Saturday, January 2, 2016

My new Favorite Restaurant: Publico


Once upon a time, Neil and I ate out all the time.  We weren't parents then.  Yes, parenthood has a tendency to curtail a lot of that spontaneous eating out.  But needless to say, I'll take my baby girl over a good steak any day!  

You all may remember how long time culinary citizen Garibaldi's suddenly closed up shop.  I think with something like a whopping 24 hour notice to their employees. I know I was shocked when I heard.  Just a few months before, Neil had taken our daughter there for a daddy-daughter date night and made a fan out of her. Then, they were gone. 

If you have been paying attention, that building has been under construction lately.  Lots of activity over there and then the sign went up.  Publico. Hmmm!  What could it be? What will it be like?  What can we expect? 

Neil and I decided to head over there on New Year's Eve for lunch.  He had already stopped in one day last week for a beer and tried their bacon-wrapped jalapenos and was impressed. He told me about the menu, which I pulled up online and out the door we went.

Neil is in a happy place

Publico's menu features a large selection of specialty tacos with an emphasis on Asian flavors.  Example? How about a Bahn Mi taco: crisp pork belly, jalapeno, cucumber, carrot & daikon.  Or, what about a Pad Thai taco or Avocado Crunch? Wait, there's more!  How does a burger made from ground chuck, brisket and short rib grab you?  Of course, you may opt for a Carne Asada puffy taco (remember that episode of "Beat Bobby Flay"?) or a Korean influenced tostada?

Neil and I opted for their special, which is 5 tacos and 2 sides. Our plan was to share so we could get a good sampling of the menu.  

Isn't that beautiful?
We chose the Plum Chicken, Sambal Fish, Cilantro-Lime Shrimp, Classic Carnitos and Bahn Mi taco.  For sides, we chose the Mexican street corn and edamame.  Simply put, this food was awesome.  Man, I don't even know where to begin...

Plum Chicken Taco
 I think the Plum Chicken was my favorite. The chicken is nicely seasoned and the plum sauce gives it a little something extra, without adding too much sweetness. It's dressed with a bok choy slaw, the plum sauce and black beans.  

Sambal Fish Taco
Neil's vote goes to the Sambal Fish, which I am a fan of too.  The fish is tempura fried: nice and light. The sambal aioli is awesome and the pickled red onion and kim chi give this taco crunch and tang.  

Bahn Mi Taco
I liked the Bahn Mi a lot but think it may need a little more zip to it; perhaps just a little more of the red pepper aioli. But, I loved the crispy pork belly and crunchy vegetables. 

Classic Carnitos Taco
The Classic Carnitos was also high on our list.  Smoky, pulled pork with jalapeno, guac, pico...delicious.  My least favorite was the shrimp. I expected more flavor from the cilantro and lime but found it rather bland.  But, of course, I am a shrimp snob.  I would order this again, but think I'd add more chipotle crema to jack up the flavor.  

Cilantro Lime Shrimp Taco
The sides are notable too: the Mexican street corn is out of this world.  The corn was smoky, tender and spiced with chile and cheese. We are both big fans of edamame but Publico serves it with Ponzu sauce, which we had never had before.  You dip the pod in the ponzu and then pop the beans out of the pod, you know, the same way we eat boiled peanuts. I had just never thought of or seen anyone serve with ponzu.  I like it!

Ok, I know this post is long, but there's a lot to say!  Publico is just cool.  They took out the windows that overlook Greene Street and replaced them with roll up doors.  (Anyone remember Hannah Jane's?) The walls are clad in recovered wood, food is served on flat, stainless plates, like pizza pans. If you choose to sit at the bar that separates the dining room from the actual bar, note the purse hooks, A/C and USB outlets.

 Someone is quite talented at chalkboard penmanship.  I always marvel at does someone not only write so artistically that big and with a stick of chalk?  We had the pleasure of having the owner, Mike, stop by our table and talk. He's new to Columbia and excited about being here.  He shared with us his experience in the restaurant business from Houston to Nashville and now here he is in Columbia. He's interested in local sourcing and creating a quality upscale casual environment. Matt was our server and he was fantastic: answered all my goofy questions without rolling his eyes (at least not in front of me!) and he really knew the menu. He and the bartender Lilly, both came by our table to check on us and we talked about the menu, their favorites, our favorites.  

The Carnage
We loved our experience at Publico and can't wait to go back.  In fact, we've already decided what we're going to try on our next trip.  Highly recommend that you check out this new addition to our culinary scene.  Mangia!


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