This eating adventure loops way south of the border.
On a menu full of exotic morsels, it’s tempting to bypass the familiar. But why limit yourself? Order a couple of Tex-Mex classics like pinto beans, guacamole and tacos al pastor as appetizers. Their superior flavors set you up to fully appreciate the quality you’ll be experiencing in dishes, like lamb tartare and octopus, that are hard to compare to anything you’ve tasted before.
WOOD-FIRED CANTINA Público’s premise is to give Latin American cuisine a fine-dining treatment, a label that means restaurateur Mike Randolph explored beyond the land of Tex-Mex to put his own spin on Central and South America’s most flavorful dishes. The Venezuelan-inspired arepas, for example, are corn pancakes that can be topped with a sweetsalty combination of maple syrup and lamb-liver butter or a savory mix of shredded duck gizzard, chipotle morita, apple salsa and queso fresco. The ribeye cap—two thick medallions of medium-rare beef—is served atop a deep green pool of Argentinean chimichurri.
That said, the Mexican tacos shine. This partly stems from the cooking techniques—the spit-roasted pork shoulder in the tacos al pastor is perfectly tender, and the grilled pineapple bursts with flavor. What customers don’t see is the molino, a specialized mill where the kitchen staff grinds corn for the housemade tortillas that achieve just the right balance of strength (only one per taco needed) and tenderness.
Some seafood finds its way into the smoker, notably the white fish in the eponymous tacos. There’s a fine raw selection, too: oysters; striped bass with coconut, leche de tigre and enochi; and the popular sport fish cobia, served in a spicy-sweet combination of aji amarillo from Peru, ginger, lime and sweet potato.
ICE-CHILLED LIBATIONS Drinks are serious business here. The bar showcases bouquets of fresh rosemary, bottles and bottles of Espolon blanco tequila and intricate mixology tools. Many of the cocktails revolve around two spirits: tequila and mezcal. Though they’re both products of the agave plant family, they have distinct flavors: Mezcal is smokier than its common cousin, a quality that’s emphasized with a smoked salt rim for Público’s Mezcal Margarita. The third go-to spirit at the bar is rum—in particular, the El Dorado 12 Year Old, produced in Guyana, and the Diplomático Reserva from neighboring Venezuela.
Two other Spanish-speaking countries, Spain and Argentina, dominate the wine list. The varietals are geared toward seafood or grilled meats, and everything is offered both by the glass and the bottle. A couple of local craft breweries make the draft list, and there’s Modelo Especial in cans, but customers opt also for cocktails or alcohol-free options like horchata, agua fresca or Mexican Coca-Cola.
The bar dominates Público’s front half, which is visually striking but means reservations are a must in this shotgun-style restaurant, especially on weekend nights. For a striking visual effect, Space Architecture + Design incorporated key ingredients into the decor: There are huge white-on-black sketches of agave plants and a butcher-diagrammed pig on the walls. Wooden trees sprout from above the booths, creating a clever tie-in to the wood-burning hearth with a metal smoker insert and huge vertical rotisserie that’s a focal point of the open kitchen.
If customers are attentive—or, like us, playing “I Spy” with a very observant youngster—they might notice
the vinyl records and turntable piping in the music. Minute but experiential details like these show why it took a few months for Randolph, an industry veteran with successful locations like The Good Pie and Half & Half, to get his newest restaurant going. But now that it’s here, Público is well worth a visit pronto.
Clockwise from left: cobia crudo, pork steak, octopus
Photo credit: Jennifer Silverberg