Julian Serrano (Aria)

Sorry for the lack of posts lately! I’ve been traveling a lot plus dealing with some crazy deadlines at work. Things will resume back to normal very soon, I promise! Meanwhile, please enjoy this second post in the Winter in Las Vegas series. Other posts include Le Cirque at the Bellagio.

I’ve always been the type of person who gets bored after eating a few bites of any one dish. As someone who grew up eating Taiwanese food at home “family style” (where you sample little bits from all the communal plates in the center of the table), I could never understand the Western way of eating.

Doesn’t one get bored of that same big chunk of meat, the one side dish, and the veggies on your plate?

Although I’ve learned a lot about the way different cultures enjoy food, I still generally prefer eating in small little “snack”-sized portions. For Chinese food, family-style or dim sum work great for that. For European style food, Spanish tapas might be the closest thing.

After eating some pretty crazy meals in Las Vegas, Bryan and I were ready for something a bit “lighter.” We were meeting some local Las Vegas friends and decided on this place because it seemed interesting, was very popular, and allowed us to sample a variety of food.
Us with Julian Serrano (center) at Picasso

Julian Serrano is the namesake restaurant of Chef Julian Serrano, the executive chef of Picasso at the Bellagio.

Though Julian Serrano is originally from Madrid, he became known for his French cooking, honing his skills as executive chef at Masataka Kobayashi’s well known French restaurant, Masa, in San Francisco. Around the time he won the James Beard Award for “Best Chef” in California in 1998, he was lured away from the state to join Bellagio’s new high-end French restaurant Picasso as executive chef.

Julian Serrano continued to receive countless accolades for his work at Picasso, including 2-Michelin stars.

In December of 2009, with the opening of the new City Center, Julian Serrano finally had a chance to create a namesake restaurant serving the food of his homeland in a more casual setting.

We were definitely most curious to try it.
The decor is bold, colorful, and quite trendy, the first work in America by the famous Spanish design firm, Gente de Valor. The places gets mobbed on weekends, probably due to a combination of its hip atmosphere, good food, fun cocktails, and reasonable (for the Strip) prices.
Bryan can never resist a spicy cocktail, and this one was no exception.

The menu at Julian Serrano is quite large and changes from time to time. The tapas are divided up by type. “New Style Tapas” are Chef Serrano’s own creative takes on traditional Spanish tapas, including international influences (lots of Japanese), as well as a bit of molecular gastronomy.

The rest of the menu focuses on more traditional tapas, and are divided up into “Ceviches and Seafood”, “Cheese and Charcuterie”, “Vegetarian”, “Meat and Poultry”, and “Paellas.” If you still prefer to eat larger plates, they have a few larger offerings under “Platos Grandes” as well, everything from a “mariscada” seafood stew to organic sous-vide pork chops.

The server high recommended getting at least one paella (they are designed to be shared by two people), along with several other tapas. It was hard to choose, but here are the ones we tried.
One of the favorites of the evening, Stuffed Dates ($12) are Medjol dates stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped with crispy pancetta. This came with a side of tomato marmalade. I loved the well balanced mix of crunchy, soft, savory, and sweet._DSC0633O
We seemed to focus our choices a lot on Spain’s famous black pork (Iberico), such as this Black Pig Pintxo ($18), Spanish Iberian pork shoulder meat with caramelized onions served over thick toasts. _DSC0634
We all loved these Artichoke Hearts, which came with gorgeously crispy bits of Iberico pork. Here, the mini crunchy bits of the flavorful pork “bacon” totally made the dish.
Beef and Cheese was a toast topped with prime tenderloin, cheese, honey, and walnuts. ($17)
Rabo de Toro was a fun little bite of stewed oxtail and Îberian pork on top of creamy mashed potatoes ($14). _DSC0644
There are several types of paellas available on the menu, such as the Valenciana which includes chicken, pork shoulder, and Spanish pork chorizo or the seafood focused Rosellat, which includes shrimp and monkfish.

Paellas take 35 minutes to prepare and are meant to be shared between two people, though they can make larger ones upon request.

We opted for the Mixed Paella ($50), which came with an entire half lobster, mussels, chicken, Spanish pork chorizo, vegetables, and saffron rice. This was very well executed. The rice had gorgeous saffron flavors and picked up all the aromatic flavors from the richly flavored seafood stock.
The classic Spanish custard dessert, Flan ($8), was delicious, and one tiny one just wasn’t enough to share amongst four people!
It’s hard to pass up deliciously fried Spanish churros, a deep fried sugar-dusted “doughnut” served with a spicy hot chocolate dipping sauce (yum!).
Overall, we had a fabulous time at Julian Serrano. I can see why this place is popular. It’s fun to sample all the different types of tapas, and he does a solid job at it. It’s a HUGE restaurant, but service managed to be pretty good.

On the Strip, Jaleo is the only other obvious choice I can think of for Spanish tapas. Although I’ve never tried the one in Las Vegas (I hope to, someday!) my experience in DC was excellent, and I would expect nothing less from the Las Vegas location.

You probably can’t go wrong with either!

Julian Serrano
ARIA at City Center
3730 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV
Julian Serrano on Urbanspoon

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