Monday, July 17, 2017


Another celebrity chef to drop his name but leave his soul out of it.  Public Kitchen opened up in Ian Shrager's new Public Hotel down on the Bowery, and despite it's buzzy vibe and picturesque design, that Jean-George Vongerichten is the name on the restaurant is more for pomp than for posterity.  Some chefs escalate to having their names be more valuable than their talent, and such is the case at Public Kitchen.  Which is a totally fine restaurant... especially a hotel one where they're sort of guaranteed traffic, but nothing about the food that we tried said anything but "you have been fed".  And J.G. himself was IN the kitchen that evening, or at least making the rounds and keeping his eyes on the dining room, populated with his investors, buzz-seekers and an attractive overflow of hotel guests.  They were turning people away in order to keep things manageable at this early stage, so some were bumped back to a communal dining table or seated at the bar, where more casual food options are available.

So the dining room is spare and industrial, but it has an attractive coolness to it, the cool of both qualities.  The waitstaff is attractive and attentive, worthy of better food.  That said, vegetables are a stronger suit, and we began well with a multi-colored beet salad interspersed with market strawberries strewn with crushed pistachios and flounce of arugula.  Pickled shallots married the berries and beets, tempered with a generous lashing of olive oil.  Less successful were a Snack of roasted asparagus spears wrapping melted fontina in salty prosciutto- they were a little greasy and heavy, improved with a generous squeeze of lemon but not saved.  The menu shows elements of classic Vongerichten nods to Asia, but Public is of a decidedly global influence.  There are potstickers with corn, basil, lime and soy alongside smoked
 salmon and potato latkes, tuna tartare with ginger and yuzu as well as De Palo's burrata with heirloom tomatoes.  We're definitely going for melting pot here rather
 than any locationally focused cuisine.   But that burrata is a sumptuous affair, plump and milky and surrounded with magnificently juicy tomatoes.  There is also a quartet of pizzas to choose from, of unconventional ilks such as tomato and mozzarella spritzed with chipotle or three cheese with asparagus and pepperoni (two p's ... the salami kind not the nightshade).  A couple of pastas present as well: I guess it's a hotel restaurant so you have to have a ton of variety.

Then Fish and Meat round out the entrees, although an $11 side of roasted cauliflower was big enough to serve as an entree had it be served with a steak knife, AND had it needed it.  But it was far overrated, so tender to verge on mushiness, which is a pity because it had fantastic flavor with grainy mustard sauce popped in its seediness.  Roasted hake with peas and carrots was pleasant and light, tinged with a barely perceptible kiss of saffron but otherwise not too memorable.  The grilled short rib we tried didn't share any of those qualities, nor was it in any way short.  Nor is it still on the menu, which was probably smart, because it was uncomely to eat and the meat was tough.  The bone was the best part, because my tablemate owns a dog.  


 We were full enough from all of that to not have much interest left for dessert.  There's no dessert menu listed online, so I can't even know what we missed, but I can't imagine it was that much.  Additionally, service had some noticeable lags and the duration of the meal was about time and half what it should've been.  Wrapping things up, we moseyed past the delicatessen-style eatery in the lobby and out through the front garden of the hotel, which is definitely the strong point of Public.  The grassy patio is magical, trees underlit and just dense enough to offer glimpses of a starry midsummer sky.  Couples laughing on benches and sharing clinking glasses of cool summer wines... and SMOKING.  Which killed everything, especially looking down to notice the scads of discarded butts amassing in piles on the little lawn.  My friend asked my why all smokers are such slobs, and I responded that probably they care as much about that as they do about their lungs, which he agreed made perfect sense.  It's kind of sad, though, because a little like Public Kitchen, it has so much potential.

PHONe  1 212 735 6000 

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