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Todd English P.U.B. makes taste buds smile

Well, last week I was raving about bread, and here I am again. I guess you could say I’m on a roll.


What comes to mind is an encounter on a train in Belgium, eons ago, when a man who looked a lot like Hercule Poirot struck up a conversation.

“American?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said proudly, since it was a time when Americans still were held in high esteem across Europe.

“Ah,” he said, and gave me a bright smile. And then a frown.

“American bread,” he said, shaking his head and making the universal sign for “squishy, squishy, squishy.”

I started to protest — I’d grown up on bread from bakeries with names like Kaase — but I knew it was the not-so-wondrous Wonderbread and its ilk that he was so rightfully disparaging.

I’m sure that, like the original Hercule Poirot, he’s gone to his reward, but if I could find him I’d take him into Todd English P.U.B. for a few slices of bread. Because, wow. Wow, wow, wow.

I sort of had a clue that something was going on here breadwise when we were served our starter of soft pretzels ($6). Pretzel rolls have become popular in upscale restaurants around town, and these four sticks actually were a cross between those and old-fashioned department-store soft pretzels — plump, with the characteristic resilience and elasticity, the snow-white slashes across the front and a sprinkling of just enough salt. The menu said they’d be served “wit whiz” and that’s pretty much what it was, a sort of undistinguished cheese sauce. We’d much prefer a mustard like we saw on an earlier menu, but next time we’ll ask. That was only gilding the lily, anyway; they were so good they’d be just fine by themselves.

We figured English must be pretty proud of his “Carvery” offerings since they occupy a featured spot on the middle of the menu. From the Carvery, customers are invited to choose a type of meat — sold by the pound and half-pound — bread and two sauces to be served on the side. Since the brisket ($16 for a half-pound, $28 for a full pound) was the only thing in that section that had English’s initials in front of it, we took the hint and again, wow, wow, wow.

Brisket is one of the more proletarian cuts of meat. It’s tough as shoe leather if not prepared properly, but when it is, it becomes a tender wonder, rich in deep flavor. The usual cooking methods are smoking or braising, the latter often with a tomato or barbecue sauce to help tenderize the meat. Neither had been used in the case of this brisket, which was simply served in its own juices. And it was, without question, the best brisket I’ve had in my life, meltingly tender, its unadorned state the perfect showcase for the inherent flavor. With it we chose the thick-cut rye, and the blue-cheese fondue and horseradish sour cream.

And well. Again, skillfully prepared bread. It was a light rye but still full of flavor, and the thick slices were just the right platform for the juicy brisket, which we piled on gleefully. Neither sauce was really necessary because the beef was so flavorful and moist, but of the two, we liked the more assertive horseradish over the too-mild blue cheese. On the side, we were served a bowl of pickled cauliflower, cucumbers and lathe-turned carrots, which was a well-conceived accompaniment.

We had still more artisan bread with the Grichebecktom ($17), one of the best sandwiches in town with its melted brie, thinly smoked tomato and lovely pancetta. That one was accompanied by a cone of skinny fries, which were crisp and right.

We also had indulged in the little bucket of hot, fresh popcorn that was served while we were perusing our menus.

After wolfing down all of that brisket — I had to give up on the bread– I was all for bypassing dessert, but that wasn’t the case for the human sweet tooth who accompanied me. And so it was the Chocolate Rendezvous ($8), which sounded like way too much — chocolate brulee with peanut butter and marshmallow — but was perfectly balanced, with judicious restraint employed in the peanut butter and the torched marshmallow (almost more of a meringue) that topped it.

English has long been able to deliver casual yet excellent restaurants, and this one (P.U.B. stands for “public urban bar”) is the most casual we’ve experienced yet. The lighthearted vibe extends to the menu, with its shot and brown-bag Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and the paper place mats, with humorous food quotes such as “Vegetarian: An old Indian word for bad hunter” and Oscar Wilde’s “Work is the curse of the drinking class,” plus humorous signs on the wall.

But make no mistake: English & Co. are very serious about food quality and service, and nowhere is that more apparent than at his P.U.B.

Las Vegas Review-Journal reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or e-mail her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.

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