Brenton Ho/Powers Imagery / Courtesy
Thursday, June 20, 2013 | 6 p.m.
Until now, celebrity chef Michael Mina has been lauded about his serious side of food — fine dining, creative cuisine and elegant service. It's won him numerous national awards, including those famed Michelin stars. Now he just wants to have fun!
He’s determined his new Pub 1842 will be exactly that, and since opening this week at MGM Grand, tourists, residents and foodies are having a party there to the tune of a staggering 900 guests a night. Michael, who is partnered with tennis champion Andre Agassi, thinks they’ll hit 1,000 by the weekend.
“They are loving the food,” Michael told me as I complimented him on the fish and chips -- better at Pub 1842 than back in Britain! Stir your pretzel sticks into the poached egg and mush it up in the beer mixed cheese sauce. It's so uniquely yummy you’ll immediately order a second bowl!
Michael and I go back to the 1980s when he faithfully watched "Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous" and decided he wanted to become a chef like the ones we featured on the show.
Pub 1842 is a complete change of pace for him: “It's something I haven’t done before. People were used to Michael Mina’s Aqua, where the emphasis was on seafood. Nobody ever thought I’d do a steakhouse and we opened Strip Steak at Mandalay Bay. I look at this as another opportunity to stick to things I love to do: whimsical plays on classic dishes; sticking to great, thoughtful products and techniques but in a comfortable, relaxed pub setting. That’s what you’ll see the moment you come in.”
Michael also has restaurants in Bellagio and Aria, plus San Francisco; Dana Point, Calif.; Seattle; Washington, D.C.; Maryland; Wyoming, and Miami -- 18 in all.
He transformed Pub 1842 out of his former Seablue restaurant at MGM Grand. “A big part of this restaurant was being able to keep the Seablue kitchen” he said. "We had this giant wood-burning grill and that’s an element that you really want in a pub when you’re cooking as many different items as we are.”
The menu has 50 different menu items, from small bites starters to burgers, entrees, wood-fired steaks and old-fashioned milkshakes. I seriously recommend the black truffle macaroni and cheese, the peanut butter crunch burger and the shredded coconut cake and pina colada milkshake. Different and delicious with capital D's.
I asked Michael about his move to a more casual dining atmosphere. “I think that there is always a demographic that you cater to,” he said. “You have to always remember who your guest is and that’s who we cater to. I personally feel we’ve done a good job on this menu; a good mix of both classic pub dishes, healthier dishes in an environment like this, salads and -- of course -- well-grilled meats and fish that are on the simpler side. The important thing is that with all of them we have great products and cooking techniques. That definitely comes through.
“It's not 'faster food' and fast-in-and-out. People in this day and age dictate a lot of how fast they want to eat when they get to a restaurant. Even in fine-dining restaurants you have people that say 'I want to be out in half hour', 'I want to be out in 45 minutes.' It happens. The steakhouses are harder because you have those big cuts of meat, but this is the type of environment where you’re going to get the opposite. You’re going to have a lot of people hanging out because of the fun atmosphere. Yeah, you can come in and eat really fast, but I think it will be more of a grazing. Already we’re seeing people not ordering the whole meal at the same time. They’ll start with some snacks and bites, then a half hour later they’ll order something else.
“Its a very fun environment, so they’re going to stick around. Beverages play a very important part of a pub, and I think our beer program and cocktail program is very cutting edge. I think people will love it, and hopefully the idea is to come in and play and have fun; try little tastes and different drinks, different beers, and different food.”
Pub 1842 is named for the year Pilsner beer was invented. Michael has over 60 different beers, including some of my European favorites and some from smaller breweries from California to Colorado and Montana -- even the hard-to-score Innis & Gunn from Scotland (my top quaff), which just might be one of the world’s best beers! There are also first-time "serve yourself" beer tables, where up to 10 people can watch television, prepay for their drafts and pour themselves for the night!
Although it's his first real pub, it's not his first bar. “I did Handle Bar, an American pub and beer hall at the Four Seasons Hotel in Jackson Hole (Wyoming). It was more of a bar with a pub feeling. So I would say this is the first one with the ability to serve a really large menu -- and that’s kind of a staple with a pub. I think of the food as a tribute to Britain’s history of pubs, but I’m big of putting my own twist on dishes so there isn’t classic 'gotcha' British pub food – it's my own style that’s a tribute to it.”
First-night guests at Pub 1842 included MGM resorts chairman Jim Murren and MGM Grand president Scott Sibella. I took Northern England friends with me and they raved about it “He’s got beers we never see back home," said one. "This is how food should be in a British Pub!"
With Gordon Ramsay’s Pub and Grill at Caesars Palace, Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar at Mandalay Place, Rick Moonen’s summer opening of the Rx Boiler Room and Mario Batali’s August opening of his Beer and Burgers restaurant at the Palazzo, I remarked that every chef seems to want his own pub these days.
"There’s no problem about that diversification so long as you execute it well," said Michael. "We work both on the great product and its execution. I look at each one of my restaurants and I want my personality to come out. Some are serious, some are intense when it comes to food and wines, some are meat masters supreme. I enjoy all my guests. I enjoy a fun environment so I'm delighted being a 'Publican' and looking like this if the people are happy.
“At the end of the day that’s really the most important thing -- and so far I’m just blown away by how many people want to have fun with their food here.”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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