Nobody understands or appreciates a meal in a restaurant quite like industry professionals. We spend all of our time doing everything in our power to ensure that guests enjoy their experiences in our establishments. We work hard. And on the rare occasion that we get to dine out we don't want to be a problem for the staff members of the restaurants we choose to dine at. We've been there, we just want simple, good food, and a few drinks, and to make things as easy as possible for the servers and the kitchen staff.
Last night I went to The Publican in Chicago with my co-worker, Toby, expecting a simple, quiet, delicious meal, some good conversation, and some excellent beer. Toby had never been before, and being a fellow pork-a-phile I wanted to bring him here. What started as a casual dinner quickly transformed into a life-changing experience, and arguably the most memorable meal of my life.
Stephanie, our amazing server, greeted us at the bar and helped us make a few beer selections to start out. The beer menu is HUGE. We asked her what she liked to drink, and she responded "I drink professionally," in a "You can't handle what I drink" tone. We told her we understood and that we were cooks, implying that we are serious drinkers as well. She immediately perked up and made some excellent selections for us.
Then came the time to order. Toby and I are not picky eaters, and as cooks, were on a pretty tight budget. Stephanie could tell that we were just kind of closing our eyes and pointing at a few dishes, due to the fact that everything seemed so good. Most of what we ordered came, and Stephanie cleverly replaced a dish or two with ones that she felt we absolutely had to have. The dishes that we didn't actually order were without a doubt the highlights of the meal. The rilletes with strawberry jam, the shrimp with nettle puree, and the absolutely killer duck breast with currants and peanuts were the stars of a meal in which everything we ate we enjoyed thoroughly.
The exact details of the meal itself are a little fuzzy because Stephanie was absolutely killing the beer pairings!
The shrimp with nettle puree, to die for. I need more shrimp heads in my life. Every time I wiped my face after that dish, the scent of shrimp brains on my napkin brought a shit-eating grin to my face.
I learned more about beer in a casual two hour dinner than I had learned in a six hour beer lecture in culinary school. Stephanie was extremely generous and poured us a taste of anything we had questions about. When she suggested a 20 dollar bottle of barrel aged JW Lees Harvest Ale, to pair with the duck breast, we figured we had to do it. We had learned already that Stephanie knew what she was doing. And she was adamant that we needed this beer. She went into depth explaining the process behind the beer, the makers, etc. The plate of duck had been sitting for several minutes between myself and Toby, but we were so intrigued by the beer and the lesson that we had completely forgotten about it. When Stephanie was finished we looked down at the duck and eagerly dug in. The peanut butter and jelly like combo of the currants and the roasted peanuts was perfect with the beer. And the duck, despite having sat for a long time at the table, still had perfectly crisp skin, was perfectly cooked and flavorful. Without a doubt the best duck I've ever had in my life. And to think we didn't even order it! My life would be incomplete without that duck breast.
A perfect waffle topped with peanut brittle, hot fudge, and maple ice cream was the ideal dessert to end the meal. I was extremely sad when it was time to leave. But walking out the door, both of us felt like kings. We felt like we were part of the Publican family for a few hours, and it was incredible.
We talked about it all the way home. We wanted to thank the whole crew for what they did for us, more-so than buying a six-pack of beer for the kitchen (which we obviously did). The only way that can happen is to repay the favor. If any member of the Publican staff is reading this, please consider it an invitation. If you ever find yourself in Madison, WI, please come to L'Etoile. Tell someone you're from the Publican, and say you know Mikey. I will do my best to properly thank you for giving me one of the most special meals of my life.
One things' for sure though, I'll be back to the Publican, hopefully sooner than later.