James Beard Dinner at the Publican, Chicago

In planning the recent Chicago Teach a Chef to Fish workshop (see Radhika-ly Good Meal of Sustainable Barramundi), I was reminiscing with Mary Smith of Plitt Seafood about Alaska and our fond memories of the Reluctant Fisherman's deck and the town of Cordova. Imagine my delight when she extended an invitation to the James Foundation dinner taking place the night before our workshop.

As much as I love the James Beard Foundation and the work they do, as an independent writer the ticket for these dinners is still out of reach. Now I was being invited to share a meal with a new friend - Score! And what a meal it would turn out to be. The Publican (not "Republican" as my hotel staff insisted, "there's no Republican restaurants around here.") is one of the hot tables in Chicago. Blackbird, avec, and The Violet Hour are all part of the same restaurant family, all noted in their own right.

The Publican, Photo credit: Bob Briskey, Publican Website.

Amidst delightful company, we swooned and squealed over course after course, pairing after pairing. Classical guitar, travels in Greece, lamb, goat, pigs and fish, of course...conversation ranged far and wide. We sat in one of the booths with doors like old Puritan church pews. Note the pig artwork. Was I in the right place, or what?

Bob Briskey Photographer, courtesy Publican website

James Beard Foundation Dinner

Executive Chef Paul Kahan - formerly of Blackbird and avec, and now The Publican, Kahan has been honored by selection as a James Beard nominee for Outstanding Chef in 2007 and winner of James Beard Best Chef of the Midwest in 2004.

Each of the courses were outstanding. And each gave us a new talking point, an interesting pairing, a new ingredient, a favorite item.

Sweet Delicata Squash - Koren Grievson
heirloom apples, sicilian pistachios, fiore sardo*, baby chard
2008 Blackbird Vineyards “Arriviste” Napa Valley (deep rose)

*Fiore Sardo is a cheese from Sardinia that predates Pecorino Romano.

Turbot & crispy sweetbreads - Paul Kahan
golden turnips, orange & lucques olives
Sophie, Goose Island Brewery, Chicago, IL

*Goose Island Brewery was new to me, this Sophie had complex citrusy notes and a clean crisp taste that was perfect with the richness of the sweetbreads and the turbot.

Slow roasted goat and crispy goat prosciutto - Mike Sheerin
Crab apples, dates and hazlenut oil
2006 Blackbird Vineyards “Arise” Napa Valley

*Goat was rich and prosciutto was like chips.

Suckling pig - Brian Huston
canadice grapes, matsutake mushrooms, cavolo nero & verjus
2006 Blackbird Vineyards “Illustrator” Napa Valley

*Not surprising that this dish was a standout. The Publican has a reputation for good porcine treats.

"Coldbox" Photo Credit: Sam Rosen, The Publican website.

Sweet potato panna cotta - Becky Broeske
Smoke cider, milk chocolate & bourbon ice cream
Conquistador de la meurte, Three Floyds Brewery, Munster IN

*This dessert and dark beer pairing was really tremendous. A dark cookie shortbread underneath a light but richly flavored panna cotta little cocoa nibs and the cider and ice cream all complemented the chocolately, smokey notes of the brew. Really a surprising and delicious pairing. Our server asked another server how many Floyds were at the Three Floyds Brewery: answer: three.

The atmosphere is bustling and congenial, warm saffron walls and shared tables encourage the friendly atmosphere. Servers were knowledgeable and attentive. I would highly recommend this delicious and funky spot for your next trip to Chicago.

The Publican

837 West Fulton Market
Chicago IL