It's hard not to be impressed by the size and scale of the operation at Public Service, which opened inside the new NOPSI Hotel earlier this year. The yawning space inside the historic New Orleans Public Service building has chandeliers hanging from its high ceilings and the open kitchen anchors a massive dining room with plush booths, exposed brick walls and beige and natural accents.
There is no arguing this is a large-scale hotel operation, and dining here can feel like a metropolitan affair in any number of larger cities. The space does little to imbue any sense of New Orleans, despite the building's history.
Local references come in the form of food, and the menu tips its hat to New Orleans and the Gulf South in several instances. Those dishes also find the most success. Tasso hushpuppies made with sweet corn and pimiento cheese arrive with a syrupy sheen of honey cane syrup, a sweet and savory snack that makes for good drinking fodder. A deliciously crispy chicken-fried soft-shell crab arrives on a bed of arugula sidling chunks of juicy watermelon and blistered serrano peppers drizzled with cool watermelon ranch dressing. A blue crab and spinach dip made with Abita Amber beer was on the salty side on one visit, but otherwise an indulgent treat, served alongside sea-salt flecked crackers.
There were a few instances when the kitchen used too heavy a hand with the salt, and a couple dishes would benefit from restraint. Flavors of tarragon and roasted garlic were lost in an anchovy-topped flatbread.
The menu is hit-or-miss. The "baguette" accompanying the bone marrow ordered on one evening consisted of two stale pieces of po-boy bread. Black bean hummus topped with roasted red peppers was served on a shallow plate that seemed an odd serving vessel for a dip, but more important, the small amount of cilantro gremolata was the most flavorful part of the dish.
There's a loose Southern theme with the smaller plates, but it is hard to find a connecting thread with the larger dishes. Fortunately, most of the entrees fare well. A juicy rib-eye steak was cooked to a beautiful medium rare with a flavorful crust and char. The steak is topped with a Stilton blue cheese butter that melts into the meat while a bracingly crispy arugula salad with pickled onions cut through some of the richer parts of the dish. Also good is a plate of tagliatelle cloaked in a smoky cauliflower cream sauce served with roasted mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, a tiny bunch of pea tendrils and a dusting of Parmesan.
Chef de Cuisine Dustin Brien helmed the kitchen at the Magazine Street small plates restaurant Salu for several years before it shuttered in 2016, and I was a fan of the internationally inspired and Mediterranean-leaning dishes there. Despite a few misfires, Public Service's food shows promise, especially in dishes that draw on local ingredients and Southern inspiration.