We finally went to The Publican the other night, that super hip temple of pork and shellfish that is probably the traifest place I've ever come across. Right this minute, my kosher-keeping grandmother is rolling around in her grave at the thought of all the ham I ate, the mussels and clams I sucked down, and the gluttony with which I ate all of it.
Gastronomy aside, the Publican is probably too hip for me. For one thing, I did not at all understand the booths for four. They're enclosed on all sides with wood - like veal pens, my husband noted - and to get in, the waiter swings a door open, the patron slides in, and the door is closed behind him. There's probably some historical significance to this set-up. Perhaps the English noblemen sat in the enclosed booths for privacy while the commoners stood at the bar once upon a time ago. But once I envisioned the veal pen, there was no going back. Fortunately, we sat a two top.
The room feels like a nicotine-stained common house where sweaty men congregate after work under giant globe lamps to consume their ale and, with any luck, get shnockered. We came for the beer list, too, but mostly we came for the food. Paul Kahan, the chef, is one of those guys that may have a PR machine running at hyper speed, but truly puts delicious food on the plate in spite of it.
His menu is one of parts. There's veal heart, head cheese, sweetbreads, spicy fried pork rinds (a must-have, I hear), and even a little pig's ear in a salad. For queasy eaters like me, there's plenty of seafood, too, and his vegetable dishes are as intriguing as everything else.
Appropriately, we over-ordered. We got a tasting of three hams with goat butter and rustic bread, roasted woodland mushrooms with hazelnuts and burrata (a melty by-product of mozzarella making), a huge iron pot of the best mussels I've had in a long time with a loaf of crusty bread, and an even bigger iron pot of Basque seafood stew - a take on Bouillabaisse, with spicy rouille and yes, more crusty bread.
This last course was brought to us by an older sockless gentleman who might have been an aging rock star in a different life. His skinny black suit was a size too small, his hair was punky and gray, but it was his bony bare ankles that gave me just a little tingle. Every time he walked by, I found myself gazing at those ankles. They were not at all attractive, not sexy, not masculine and maybe even a little bit femmy, but they were also titillating and forbidden like only an aging rock star's ankles could be. So now, when I think about the Publican - a restaurant of parts - I think ankles.