Get that Spanish influence at Julian Serrano Tapas
Since the arrival of Wolfgang Puck’s Spago more than two decades ago, celebrity chefs have been an integral part of the Las Vegas’ culinary culture, proliferating up and down the Strip. Unfortunately, Vegas isn’t home for most of them; instead, they visit periodically while leaving day-to-day operations to local teams. A major exception to this rule? Two-time James Beard Best Chef winner Julian Serrano, who arrived in the valley to open Picasso at the Bellagio in 1998 and simply never left. And Vegas is all the better for it.
With Aria’s opening eight years ago, the Madrid-born Serrano was given the opportunity to showcase the cuisine of his upbringing. At his eponymous Julian Serrano Tapas just off the resort’s main lobby, his lengthy menu of Spanish small plates ranges from vegan and vegetarian dishes to a variety of seafood and meat dishes, with a selection of paellas and Platos Grande available for larger groups. So, as you peruse the menu, sip on a Piña Smash. Think of this refreshing combination of Tito’s Handmade Vodka, pineapple purée, simple syrup, fresh mint and lime as a muted mojito with a tropical twist and you’ve got the idea.
The beauty of tapas restaurants is you can start anywhere. Pan tomate is a classic tapa with salted fresh tomato slathered atop toasted baguette, but if you wish to gild the lily, the pan manchego adds a slice of nutty manchego cheese. Randomly spicy Padrón peppers are coated with an aromatic orange glaze, a novel presentation to those familiar with their brethren, Japanese shishitos. And mild white anchovies are delivered atop piquillo pepper-adorned potato chips finished with salsas and aioli in an intermixing of textures.
Nosh: Julian Serrano
Spaniards are known for their taste in wine, and a favorite of Serrano’s is the Torres Mas La Plana cabernet sauvignon. This big and juicy red pairs well with the robust flavors across the menu, so explore the northern Basque region with pintxo chistorra, finger-sized Spanish sausages skewered with roasted cauliflower, which could be considered Serrano’s elevated take on cocktail party treats. Or explore some of the world’s finest charcuterie in the nutty, decadent pata negra ham; also known as jamón ibérico de bellota, this specialty is sourced from pure-bred black Iberian pigs raised solely on acorns foraged from the oak forests along the border of Spain and Portugal.
Heartier selections include a tender, juicy hanger steak atop a flavor-forward celery root/mashed potato blend. And for larger groups or hungrier couples, the rustic Valenciana paella is a smoky combination of chicken, rabbit and Spanish pork chorizo in rice. And don’t forget the layer of toasted rice known as socarrat awaiting you at the bottom of the pan. Just trust it’s worth the effort to get it.
Finish off your Spanish experience with the carajillo, a Spanish after-dinner drink combining coffee and a rarely encountered Mayan liqueur Xtabentún, made from the fermentation of xtabentún flower honey and anise in rum. The anise’s characteristic black licorice flavor lingers as the slightly sweet liqueur balances the coffee’s bitterness in an exemplary digestif. Pair it with the outstanding torrija, essentially a Spanish riff on French toast. Serrano’s rendition is caramelized, topped with salted caramel and finished with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and a sprinkling of candied macadamia nuts.
Aria, 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Sun.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. 877.230.2742