22. A special number in my life. A special date. A special age. A number that has brought luck, love and fortune to me through very little work of my own. Growing up I loved #23, for all the cliché reasons. In the 90’s all the best players donned that number, more than just the most famous, Michael Jordan. And so I begrudgingly left 23 behind and made room for one less, and it gave me so much more. On July 22nd, 2005 I embarked on my last first date with a gentleman working for the United States Navy, VS22 to be exact. On October 22nd that same fella with whom I shared in our last first date told me he loved me. On September 22nd, 2006, I married this man at the ripe young age of 22. We shared this age together, along with some amazing memories rounding out the day we exchanged vows. I graduated college. We celebrated in Vegas, with the fam. Spent our honeymoon in New York and shortly before turning 23 we decided to uproot everything and move to Italy. 22 kept showing up, winning us money in roulette, and the date happened to coincide with many life-changing travels throughout our stint in Europe.
On August 22nd, 2010, we moved to Chicago. No lie. It’s bizarre. I’m one to believe in coincidence rather than fate or miracle, but I’ve let the magic of numerology overtake my fully functioning brain and therefore, I’m banking on old 22. I find ways to celebrate this number, either big or small, and for our nickel anniversary I made no exception. We needed to eat our faces off, titillate our taste buds, send shock waves through our nerve-endings. And that's why we spent September 22nd, 2011 at the Publican.
The idea for the Publican came to me from a TV show I’d love to replicate in my own way someday. No Reservations, hosted by the acerbically funny, chef from New York, Tony Bourdain. Tony’s cactus sensibility resonates with my own, and although I’m somewhat sweeter and softer deep down (I think he is too), I’ve got a fairly razor-sharp tongue and very little tolerance for certain people or behaviors. This is why I respect his taste and his show tremendously. It’s not cheesy, phony, contrived, or dull. It’s genuine. It’s a window into worlds most don’t understand, or may not even be aware of, and it’s fricken food porn. When he’s ready to retire, I’m perfectly willing to attempt to fill his shoes. I’ll be sure to let him know because he’s clearly just waiting for me to say those words out loud. Ah, but one can dream.
So when Tony was in Chicago, as any smart person would be, he pointed out some excellent little gems that I’ve frequented and written about since; save for the Publican. Even hearing about it from friends, reading about it in the paper, and exploring their website, it still took almost a full year to make the trek to Fulton Market, for some pork, oysters and beer. Yeehaw. Warning, this place is three dollar signs ($$$), so it ain’t cheap. Special occasion arises, take your sweetheart or BFF and go. As with all others I deem worthy of writing about, this place is memorable and worth every penny.
This place comes with a major reputation and therefore some pretty significant popularity. They earned it and deserve it, but reservations are a must. We initially tried for a weekend, got shot down because of my last-minute attempt in making a reservation, and so we opted for the better choice anyway, Thursday, September 22nd. Taking a cab that drove dangerously quick, weaving in and out of traffic, attempting to arrive at our set time, we enjoyed the beautiful architecture Chicago has to offer, but arrived just beyond 15 minutes late. When this happens, you’re table is given up, but they do their damnedest to get you seated quickly. While you wait, you’re corralled like farm animals in the center of the restaurant, standing around small, circular, tall tables, where you peruse their impressive beer menu and get whiffs of the sizzling pork on other patrons’ forks. We ordered some microbrews and were quickly sat at the oyster chef’s table, getting a bird's eye view of all the action in the kitchen. The decor is simple, monochromatic, but very modern and sleek, with large paintings of pigs in cow print hung on the walls. Nothing makes you hungry like a pig/cow hybrid. Mmm.
The Publican is ran impeccably by executive chef, Paul Kahan, and chef de cuisine, Brian Huston. From the owners and creative minds behind Avec and Blackbird, this casual fare comes from the highest quality pigs, certified organic from Iowa, quality vegetables, top shelf oysters from trusted purveyors, and the staple ingredient giving this place its extra umph, beer. Designed by Thomas Schlesser, the Publican is simple farm fare with an old European bar decor. It's comfortable and impressive, casual but still a special occasion.
The menu is simple but also overwhelming, for the descriptions of each item are so enticing, the mixture of flavors so creative and unique, surely you cannot make a bad choice. We opted for half a dozen oysters, sweet n salty, a sampling of Serrano ham, and the Suckling Pig, from the entrée menu. The oysters are shucked fresh and are served on ice, with a tiny gravy boat of this buttery, garlic, vinegar concoction that you pour over each slurp with a sprinkling of lemon. I could drink that sauce every damn night. Oh my god. Jesus. Krishna. I’d imagine it’s what the buddha’s saliva tastes like. Weird? Oh well. The Serrano ham is Spanish, thinly sliced, and served with fresh slices of bread and butter. You make a tiny sandwich, or just eat that salty, bold deli meat by itself. We ate every single morsel. The suckling pig was the most jaw-dropping, life-changing, O-face inducing entrée I’ve had in days, ha, maybe weeks. I cannot fathom how good all the other entrees are and I cannot wait to find out.
What is abundantly clear when eating at the Publican, and watching the men at work, is how much passion and care is put into each plate, each bite. I love enthusiasm and talent put to use. My friends and people I admire deeply do this so well, and to share in the art created by chefs with people you respect and love makes for the most memorable evening, and I could not ask for a better experience. This is life for me. Laughing and eating. What more do we need?
Treat yourself. I’m sure you bust your ass and sacrifice to live your chosen life, so whether it be the Publican, or some other dining experience you’ve been eyeing, celebrate yourself and another with the joy and love that is food. Thank you and enjoy.