April 22 2009, 10:52 AM
Though I traveled to Chicago last weekend to dine at Alinea, celebrated chef Grant Achatz's ode to molecular gastronomy, I came back raving about The Publican, a European-style beer hall. Technically speaking, Publican's braised pork belly, creamy grits, and housemade pickles were no match for Achatz's innovative--and scientific--approach to dining. Alinea's cuisine is fanciful and gorgeous with items such as a ribbon of bacon served suspended from a wiry swing and a rhubarb dessert--gelato, dehydrated semifreddo, and cotton candy (pictured here)--served atop a pillow that slowly emanated lavender-scented air. But even as beguiling as the food at Alinea was, the setting was cold, even sterile, with dining rooms as silent as art galleries, and no background music to encourage conversation beyond whispers. I get that this no-external-distractions is the Alinea experience, but isolating the food took away from the evening. Instead, I prefer the raucous of Publican (the third restaurant from chef Paul Kahan, the wiz behind Blackbird and Avec) with its long, wooden community tables (pictured here). Here, jovial diners serve themselves grilled ramps and mounds of pork from family-style platters, and cheers with glasses frothed with beer (from an extensive list that pulls from Belgium, Norway, and Sweden). My Chicago experiences couldn't have been more different, but in most ways, I found Publican's more satisfying. Now, how to import this one-of-a-kind spot to Denver?