Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy proposes with a 6-carat diamond ring. Boy whisks girl away to Croatia, where he surprises her with a private (but not legal) wedding ceremony on a yacht. Boy presents girl with a prenup saying that girl will get nothing upon divorce. Girl allegedly attacks boy with his Chopard watch and tears up the prenup agreement. Boy goes to the hospital to get 7 stitches next to his eye.
Boy disappears a week before the $150,000 wedding. Girl goes crazy. Boy phones girl a few hours before the wedding to call it off. Girl later learns that boy had called his friends and family days before the wedding to tell them that it wasn’t happening. Girl gets slapped with the outstanding bill for the lavish wedding. Girl goes public and does a tell-all interview, calling boy an animal. Girl gets charged for assault in the Chopard incident. Girl is ordered by the court to do community service and attend anger management classes.
This is not a script for Eva Longoria’s character in Desperate Housewives- it’s the true life story of her Beso business partner, Chef Todd English, and the romance-gone-wrong fiasco that unfolded last year. If you thought that soap opera plots only happened to Hollywood celebrities, then you’re in for a surprise. The culinary world is packed with jaw dropping drama, from the recent murder charges against Food Network TV Chef Juan-Carlos Cruz for soliciting homeless men in a plot to murder his wife, to Paula Deen being sued for trademark infringements. We still don’t know who fathered Padma Lakshmi’s baby, and let us not forget the ordeal with America’s criminal sweetheart, Martha Stewart.
Despite headline news of chefs gone bad, it’s hard to resist patronizing their restaurants when their food is good. I felt intense moral guilt about dining at Todd English’s recent venture in Las Vegas, knowing that I was financially supporting his bad boy behavior, but on that particular late afternoon in Vegas, it sounded like the best option to satiate my appetite. For a city that never sleeps, there are surprisingly very few options for all-day celebrity chef dining. Las Vegas has become the new culinary mecca for internationally acclaimed chefs like Joël Robuchon, Guy Savoy and Alain Ducasse, but these places are usually only open for dinner. Some places are open for lunch between 12-2:30pm, but honestly, if you’re up in time for lunch at noon, then you ain’t doing it right in Sin City.
When I stumbled out of bed at 3pm with ringing ears and a voracious appetite, still trying to make sense of the wine stains on my shirt (where did I go and what did I do last night?!), I reviewed my dining options. Where can we find a decent brewski to numb that pounding headache? Throwing back oysters at the raw bar at Bouchon in the Venetian seemed like an enticing option, but with a Bouchon back home in Los Angeles now, it wasn’t exciting. Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay seemed painfully far from the center of the strip. I wanted much more than dainty charcuterie at Batali’s Enoteca San Marco in the Venetian. Gastropub fare at Crystals in the new CityCenter complex was the perfect solution.
James Beard Award-winning chef Todd English already had an Olives outpost in the Bellagio, but it was the back to back opening of Beso and adjacent PUB that marked his dynamic success in Vegas. PUB, which stands for Public Urban Bar, opened 3 months ago with a wild opening party filled with juggling dwarf leprechauns and Vegas celebrities.
I remember seeing his original restaurant Olives, packed every night with enthusiastic patrons, back in the days when I spent my college years in Boston. Little did I know that he would eventually become a national celebrity, opening numerous restaurants from Seattle to Orlando and even Los Angeles in his joint venture Beso with actress Eva Longoria. With nearly 20 food establishments in the nation now, it’s an understatement to say that he’s spreading himself a little too thin, making me doubt whether dining at any one of his restaurants actually qualifies for eating Todd English’s cuisine.
Still, this new gastropub offering scrumptious comfort food and beers on tap at an affordable price is a welcome addition to the Vegas strip where the previous dining options meant a cheap bad meal or double down and bust. The tiny door at the entrance is deceiving- I expected a small dark room crammed with patrons noshing on burgers, but instead I stepped into a surprisingly large and brightly lit industrial space that was split into several sections. Dart boards decorated the walls of the banquette section on the right, leading to the back section filled with more tables that looked onto the semi-open kitchen. A communal table accommodated a party of 10 by the raw bar at the edge of the circumferential bar, while smoking patrons basked in the afternoon Vegas sun outside on the patio. I loved the tall ceilings in this English-pub-meets-Balthazar restaurant where we chose a barside table that looked out onto Julian Serrano’s restaurant next door at Aria.
In classic pub style, Executive Chef Isaac Carter enhances every dish with a generous serving of oil and butter to please all lagerphiles. He started off in the original Olives kitchen with Chef English, and continued on in numerous other English adventures like Kingfish Hall, Olives at the Bellagio and Beso at CityCenter. The menu is upscale pub food, offering classics like fish and chips and sheperd’s pie, and satisfying simple cravings for good meat with tableside sandwich carvings of prime beef and roasted lamb while appealing to finicky gourmands with finger licking selections of duck buns and moules frites. In addition to the bivalves and crustaceans from the raw bar, the items to get are the sliders, which range from traditional beef burger sliders to chicken parmesan to pastrami with kraut and swiss cheese. Of course, PUB’s the name, and the entire flip side of the one sheet food menu lists a wealthy selection of malts and hops.
We started, naturally, with a plate of fish and chips to accompany our Stella Artois Pilsner and Pyramid Audacious Apricot Ale. A half-inch thick layer of crunchy batter encased moist cuts of cod which we happily chased down with the refreshing bell pepper and cabbage cole slaw. The thick cut fries were divine, and I couldn’t stop eating them, especially when dipped in the tart and wonderful malt vinegar aioli.
Freshly shucked Hama Hama oysters were the perfect hangover cure with a squeeze of lemon and a drop of shallot vinaigrette.
Chicken liver pâté with balsamic, garlic and onions served hot in a small cast iron pot was a gooey mound of intense gameyness. The chopped egg and sliced scallion garnish did nothing to temper the overwhelming heartiness of the pâté, but the toasted challah bread triangles that it came with were a crunchy and heavenly delight.
The sensational winner at PUB was the brown butter lobster roll dish, made with freshly shucked Maine lobster tossed in a warm brown butter aioli and served with a side of kettle chips and creamy cole slaw. The buttery and tasty lobster meat was tucked into an even more buttery soft bread, which was then lightly grilled with even more butter. It was a lobster and butter marriage made in heaven, a sinful crustacean pleasure, and I still dream of going back to Vegas just to have another one of these rolls.
PUB at CityCenter is the perfect answer to those odd hour cravings. Whether you’re looking for quick eats after emerging from an after hours club, rolling out of bed in your sweats in the late afternoon, or seeking a casual joint for late night cravings, this is a wonderful gastropub that will satisfy your belly without breaking your wallet. If you’re a star struck fan of Chef Todd English, previously named one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People, then don’t get your hopes up. You’ll probably never see him at PUB, or any of his other restaurants for that matter. If you’re hesitant about feeding his business because you’re morally conflicted about chefs gone wild (was it a case of psycho bride-to-be or boy behaving badly?), then take a cab over to Hubert Keller‘s Burger Bar and support the ‘nice chefs’.
Crystals, City Center
3720 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Random trivia: Did you know that the quintessential British dish of ‘fish and chips‘ originated in the 1860′s? Deep fried fish and crispy potato wedges developed separately- fried potatoes spread south from Scotland while the popularity of fried fish moved north from Southern England, eventually merging in the first official fish and chip shop opened by a Jewish proprietor in London in 1860.