I don’t know a lot about public school. My parents gambled that 16 years of Roman Catholic education might turn me into a respectable young man. (Their return on that investment is questionable at best.) To me, the public school kids always seemed to be having a lot more fun. So the Downtown Summerlin opening of Public School 702—which bolsters its primary education theme with a rotating selection of craft beers—sparked my curiosity.
Like so many of the spots in Downtown Summerlin, PS 702 is part of a national chain. It has three locations in California and another in Dallas—each named for the associated city’s area code. And like several of the more recent additions to our latest suburban dining hub, it’s actually delivering food and beverages of higher quality and consideration than the cookie-cutter cuisine I’ve come to expect from a typical shopping mall.
The beer-friendly menu ranges from such predictably juvenile choices as deviled eggs and burgers to surprisingly mature options, including an ahi tuna Niçoise salad and a roasted poblano pepper with quinoa, black beans and squash. But the grown-up dishes didn’t surprise me so much as the sophistication of some of the more clichéd offerings. I’ve probably had more ahi tacos in my life than I care to remember. But the ones here are of a quality I’m sure I won’t forget for a very long time: light and fresh thanks not only to superior fish, but also a beautifully balanced dose of jicama avocado salsa, ponzu and lemon aioli. Some chain restaurants toss ingredients like that onto a menu just to sound fancy. These guys, however, actually know how to use them.
Other nice touches include a dusting of togarashi on the cornmeal-crusted calamari, and the kick of the green chili cornbread waffles that accompany the fried Jidori chicken (not to mention the rich side of bacon red-eye gravy that comes with that chicken and waffles). And while I have yet to try the bangers and mash entrée, I did sample the wonderful chicken sausages that go into it as part of a happy-hour special, and will gladly return for the full meal.
I will admit that not every dish I’ve tried has earned high marks—although my one real disappointment was probably my own fault. When I saw PB&J sliders on the happy-hour menu, described as including “blackberry habanero jam [and] smoked bacon,” I foolishly assumed that they would include nothing more than the “P,” the “B,” the “J” and the bacon. That would have been a hearty enough sandwich for me. But piling them onto thick beef patties was a bit much for my taste and, frankly, a bit disturbing.
PS 702 plays up its kitchy grade-school theme with menus modeled after those black-and-white composition books and takeout bags labeled “homework.” But the second-floor space is well-designed, and the outdoor patio overlooking Downtown Summerlin’s fountain is one of the complex’s best locales. Moreover, there’s nothing remedial about the restaurant’s beer selection, which may not be the largest in town, but definitely includes some serious brews. (The cocktail selection isn’t half-bad either.) Whether I’ve been seated at the bar or at a table, every staff member I’ve encountered has been well-versed in the offerings—food as well as beverage—and seemed genuinely excited about sharing them.
I’ve been skeptical of Downtown Summerlin and its dining scene from Day One. And while I still wouldn’t compare it to the Strip, Downtown or Chinatown, I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the new restaurants opening there. Public School 702 is just the latest example, and it’s one class I’ll be happy to repeat.
Al’s Menu Picks
- Crispy ahi tuna tacos ($9),
- fried Jidori chicken & green chili cornbread waffles ($13 brunch, $22 dinner)
- fiery calamari ($9)
Public School 702