After two years of elusive city permits, endless recipe testing and agonizing construction delays, the team behind Blackbird and Avec is on the verge of opening this year's hottest restaurant-provided it doesn't kill them first.
All four men who have partnered to open the Publican could be called passionate and tenacious. But Madia is the only one who can’t seem to turn off his thoughts about the restaurant. Paul Kahan, the chef, is trying to spend time with his wife before the restaurant opens and his 16-hour days start. Eduard Seitan, the beer and wine guy, has an airplane he flies to take his mind off things. If Terry Alexander—considered by the group to be the best “numbers” guy—gets stressed, he’s too busy running his restaurant empire to show it. But Madia—he can’t turn it off. When he talks about the Publican, he frequently experiences moments of agony, his head in his hands. He checks his watch constantly, clocking every extra second the project is being pushed back. When he’s standing, he’s shifting from one foot to the other, a gold chain swinging at the neck of his shirt. And when he’s sitting, he’s shaking his leg, looking out the window, nodding at passersby he knows. And there’s always somebody around whom he knows.
The four of them are no strangers to restaurants: Madia, Kahan and Seitan opened Blackbird in 1997 and followed it with Avec six years later. Alexander has opened, among other places, Mia Francesca, Mod, Francesca’s Forno and, with Madia, Sonotheque and The Violet Hour. None of them, however, has been involved in a project this big. When the Publican opens (likely in September), it will seat 150. But thanks to Kahan’s impeccable reputation and the two years of buildup, it likely will draw crowds three times that size.
When people finally get a table, they’ll see the Publican is the antithesis of Blackbird. At Blackbird, the minimalist room draws attention to the elaborate food on the plate; the Publican reverses that model. Patterned after Belgian beer halls, the room will be big and noisy, the sound of the crowd bouncing off the golden, textured walls. Beer will be the preferred poison—there will be close to 100 on the list—and people will drink it while sitting at one of two enormous, L-shaped communal tables. And as if to counter the vibrancy of such a lush room, the food will be reduced to the most minimal plates the chefs can stand.
“More simple, more simple, more simple.” That was chef Brian Huston’s mantra when he was working at Blackbird in 2000. The philosophy didn’t convince Kahan at the time, but it was this approach that led Kahan to hire Huston as the Publican’s chef de cuisine. Now, as he, Kahan and sous chef Erling Wu-Bauer work on the menu, his question about every element is, “Do we need it?” If the answer is no, it comes off the plate.
How people will react to this spare approach is a source of stress for the chefs. The menu is constantly described as simply “beer, oysters and pork”—still, this is unlikely to prepare people for a plate with little more than a barely garnished ham steak. “I feel like it’s the Indiana Jones movie,” Huston says, describing his anxiety about the menu. “People have been waiting for it…”
“Except it’s not going to [be bashed by critics] like that,” Wu-Bauer interjects. “This is going to be Batman, for sure.”
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