Saturday, December 19, 2009

Julian Serrano (Las Vegas, NV)

Julian Serrano
3730 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109
Sat 12/19/2009, 11:20a-12:50p

Julian Serrano Exterior
After dining at Bar Masa and Sage the previous two nights, it was time to end my tour of Aria's new restaurants with Julian Serrano. Serrano, of course, is best known for revolutionizing high-end dining in Vegas with his restaurant Picasso at Bellagio. Unfortunately, my last visit to Picasso fell short, so I was excited to give Serrano a chance to redeem himself with his new eponymous eatery.

Born in Madrid, Serrano graduated from the Escuela Gastronomie P.P.O. hotel management school in the city of Marbella, on Spain's picturesque Costa del Sol. Following, he worked at some of Europe's most vaunted establishments: Lucas-Carton in Paris, Hôtel de France in Auch, Chez Max in Zurich, and L'Aubergine in Munich; he even had a brief stint with Alain Ducasse. Serrano then relocated to the United States, and after a couple years, the Chef moved to San Francisco, where he began cooking at Masa's in May of 1983. After being personally groomed by owner and Executive Chef Masataka Kobayashi, he took over the kitchens in 1984, following Masa's untimely death. Based on the strength of his contemporary French cuisine, Serrano quickly established a name for himself, garnering numerous awards in the process. Serrano even captured James Beard's "Best Chef of California" trophy in 1998, but it was in that year that the Chef would leave Masa's to open Picasso in Las Vegas. The debut of Picasso heralded in a new era in Las Vegas dining, opening the doors for the likes of Joël Robuchon and Guy Savoy. In 2002, Serrano received his second James Beard award, for "Best Chef in the Southwest."

At Picasso, Serrano put forth a menu of French fare, accented with Spanish touches. Here, however, Serrano is able to, for the very first time, explore the essence of his native Spanish cuisine: the food of his childhood. Specifically, Julian Serrano focuses on tapas, mostly traditional, but with a few "molecular" flourishes and a touch of international flair thrown in as well. For his Chef de Cuisine, Serrano has tapped Madrid native Jose Picazo, a protégé of José Andrés (he worked with Andrés at Jaleo for six years). Prior to landing in Las Vegas, Picazo was Executive Chef at tapas-sushi hybrid Perrys in DC, and before that, headed the kitchens over at Kyma in Annapolis (early on, he also worked at Kyma's sister restaurant Mie N Yu in Georgetown).

Julian Serrano Interior
Julian Serrano was penned by famed Spanish design group Gente de Valor, and is the company's first project in the US. The bold, splashy, convivial look complements the vivacity and energy of the food served, with brash colors, beguiling avant garde touches, and an inviting, exciting, 45-seater bar. According to Serrano, the space is designed to make you feel "happy." With a capacity of 196, the restaurant is segmented into a bar/lounge section, a main dining area, and a private dining room.

Julian Serrano Menu Julian Serrano Menu
Above, we see Julian Serrano's menu; click for larger versions. Expectedly, it's vast, consisting of about 50 to 60 items, mostly small plates, great for sharing. Upon reviewing the carta, I immediately noticed its similarity to that of José Andrés' The Bazaar, even down to the "Air Baguettes."

Julian Serrano Wines By The Glass Julian Serrano Wines By The Glass Julian Serrano Cocktails Up Julian Serrano Cocktails Rocks Julian Serrano Beers Julian Serrano Spirits
Here, we have Julian Serrano's drink menu, consisting of wines by the glass, specialty cocktails, beers, and spirits; click for larger versions. In addition, there's also a 500-bottle wine list, focused, naturally, on Spanish varietals.

Manzana Deliziosa Dulce y Picante
To begin, we decided to go with some cocktails. My dining companion chose the Manzana Deliziosa [$14], with Hendrick's Gin, Green Apple Purée, Lillet, and Fresh Thyme. I quite liked the interplay between the citrus-y Lillet and the gin, as well as the hint of apple on the finish. Meanwhile, I went for the Dulce y Picante [$14], comprised of Spanish Brandy, St-Germain, Strawberry, and Cayenne Pepper. This one was slightly bitter on the attack, transitioning to marked strawberry notes on the midpalate, and finishing strong with a lingering heat from the pepper.

Flat Calamari
Flat Calamari [$14.00] | Lemon E.V.O.O. Sauce, Caramelized Onion
We started with my favorite dish of the meal. At first, the presentation surprised me a bit; I was expecting the calamari to be cut up, but instead, these small spear squid were served nearly whole. They had a wonderful aroma of the sea, and biting in, I loved how the squid's inherent brininess was preserved, while at the same time, the char and the olive oil added a certain depth of flavor.

Traditional Spanish Chicken Croquetas
Traditional Spanish Chicken Croquetas [$8.00] | Chicken, Béchamel
It's hard to go wrong with these tasty chicken and béchamel fritters. I appreciated the crisp golden brown exteriors, yielding to warm, oozing, creamy centers, imbued with the quintessence of chicken. Very nice.

Brava Potatoes
Brava Potatoes [$8.00] | Spicy Tomato, Alioli Sauce
Patatas bravas is a traditional Spanish dish consisting of fried potatoes, topped with tomato sauce, and sometimes alioli (garlic and olive oil). At The Bazaar, I felt that the tomato sauce overpowered the potato, but here, the patatas stood their ground. Nicely fried to a crisp yet creamy consistency, the potatoes formed a base on which the tomato and alioli could really sing.

Wrinkled Potatoes with Mojo Picon Sauce
Wrinkled Potatoes with Mojo Picon Sauce [$8.00] | Spicy Canary Sauce
Next up were papas arrugadas ("wrinkled potatoes"), basically potatoes cooked in salt water and served with their skins intact. The potatoes were delightful on their own, with a gorgeously supple texture, though they could've been a touch saltier. They were served with a mojo picón sauce, which is a spicy condiment originating from the Canary Islands. The interplay between the mild potato and piquant mojo was immensely enjoyable. It would've been nice, however, to have the other famous mojo, the cilantro-based mojo verde, to accompany the papas as well.

White Ceviche
White Ceviche [$10.00] | Corvina Fish, Red Onion, Jalepeño Pepper, Cilantro, Lime Juice
Here was a nearly textbook ceviche, which, unlike most of the menu items, is actually not Spanish in origin (being from Peru)--remember, Serrano fully intends to incorporate global influences here. In any case, the fish itself was dense, heavy, with just a touch of ocean. It was deftly countered by the punch of the citrus as well as the bitter, vegetal tang of the onion, leading to an amalgam of light, bright flavors with a great acidity.

Lobster-Pineapple Skewer
Lobster-Pineapple Skewer [$12.00] | Lobster Tail, "Molecular" Pineapple, Sesame Oil
This was one of the "new style" tapas on the menu, and just by looking at the photo, it's not hard to see the influence of José Andrés. The cubes of pineapple made their sugariness very apparent at first, but this then led to the more delicate sweetness of the lobster, while the finish turned distinctly salty. Texturally, it was great compare the almost jelly-like consistency of the "molecular" pineapple with the firm, dense, snappy body of the crustacean.

Creamy Risotto
Creamy Risotto [$10.00] | Wild Mushroom, Manchego, Natural Jus
Though my dining companion thought that the rice was a bit tough, I appreciated its firm, "al dente" texture. Pairing mushroom and cheese in a risotto is nothing new, but nevertheless, I enjoyed the hearty interplay between the luscious, creamy Manchego and earthy mushroom, all over a backdrop of rice. This was so much better than the sea urchin risotto I had days earlier at Bar Masa!

Café con Leche Ginger Pear Julep
Time for our second round of cocktails. I went for the Café con Leche [$14], made from Spanish Brandy, Obsello Absinthe, Espresso, and Cream; it had a lovely herbal, absinthe-tinged attack leading to a lingering coffee-hued finish. The Ginger Pear Julep [$14], with Grey Goose L'Poire, Domaine de Canton, Mint, and Soda, was my dining companion's pick; it had great notes of ginger and mint over a strong background of pear--quite nice.

Tuna Tiradito
Tuna Tiradito [$12.00] | Ahi Tuna, Ponzu Sauce, Seaweed, Rocoto Pepper Sauce
Like the ceviche above, tiradito also originates from Peru, and bears a strong semblance to Japanese sashimi. The tuna itself was as it should be: clean, mild, supple. I did feel that the ponzu was a bit too domineering here, drowning out some of the fish's inherent character. However, the sauce was countered nicely by the brine of the seaweed (which also added a great crunch to the dish), as well as the sharp heat from the pepper.

Mediterranean Stew in Deconstruction
Mediterranean Stew in Deconstruction [$12.00] | Prawns, Bronzinni, Sofrito
What we have here are the individual components of a Mediterranean-style seafood stew. The fish used was bronzinni, better known as branzino, or European seabass. It had a subtly sweet taste along with a supple texture--good, but unexceptional on its own. The prawn was a similar story. The key here, thus, was to eat everything together in one big bite, experiencing the seafood, puréed potato (which I mistook for sorbet!), and sofrito (an olive oil, tomato, onion, and garlic sauce) all at once--now it makes sense!

Julian Serrano Dessert Menu Julian Serrano Dessert Wine Menu
And of course, a meal just wouldn't be complete without dessert. Click for larger versions.

Arroz con Leche
Arroz con Leche [$8.00] | Merengada Foam, Lemon and Orange Jelly
First up was a sort of rice pudding, tarted up with merengada (meringue) foam and citrus gelée, topped with a sprig of mint. The flavor of the rice was predominant, as expected, but it was aptly set off by the sweetness of the citrus fruit and the slight spiciness from the meringue. It reminded us a bit of horchata!

Torrija [$8.00] | Brioche, Aromatic Cream, Citrus, Caramel Custard
We ended with a torrija, basically a sort of fried cream-soaked bread, typically consumed during Lent. Julian Serrano's version had an eggy sweetness to it, with almost a cheese-like flair. This was accented by the pronounced sugariness of the caramel, and moderated by the tangy citrus.

The meal was a resounding success. Serrano seems to have a good grasp of traditional Spanish tapas, but just as importantly, I really appreciated some of the more global, contemporary touches that he's incorporated into the menu. Though I could identify minor issues with some of the food, I must say that he appears to be doing great, especially considering that the restaurant had only been open for two days. Given more time, as well as more stomach capacity, I'd love to return and give the menu an even more thorough workout. In the meantime, think of this place as a less douchey, more down-to-earth version of The Bazaar.


Blogger Charlie Fu said...

these reviews are great! I got a call today for a comped weekend stay at Aria for the christmas weekend... so tempted to go now with these reviews...

Thursday, December 24, 2009 1:33:00 AM  
Blogger dhkm said...

Great review, but to be is somewhat disapointing. Being a chef who have run Picasso, I was hoping is more of a refine scale more toword Bazaar. Also part of eating tapas is sharing and drinking. some of the dishes seem more toword for one person.

Thursday, December 24, 2009 9:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Friday, December 25, 2009 10:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved your reviews of this and Bar Masa. We have just one night in Las Vegas, and the City Center restaurants don't have much information yet.

Saturday, December 26, 2009 3:41:00 PM  
Blogger SaltCod said...

Wow! That is the worst beer list I have seen in five or six years. A chef is really going to allow a patron to pair a Coors Light or a Corona with their cuisine? If I brought my friends here they would kick my ass.

Saturday, December 26, 2009 4:01:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Charlie: Ah so you're a high roller I see. ;) Did you end up going? If so, where did you eat?

Dason: Actually, compared with Bazaar, I think that the dishes here were quite nicely oriented toward sharing. As for refinement, the food at JS does tend towards the more traditional. That's not necessarily a bad thing though, as the many of the more modern, "refined" dishes at Bazaar weren't very good.

Anon: Thanks! The amount of information on the Aria web site is truly disappointing indeed--they don't even have menus up. Where did you end up going?

S: The beer list does leave something to be desired. If I were ordering beer, I'd perhaps ask if they could grab something from the nearby Sage, which has a much more impressive selection.

Sunday, December 27, 2009 1:12:00 AM  
Blogger Charlie Fu said...

Hey Kevin, went to Sage. Good meal. Also had Aria's horribly crappy buffet for the next dinner :P

Sunday, December 27, 2009 9:12:00 PM  
Blogger Ms. Lin said...

Found your site because I was searching for more info on the new City Center restaurants - they really need to put menus up on their site! Thanks for a very detailed review (and photos of the menu)! I'll probably go check it out. I also have Botero and Restaurant Charlie on my itinerary this time. Thoughts on them?

Monday, January 04, 2010 10:19:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Ms. Lin: Indeed, the offical web sites leave much to be desired! I don't know much about Botero, but Restaurant Charlie is on my list next time I visit Vegas. I had a very good meal at Bar Charlie my last trip.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010 4:09:00 PM  
Blogger Ms. Lin said...

Got back from Vegas - Julian Serrano was good, although the portions were quite small. Didn't end up going to Botero but went to Sinatra instead (disappointing). Also went to Mix and dined at the kitchen table at Table 10 (both were decent but not overly impressive). My favorite meal was definitely at Restaurant Charlie - great food and excellent service. Have fun the next time you go!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010 3:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Ken I said...

Paid a visit to JS last friday and found it hit and miss. I really enjoyed the brava potatoes, huevos estrallados, and fresh calamari. The raspberry in the tuna-raspberry skewers really overpowered the tuna. The spanish tortilla lacked much needed seasoning. The crema catalan was very good, rich and creamy with a nice crispy top. I wouldn't mind going back to try more dishes.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010 12:56:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Ken, that sounds about right. Not everything was a hit, but I wouldn't mind going back either.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010 10:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No paella? The Valenciana was the highlight of our meal. Others were the avocado canellone and the lamb chop. The seafood ceviche was the weakest dish. Hits and misses, but like you said, would go back.

Sunday, April 11, 2010 9:46:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Believe me, I wanted a paella, but I was a bit concerned about the time for preparation. We had a flight to catch afterward.

Sunday, April 11, 2010 10:11:00 PM  
Blogger Lori Lynn said...

Hi kevin! Great post and photos! I wrote about Julian Serrano too, that's how I found you. I loved Aria. Can't wait to go back.
Lori Lynn

Thursday, April 29, 2010 6:03:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Nice Lori! I wouldn't mind coming here for dinner, to give the menu a real workout.

Friday, April 30, 2010 12:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great reviews - I'm dining here soon and am looking forward to it. I live in Vegas and am working my way through the dining scene on the strip as I find time. Your reviews are inspiring me to get back out eating.

Thursday, January 20, 2011 4:08:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Thanks Anon. How did JS turn out? Where else are to headed to in the near future?

Sunday, January 23, 2011 7:57:00 PM  

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