Times are tough. Even ELV — a man known for his carefree, spendthrift ways — is feeling the pinch. So when a restaurant opens on the Strip that is actually affordable, with good food to boot, we are deeply grateful.
When that place is the spawn of the ultimate absentee chef, calling us pleasantly surprised would be an understatement.
P.U.B. stands for “Public Urban Bar.” Todd English stands for a once great chef who has….umm….er….overextended his brand to the extent he’s become the poster dude for phoning it in. The problem with most of Todd English’s food — recipes that once sprung from an innovative, creative talent — is that it is a very personal cuisine, that doesn’t easily lend itself to rote duplication in multiple venues.
We wrote off Olives in the Bellagio years ago, and a few bites at Beso convinced us that mediocrity is still the mainstay from this Bostonian. But now he’s thrown us the culinary equivalent of a Curt Schilling curveball, and we have to give the devil his due.
If you’ve ever played baseball, you know that a great curve is a thing of beauty, and hitting one is, as Willie Stargell once said: “Like trying to drink coffee with a fork.”
But we digress.
We never pegged English for being able to change speeds. In his day his motion never varied — lots of mediocre fastballs to feast on with the occasional screwball concoction thrown in for “creativity’s sake.” (Alan Richman says he’s the world’s best chef when it comes to making something edible out of a gallimaufry of ill-matched ingredients.) But for the past ten years we figured him for an old timer who was content to pitch batting practice and pick up a big check.
With P.U.B. he’s thrown a changeup — and gone from being a Luis Tiant to an Eddie Lopat — and improved his game by simplifying his repertoire. P.U.B. (like First Food and Bar, Simon at Palms Place, Society et al) is pitching itself to the upscale bar food crowd. It combines the simple (a selection of rotisserie roasted meats) with crowd-pleasing cliches (a selection of sliders), and tosses in enough frou frou (brown butter lobster rolls, duck buns, smoked salmon) to entertain finicky gourmands as well as those who are just there to watch the game.
The chef behind the day-to-day operation is Issac Carter (an old English chap) who is taking real pride in doing simple things well. He sources his breads from Bon Breads (a wise choice that) and everything from the challah to the buttery little lobster rolls is ridiculously good.
The whole point of the “carvery” thing is to build (literally construct at table) your own sandwich from nine different meats. We loved the lamb (a bit well done for us, but perfect for tourists), found the duck addictive, and the beef flawless. Only the brisket seemed a touch dry, but that is quickly remedied by slathering on one of seven sauces — of which we were particularly taken with the pineapple mint jelly, te bbq, and salsa verde (all made in house).
ELV’s staff would’ve enjoyed those meats even more if they hadn’t stuffed themselves with “dirty chips” (fresh made kettle chips with blue cheese and Nueske bacon chunks – and we mean “chunks”!), duck buns (too sweet and saucy and not ducky enough for us), crazy good roast beef sliders, lobster rolls, and a mini-pastrami sandwiches on a rye parker house roll (another great idea).
Those lobster rolls came on little rectangular buns that are de rigueur for this sandwich on the New England shore, and, like the pastrami and roast beef sliders, they are perfectly proportioned and plenty pulchritudinous. The brie grilled cheese is likewise a thing of beauty.
Because these were so good (and filling), no room was left for what look to be some of the more interesting menus items; Welsh rarebit, bubble and squeek, bangers and mash(!), and shepard’s pot pie.
Has English gone English on us? We thinks yes, to great effect. Maybe cricket was his game all along? We will ponder no longer whether the Todd-ster is out of his league with Olives and his gazillion other ventures. With P.U.B., Big Head Todd has teed it up, and Carter is hitting it out of the park.
TODD ENGLISH P.U.B.
3270 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109