In an effort to find an affordable meal, four girls meandered through Las Vegas’ City Center. Our weary feet gave up in front of Julian Serrano at the Aria. Despite knowing our wallets would get reamed by lux Las Vegas tapas, we begged for a table without reservations. Lady Luck smiled upon us and a large round table–that could easily fit six–became ours.
I get the feeling that the waiters are trained to spot indecision and just start bringing food. With a ‘just trust me’ attitude, our waiter started us off with a wedge of Spanish Tortilla ($8). It’s the perfect way to silence the cocktails still churning through your veins–plus it tastes good. But considering the price vs size, we each got a single $2 bite… of potato, egg and onion… the cheapest ingredients in the world.
The Spanish Cheese Platter ($14) arrived on a (lame) ceramic artist pallet. The portions are fair for the price. I immediately sunk my little knife into the half round of Caña de cabra (soft goat’s milk cheese with a white rind) then jumped to the salty wedge of Manchego (a waxy sheep’s milk cheese). With less enthusiasm I picked at the Cabrales (a blue cow’s milk) and the soft glob of La Serena. Toasted slices of (suspiciously French looking) bread are drizzled with strongly aromatic green hued olive oil. The dish is finished with a sad sprig of (suspiciously Italian looking) parsley. Unlike most cheese plates I encounter at restaurants, none of these were stinkers… nucknucknuck… no, really, these are all mild easy to love cheese and we were stabbing each other’s hands to get the very last smear of them.
The first ‘entree’ dish out was the favorite of the night, Stuffed Piquillo Peppers ($10). Two tender red peppers plumped up with goat cheese and mushrooms under a blanket of romesco sauce—a roasted red pepper and almond spread from the Catalonia region of Spain. This was the first appearance of the rich nutty romesco sauce. It appeared on over half the dishes we tried. Thankfully it functions as a background note—tying the meal together—not drowning the dishes in a monosyllabic flavor. Though I’m terrified to imagine the size of the caldron brewing in the back!
The Golden and Red Beet Salad ($12) tasted exactly how it looks… not how it is described: beets | frisee | citrus | beet syrup | dehydrated orange. Not sure why it’s described the oranges as dehydrated, er, maybe because they started off as juice? It was a letdown in an otherwise refreshing salad. Besides, guess what I can do: Broil a beet, slice an orange, buy some lettuce… Et volia! I’ve plagiarized this salad!
The Goat Cheese Salad ($10) was a wasted course if you’re already eating a lot of vegetables and ordered the cheese plate. The mixed greens, mint, grilled green onions, baby red and green tomatoes and a baby’s fist of goat cheese sits on a bed romesco sauce. Although considering I spend the majority of this trip stuffing my gullet with (veggie) burgers and fried, it was a welcomed respite.
My friends supplemented all these veggies with an order of Seared Scallop ($12). Adorned in edible flowers and nestled in a bed of… you guessed it, romesco sauce! They seemed to like it, but were thankful I wasn’t partaking in this tiny dish.
The second best dish of the night was the ultra simple Sautéed Baby Spinach ($8). In the tangle of greens hide buttery pine nuts, sweet raisins, crisp tangy apples and savory shallots. Each nugget is a little flavor/texture surprise, although the occasional mouthful of apples felt a out of sync with the otherwise delicate ingredients.
If I had known before sitting down that Julian Serrano was the chef from the restaurant Picasso, I would have runaway in horror! Picasso is gorgeous—filled with real Picassos and a POV view of the Bellagio’s fountain—but it’s the worst vegetarian tasting menu I’ve ever experienced. Yes, they had plenty of notice that a wretched vegetarian was gracing them. Still, I was literally served a tomahawked tomato and cream cheese… which was the most impressive dish of that evening. It seems that now Julian Serrano specialized in not insulting vegetarians. I would totally eat here again—it’s incredibly vegetarian friendly (for Vegas)—although I’d probably skip the salads.
Julian Serrano at Aria Hotel
3733 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109