab, Thai basil and crispy garlic salad, which I was clueless about. Kasundi was a stumper. Our sweet waitress (she really was–the couple on our other side was drunker than we were and borderline obnoxious and she appeased them, no problem) informed me that it was a spicy tomato relish, and I swear my cluelessness warmed her to us. We tend to get cold service and I'm convinced it's because we don't elicit opinion and expertise.
Following the lots of components, but one that's nearly absent formula, I didn't really notice the crispy garlic salad, which probably meant two slices of the clove. After earlier cocktails at Pegu Club, a gin and tonic in the bar and a few glasses of a random Semillon James chose on a whim because it wasn't Australian or New Zealand-ish, my thought processes were skewed. I actually chose this dish because I love fried basil, a Thai touch, but there was only a single leaf atop my stack of food. No matter, I enjoyed the flavors, which were very distinct, sweet, saline and hotter than anticipated. Kasundi is Indian, as it turns out.
Rather than finishing sweet as usual, we opted for a plate of Spanish cheeses (Caa de Cabra, Tetilla, Roncal and Valdeon) with marcona almonds, apple chutney and focaccia crisps. I also went for a glass of Fonseca port. I've neglected to mention the bread basket, which became an irrational focus for James. There was a fennel roll that he became enamored with and seemed hurt that we only got to choose one piece of bread at the beginning of the meal. Emboldened by the liquor and rambunctiousness of fellow diners, I was like "just ask for another," especially since the crisps ran out well before the cheese. Our waitress gladly obliged our request for extra starch.
And as we waited for the coat check girl to return to her post, we were mesmerized by the baskets of bread that were inexplicably housed on a shelf across from the closet. Yes, James stuffed his pocket with a fennel roll. I don't think he ever ate the pilfered bread–it'll eventually become a moldy souvenir.
Public * Elizabeth St., New York, NY