We first encountered chef Daniel Bagnall a few months back at Short Stories, a clubby restaurant on the Bowery that initially seems easy to write off as basic due to its millennial-pink interior and influencer-heavy clientele. But the food—we tasted a pasta with ramp pesto and pickled strawberries—was memorable. Bagnall left for Public Records, where he’s whipping up more impressive, plant-based offerings.
More than a restaurant, Public Records is also a music venue, a bar and a zine shop stocked with printed matter on niche topics, like the aesthetics of football culture, next to lingonberry gummy candies. No matter what mood you’re in, the spot has something to offer: a morning cortado, an energetic yet mature group hangout where you can feel like you’ve “gone out” but still make it to bed by 10pm, and food that’s flexible to dietary restrictions. Located on an industrial block, it feels like a secret passageway into one of the laid-back restaurants that are currently hot in Mexico City, with a touch of hypnotic, austere Berlin nightlife. Grand ceilings, skylights and a spacious gravel patio feel like a blessing in a city known for cramped quarters. And the entirely vegan menu is a nod to the building’s history as a former ASPCA.
Dishes are ambitious and surprising (and not just because the dim lights don’t do justice to the Technicolor ingredients). The outstanding but vaguely named Fermented Bok Choy ($13) was a thick-cut sourdough toast topped with kimchi–bok choy and a creamy, tofu-based spread. The fanciful combinations of ingredients continued to enthrall us, as in with the deconstructed “pastrami” ($17); here, roasted potatoes are given a strong, smoky charcoal taste alongside mustard cream and pickled beets. The Calasparra Arroz ($19) fuses the flavors of fried rice with a grain used in paella, topped with delicate turnip disks. The pinnacle was the Dragon Beans ($23), in which purple carrots that look like slices of hot dog are served with thyme and peas; a humorous take on a dish usually sequestered to the kids’ table. The only offering we’d pass on next time was the Koginut Curry ($22): Despite the lovely composition of finger limes, pepitas and black rice served like pearls in an oyster, the taste was too muted.
The innovative dishes still feel a touch overpriced. But once the hazy reggae-funk mix began to spill through the speakers, we were lulled into a dreamworld where money was just a figment of our imagination.