Thursday, December 24, 2009

Julian Serrano - 12/19/2009

3730 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, NV‎ 89109
(877) 230-2742

The final stop on the Aria culinary tour was Julian Serrano's eponymous restaurant offering traditional tapas with hints of "molecular" techniques. New style tapas aside, the menu still draws comparison to Jose Andres' Bazaar for the similarity of multiple dishes. For our part we tried to order as many of the duplicates as possible to better compare between the two.

The interior is awash in bright colors with yellow, red, and orange tiles decorating the wall behind the bar. Playful elements abound like the black plastic trees and bubbles strung up on along the exterior walls giving the dining room a lively relaxed feel.

Manzana Deliziosa - Hendrick's Gin, Green Apple Purée, Lillet, Fresh Thyme
A fairly reserved drink, with a bit of the herbs from the gin and bitterness from the Lillet coming to the fore. I expected more apparent apple notes but even without them the drink was quite refreshing.

Dulce y Picante - Spanish Brandy, St-Germain, Strawberry, Cayenne Pepper
My companion selected the Dulce y Picante which blends sweet and spicy elements into a multistage affair with the two flavors alternating dominance.

brava potatoes | spicy tomato | alioli sauce
A wonderful presentation of patatas bravas, the savor of the fried potato is complimented by the vibrant tomato and piquant alioli.

traditional spanish chicken croquetas | chicken | béchamel
This has been a consistent standout at The Bazaar so I was eager to see how Serrano's would compare. Just as delicious in terms of flavor, the only difference was the more even texture of the filling.

flat calamari | lemon e.v.o.o. sauce | caramelized onion
I wasn't expecting much from this dish but it turned out to be the best of the lot. The squid looked like the same spear squid we had at Bar Masa but two nights ago. The morsel was imbued with an even salinity tinged with perhaps the slightest hint of squid ink. The ethereal fruit notes of the e.v.o.o. complimented the squid beautifully while preserving the natural flavor.

wrinkled potatoes with mojo picon sauce | spicy canary sauce
An interesting contrast from the brava potatoes above, here the salty potatoes could be enjoyed on their own, but it was really the complexity of the tangy smoky sauce that stood out.

white ceviche | corvina fish | red onion | jalepno pepper | cilantro | lime juice
A textbook ceviche, the fish had a dense but pliant meatiness to it with the citrus providing the bulk of the flavor. A shade of fresh herbs and heat compliment the bracing acidity of the lime juice.

lobster-pineapple skewer | lobster tail | "molecular" pineapple | sesame oil
The first of the new style tapas we ordered, the dense meaty lobster was a bit heavy for me and the heavy jellied body of the pineapple only made things worse. Ironically I would have preferred a piece of fresh pineapple with a bit more acidity rather than the cloying sweetness of the molecular variety.

creamy risotto | wild mushroom | manchego | natural jus
Mushroom and manchego with risotto is a winning combination no matter how you look at it. Despite the rice a bit overdone, the dish was still full-flavored and quite enjoyable

Ginger Pear Julep - Grey Goose L'Poire, Domaine de Canton, Mint, Soda
Contrasting my earlier Manzana Deliziosa, this cocktail was flush with the flavor of sweet Bartlett Pear to the exclusion of almost all other flavor. Quite sweet this would have made a great pairing for a fruit dessert.

Café con Leche - Spanish Brandy, Obsello Absinthe, Espresso, and Cream
An interesting drink, replete with the aroma and flavor of fresh coffee plus some alcoholic heat on the finish.

tuna tiradito | ahi tuna | ponzu sauce | seaweed | rocoto pepper sauce
The centerpiece of the dish was the thinly sliced ahi tuna covered in a thickened ponzu sauce. The reduced ponzu sauce was a bit overpowering requiring the addition of the seaweed to temper it, bringing the dish back into balance.

mediterranean stew in deconstruction | prawns | bronzinni | sofrito
Our last savory was another pick from the New Style group, the individual elements arrived neatly laid out on the plate. The fish and shrimp alone were both solid but certainly nothing special. The potatoes and sofrito detracted a bit from the simple flavors of the seafood, but bound the dish together in a way that more than made up for the loss.

arroz con leche | merengada foam | lemon and orange jelly
I wasn't too keen on the dish but it looked too interesting to pass up. Perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, the dish had a mouth feel reminiscent of rice pudding and a taste similar to horchata.

torrija | brioche | aromatic cream | citrus | caramel custard
The other dessert was a bread soaked in cream, think tres leches cake but less sweet, the top was browned giving it a slight bitterness which was complimented by the sweet caramel custard and bright fresh citrus.

Julian Serrano is best known for his Michelin 2 star Picasso, probably the first true fine dining restaurant in Las Vegas. I entered Julian Serrano's newest venture with some mixed feelings from my underwhelming experience at Picasso. Though the restaurant has garnered two Michelin stars, the food simply paled into insignificance when compared to the sublime experience at fellow two star, Guy Savoy. This left me wondering how much of Serrano's reputation was built by when Picasso was the only game in town for people seeking a high-end restaurant.

Despite my worries, the food turned out to be quite strong, perhaps the most straightforwardly enjoyable of the three Aria restaurants. I could easily see a couple of weary friends, coming off a 12 hour gambling binge stumble into the restaurant to munch on chicken croquettas while lamenting their lost fortunes.

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