CityCenter’s vast architectural canyons are handsome enough, but when the crowds do not materialize, the complex feels remote, almost lifeless. So thank heaven for Todd English P.U.B.
The acronym stands for the catchy but meaningless “Public Urban Bar” (oh, stop), but this is a clever concept restaurant nonetheless. A first of its kind by the celebrity chef who burst onto the local scene at his Bellagio restaurant, Olives, English’s new place adds the sort of buzz CityCenter badly needs. For one thing, it is normally alive with a crowd, there to chug microbrews at the large bar or chow down a rotisserie meat or three from the restaurant’s signature Carvery.
And for another, the restaurant is the closest thing Las Vegas has to the gastropub, a phenomenon that started in the U.K., has taken root in the American heartland and is slowly spreading across the country. I have been critical of English in the past for being too long on conception and short on execution. Here, though, the onetime college baseball player turned chef is swinging for the fences.
The P.U.B. is next to Beso—Eva Longoria’s nightclub and restaurant—on the side of the Crystals shopping mall. It’s a huge, rectangular room fitted with dartboards, white tiles, a blackboard, wooden tables and handsome captain’s chairs. The one downside is a scale better suited to a banquet hall than a public house. If you’re looking for the sort of intimacy that a true pub offers, you won’t find it here.
What you will find is brew, and plenty of it, not to mention a carefully considered wine list, all well-matched with the meats, several favorites from a true English pub menu, and several cute ideas from the Englishman whose name is on the front door. During a recent visit, I was a bit stunned by the $16 price tag on my Chimay ale, though the Belgian beverage was served at the perfect temperature, and I know of none better. The fellow I dined with seemed equally pleased with his Warsteiner Dunkel, which, at $8, was priced a bit more modestly.
In all, there are 50 beers from which to choose, in bottle or from the keg, and the staff knows the difference between beer and ale (mainly the brewing temperature). They’re a well-trained group under the able direction of veteran Vegas restaurateur Kelley Jones.
Almost everything I ate here was a home run. The Dirty Chips live up to their name by being obscenely delicious: warm kettle chips laced with bacon, scallions, fried chicken livers and blue-cheese dressing. Welsh rarebit comes in the form of a giant hunk of toast layered with creamy cheddar. The Carvery meats are sheer poetry, slow-cooked, generally thick cuts served by a half-pound minimum. Greek leg of lamb, pastrami and juicy roast turkey are three big-time winners. I’m told that the fried bologna sandwich is a big seller, but they don’t pay me enough to try that one.
An appetizer not to miss is Duck Buns, really a way for the chef to sneak Peking duck onto a pub menu. This puts the ones at most of our Chinese restaurants to shame. The only misstep on the menu is an overly puréed prime beef chili. I liked the taste, but the sloppy-joe texture left me a bit out to lunch.
There is also a terrific warm bread pudding for dessert, half submerged in an English toffee sauce. Hey, does this guy have to put his name on everything?