Todd English P.U.B. – Las Vegas

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’.

Todd English PUB

Crystals, City Center

3720 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 489-8080

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.

Caché Restaurant

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Bar area

Caché, which means ‘hidden’ in French, is a lovely gem that recently opened on Main street in Santa Monica.  After the former restaurant Hidden’s schizophrenic menu failed to keep the crowds coming, Josiah Citrin took over to transform this large space into a rocking joint.  We all know and love Josiah Citrin from his other successful LA projects- Jiraffe, Mélisse and Lemon Moon.  Caché is a different concept, serving straightforward but well executed food in a loungey setting.  Diners can enjoy their meals indoors or outdoors, and late night partiers can congregate for cocktails in the outdoor patio by the enticing oblong fireplace.

Chef Arrington checking the white truffles for dinner service

Chef Arrington checking the white truffles for dinner service

Citrin has chosen a bright young star to lead the Caché kitchen.  Nyesha Arrington, the Chef de Cuisine,  is a SoCal native who was entrusted to take this position after proving her capabilities at Lemon Moon and Mélisse.   Her impressive resume also includes stints at Joël Robuchon’s L’Atelier and The Mansion in Las Vegas.  Her appreciation of cultural diversity, stemming from her multi-cultural background, is reflected in the superb balance and integration of different flavors.

We were greeted with a wonderful warm mason jar of assorted olives.  IMG_1269Warm olives are so much more pleasurable than cold or room temperature ones, it makes me wonder why more restaurants don’t serve it this way.  I love the warm olives at Pizzeria Mozza, and what a joy it is to dip my pizza crust into that aromatic warm olive oil.

Caché offers 4 types of mason jar starters, but the ones to get are the duck confit and foie gras parfait.  The rich and creamy foie gras parfait was topped with a luxurious port wine gelée.  The duck confit jar had tender shredded duck meat mixed with herbs and vegetables.  Both were equally satisfying and addictive, and we kept asking for more bread.  The bottle of 2005 St. Émilion Bordeaux from Chateau de Bellevue we ordered was a bit tart before it hit the decanter, but it got better and better through the course of our meal.  The lustrious tannins in this full bodied wine were a wonderful complement to the mason jar delicacies.

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There was no conversation or interaction at the table during the first 10 minutes of our ravenous mason jar frenzy.  IMG_1271These delectable delights had tapped into a part of our brain that had been scientifically thought to be dormant since the caveman era.  Dilated pupils, flushed face, rapid heart rate and incomprehensible gutteral grunting… these incredible edibles almost caused a sympathetic nervous system overload.  Once we calmed down, we started talking about what our ideal ‘last meal’ would be.  The heated debate included stellar candidates like sushi, steak, lamb chops, caviar and truffles.  The one thing we all agreed on was that we would love to have this foie gras parfait mason jar there before we draw our last breath.

The lovely calamari dish with chorizo, confit meyer lemon, cherry tomatoes and parsley came straight from the wood fired oven.  The chorizo slivers imparted a wonderful smokey flavor to the tender calamari, and the citrus kick from the meyer lemons kept the dish fresh and sharp.

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Caché’s version of moules frites was spectacular.  The black mussels were cooked in a delectable white wine, shallots and tomato sauce that we lapped up with the fries.  After the fries were gone we used our spoons to drink it like soup.  I’m normally not a fan of thicker cut fries as they tend to be soggy and overcooked, but these were fried to a perfect outer crisp and moist tender interior.  I could really taste the innate rustic potato flavors in each dazzling morsel.  The farmer who made these potatoes would be proud.

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I was ecstatic to see bone marrow on the menu.  It’s one of my favorite things to eat, so we placed 2 orders.  The fire-roasted bone marrow was silky and rich, oozing with blissful beef essence.   The green parsley foam on top added a perfect amount of saltiness to complement the marrow gelatin.  The wild mushroom tapenade on the toasted baguettes was earthy and aromatic, but it overpowered and competed with the bone marrow.  I had to scrape off the paste in order to indulge in a full-scale unadulterated marrow orgy.

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The crisp and fresh market wedge salad with cherry tomatoes, egg, blue cheese and bacon vinaigrette was the perfect palate cleanser to reset my heavy marrow-saturated taste buds.

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Caché has many delicious flat breads on their menu that are all baked in their special wood fired oven.  Toppings range from spicy sopressata to duck sausage, zucchini to caramelized shallots.  They all sounded amazing, but we decided to go with the evening special:  lardon, caramelized onion, cantal cheese, bechamel sauce and thyme.  A splendid array of caramelized sweetness, fresh herb aromas, lardon saltiness and cantal sharpness on a doughy flatbread canvas baked to perfection.

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The crispy pan-fried loup de mer was served on a bed of marinated eggplant, lemon and rosemary caponata.  The best part of this dish was the loup de mer skin with crispy scales, fried to a light flakiness that crunched and danced on my tongue.  The fragile texture was addictive, and I found myself enjoying the skin more than the flesh.  The hearty caponata was a bit too intense for the fish, and I left it untouched.

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One of my dining companions had already been to Caché and raved about the Kurobuta pork chop.  Even though we offered to order another dish so that he could have the opportunity to try something new, he insisted that we get it.  He wanted to relive the experience- it was that good.  The thick cut of meat was cooked to a perfectly even color, temperature and consistency.  The freshness of the mint ribbons and the subdued sweetness of the pineapple and five spice chutney embellished this juicy pork.  There was nothing really fancy about this dish, and it was a new flavor combination for me, but somehow it hit the spot.  It was comforting, warming and soulful.  Yes, this was a fantastic and solid dish, and I would order it again on my next visit.

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Chef Arrington complemented our entrées with 3 sides of: carrot with passion fruit, thyme and black pepper, asparagus with curry and pistachios, and a yukon potato purée that was whipped up in classic buttery Robuchon style.

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I bumped into Nyesha a couple of weeks ago at the Santa Monica farmers market as we both rummaged through a box of fairytale eggplants.  She had a twinkle in her eye as she enthusiastically told me how she was going to prepare it for the dinner menu that evening.  I could see the wheels of creativity and inspiration cranking at full speed in her brain as she proceeded to sniff, pick, taste and caress all of the fresh produce throughout the market.  It looked like she was having an intimate conversation with each vegetable.  I couldn’t help but feel a twang of jealousy toward the lucky people who would get to enjoy the farmers market inspired menu that evening at Caché.

IMG_1353The food at Caché boasts innovative flavor combinations with simple fresh ingredients.  It’s fine dining in a hip LA setting.  Yet it also has the comfort of soul food and the familiarity of happy childhood memories at the kitchen table.  How is it that in a jar of refined foie gras, on a superbly baked flatbread, on a side of Robuchon-style whipped potatoes, and in a crispy loup de mer skin that is difficult to perfect, I can taste the love and passion of this talented chef?  How is it possible for these plates to satisfy my soul as much as it pleases my belly and my eyes?  It’s something about the essence of the food and the aura of the chef.

Any chef can cook to impress, please, execute, and entertain.  But only a great chef can take that to a higher level and also cook to nourish and nurture.  That’s why the greatest chefs in the world are our mothers and grandmothers.  Young and beautiful Nyesha sure ain’t your grandmother, but she cooks with the same intention and soul.

http://www.cacherestaurant.com/

Random trivia:  Did you know that mussels are gonochoristic?  That means that each individual mussel is born either male or female.