MAKE NO MISTAKE: Public Kitchen, the latest NYC offering from celeb chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten (hereafter referred to as JGV) is the hottest spot in town right now. If I were a little more clued in about pop culture happenings, I’m sure I would’ve recognized many of the slim, beautiful, well-dressed people filing into the restaurant on a recent Friday evening. It’s the place of the moment to post to Instagram and in which to be Instagrammed: Photos of dishes and diners fill social media feeds.
But are those dishes intended to be tasted or merely photographed? On my initial visit to the restaurant, I started my evening with the Popcorn-Cheddar Frico, one of the most Instagrammed items on the menu. Frico is a dish from Friuli in Northern Italy and is traditionally made with cheese rinds, the leftovers after the rest of the cheese has been used up, which are grated and then baked or fried until crispy. It’s considered peasant fare, and here it’s, well, the most peasantlike menu item—or at least the cheapest, at $8 a pop—gussied up with popcorn, and dusted with chives and nasturtium petals.
There might be something to that peasant-fare thing, though. The Public Hotel, in which the restaurant is located, is the lower-cost offering from hotelier Ian Schrager, one of the duo behind Studio 54, who has held onto his inherent cool over the ensuing decades. In staying at The Public, you pay about half as much as you would at his more upscale Edition property; you have access to the Schrager cool factor and design, but have to relinquish some things, like room service. Skeptics might call it “Ian Schrager lite.” In the same vein, Public Kitchen could be considered “JGV lite.” For much, much less than what you’d pay for a meal at the chef’s Columbus Circle flagship, you get a similar vicarious cool: a meal with JGV’s stamp of approval on it, but without the fine-dining niceties—amuse-bouches, say, or haute-cuisine originality or consistent cooking.
The executive chef here, and the person overseeing the kitchen daily, is Thomas McKenna, a former Jean-Georges sous-chef and Chopped champ. But it’s JGV’s name that’s prominently attached to this project, regardless of whether or not he’s ever in the kitchen. JGV is a prolific chef, with 23 restaurants in the United States alone (16 of them in the NYC area) and another 15 in other countries. He’s on a tear this year; since the start of 2017, he’s also opened abcV, Jean-Georges Beverly Hills (at the Waldorf-Astoria) and Jean-Georges at The Connaught.