1/30/2013 12:59:00 PM

Photos: A Priceless Dinner With Paul Kahan at Publican Quality Meats

The recipe for the best meal oddly had little to do with food. It included a meat locker, the smell of fresh bread throughout the three-hour affair and chef Paul Kahan. It happened last night in the basement of Publican Quality Meats as part Mastercard’s Priceless Chicago series with Zagat.

The event began with cheese and charcuterie in the small storefront of the butcher shop and café, which during the day serves sandwiches in addition to fine meats and local pantry items. We snacked on blood mortadella while waiting for our ten dining companions to arrive.

Around 8 PM chef Cosmo Goss invited guests on a tour of the facility. We had been chatting with Kahan about the selection process of whole animals for butchery at PQM, but did not mind the interruption. We were led behind the glass meat case and down a staircase into the basement kitchen. What waited was the stuff of foodies' dreams – a metal table, which doubles as a counter and assembly station during service, set for 11 with place settings at stools on three sides and the chefs prepping near the stoves on the other.

While we were prepared to take our seats and chow down, the tour was not over. The crème de la crème of PQM waited just past the kitchen, used to case sausages and bake bread. The meat cooler! We’ve been in a lot of meat coolers (Slagel Family Farm, David Burke’s Primehouse, Butcher & the Larder), each one filed with rows of handing carcasses, aging meats and stings of sausages. There are few things more beautiful than the contrast of red meat and white fat under florescent lights.

In this cooler, PQM stores quartered cows, whole pigs and lambs, chickens on skewers as well as proofing bread. In a separate cooler in the back, sausages are hung and aged. We could have stayed there all night, assuming plates of food would be delivered to us, but it was a little cold.

Is anyone else hungry? Time to sit down to eat. The first dish was a hamachi crudo with clementine, pine nuts, chili and basil. It was a light transition from the meats and cheeses upstairs and the meats and meats to follow. The next course was a little gem salad with ribbons of crispy fried pig ears. Each of the courses was paired with wine served in short glass tumblers.

As the courses progressed from a slow roasted porchetta with farrow and grapefruit to a comparative tasting of grass fed to grain-fed beef, the noises of the kitchen rose and fell. Sizzling fryers filled with frites for the mussels, oven doors opened and closed as two bakers removed the last batches of bread for the evening. Kahan slid piping hot rolls across the table for us to try the bread that burned the tips of our fingers but melted in our mouths.

Nobody talked about work or home or the terrible weather waiting outside. It was eleven diners, three chefs and three servers in one room with the warmth of good food and company. The meal ended with a rich chocolate stout cake with bourbon ganache, burnt cinnamon ice cream and oatmeal streusel.

This dinner will go down in the records as one of the most cherished foodie fantasies turned reality. And hey, now we can say we hung out with Paul Kahan.

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