It’s Friday evening at Michael Mina’s new Pub 1842 in the MGM Grand, and the great chef himself, who owns more than a dozen restaurants around the country, is doing yeoman work expediting on the cooking line at his newest venture. He looks mildly stressed, but he doesn’t need to worry. Since the restaurant’s opening, they’ve been averaging more than 700 covers a day.
This is a pleasant surprise, even for Mina, the man—with apologies to Shirley Bassey—with the Midas touch. With a location at the far end of the MGM Restaurant Walk (a.k.a. The District), it’s quite a trek from the main floor of the casino. But that doesn’t seem to deter the masses, who come here clutching their yard-long drinks and barrel into one of the pub’s tartan-upholstered Pullman booths.
This speaks to a) how hot pubs are, and b) that Mina, like his contemporary Gordon Ramsay, is one of a few Michelin-starred chefs doing a pub. The trend may be a welcome—and ultimately profitable—one for the star chefs, but to my mind, it is a harbinger of the decline of fine dining. Still, when you have chefs as creative as Mina, there are concessions and compensations, which means that customers come as they are, in sweatpants or high fashion, to sit around a huge bar in the room’s center, or at a choice table on the small mezzanine, expecting high-end food—and they get it.
Either way, you won’t escape the sports-bar ambience, the pulsating sound system or the general mood in here, which is pure revelry. The name, incidentally, derives from an obscure factoid: 1842 was the year that Pilsner beer first appeared in Europe. Naturally, then, the industry standard, Pilsner Urquell from the Czech Republic, is on draft, as well as two dozen other suds, including Pabst Blue Ribbon, Rogue Brutal Bitter from Oregon and the delicious Delirium Tremens from Belgium.
As one expects from Mina, the food is quite creative, while remaining in the ballpark for what one would expect in a pub. On the menu, Snacks & Bites include a delicious crab Louis deviled egg, duck spring rolls and hot, salted pretzels, although the lobster corn dog, served with whole-grain mustard crème fraîche, is too much corn and not enough lobster.
Sliders—what else?—come under the heading Burgers, Sammies & Dogs, and the Heritage turkey burger (grilled with a mild char and topped with guacamole, Jack cheese and harissa, the Moroccan condiment) is the star, with an interesting peanut butter-crunch burger with bacon jam and potato chips as runner-up in the slider sweepstakes.
Those here for more substantial fare can cut your teeth on an organic half chicken, cedar-planked salmon or various wood-fired steaks, such as a cowboy rib eye. The chicken is tasty, topped with sun-dried tomatoes and olives, but a great bird doesn’t need so much embellishment.
As to lighter fare, one interesting choice is avocado kale Caesar, topped with artichoke chips and Parmesan. Kale, full of antioxidants, has become a restaurant buzzword; I’d match Mina’s use of it against anybody’s.
Sure, there are missteps, as there are in any new restaurant: My grilled corn on the cob came to the table lukewarm. A side order called Magical Mushrooms, served in a Staub cast-iron pot, a nice touch, was plain, unadorned, overcooked and tasteless.
If you fancy dessert, the Cakes & Shakes list has an irresistible roasted peach and almond buckle with a caramel shake to bolster it. A buckle is like a cobbler, only with more crust, topped with fresh whipped cream. The shake, a mini-version in a tall shot glass, is just plain wonderful.
Give the public what they want, and they’ll come out for it.
Michael Mina Pub 1842
In MGM Grand, 891-3922. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. daily; dinner 5:30 p.m.-midnight Sun-Thu; 5:30 p.m.-1 a.m. Fri-Sat. Dinner for two, $54-$89.
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