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JULIAN SERRANO

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Aria Las Vegas

3730 Las Vegas Blvd. S.

Las Vegas, NV 89109

877-230-2742

website

$40-$76

Daily 11am-11pm

Spanish

B+

AT A GLANCE

What is it?

Tapas, tapas, and more tapas. Oh and paella. Yum!

Where is it?

At Aria Las Vegas on the South Strip.

What kind of food is served?

See above.

What is the atmosphere like?

Most of the restaurant is open to the lobby, so a bit noisy.

How is the service?

Excellent.

What are the prices like?

The cost of the tapas can add up quickly.

What else do I need to know?

Chef Serrano is most famous in Vegas for his cuisine at Picasso.

What's the bottom line?

Come for the tapas but don't forget about the paella.

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FULL REVIEW

Chef Serrano had a rich and varied culinary career before coming to Las Vegas but it was here that his star rose to new heights. His Picasso at Bellagio was considered to be one of, if not THE, best restaurant in the United States for a time and a chair at a table there is still highly coveted. But one of the things about Picasso and the finest of the fine French cuisine that it serves is that they aren't always "approachable," preferring to be the exclusive bastion of dedicated Foodies and those that can afford to pretend they are.

So it was with great anticipation that Serrano's eponymous eatery opened at Aria Las Vegas, offering the hope of a more accessible menu that could appeal to a broader range of diners. That hope has more than been fulfilled.

The restaurant is mostly open to the busy Aria lobby and nearby casino so the noise level is an issue at many of the tables. If that's a concern to you, request a seat in the quieter main dining room, which offers a bit of shelter from the din.

The central conceit here is Spanish fare, focusing heavily on the small-plate tapas style cuisine but with several other full-meal options available. One of the latter, and one you should absolutely consider having, is the paella, a Spanish rice dish that comes in portions big enough for two and packed with meats, seafood, and/or vegetables. We sampled the valenciana with chicken and chorizo and almost literally scraped the pan it was served in completely clean. Bursting with flavor without being too spicy, it was absolute delight of texture and taste.

But since the bulk of the menu consists of the tapas, let's talk about those for awhile. The seafood section has the most options including some really interesting combinations - shrimp, white fish, and octopus with clinatro and lime juice; shrimp with yellow and red peppers; ahi tuna with seaweed and pepper sauce; sea bass with a tomato confit; and salmon with truffle and a portabello mushroom are just a few samples.

A vegetarian section offers everything from brava potatoes in a spicy tomato alioli sauce to roasted eggplant with red pepper and tomato. You can even get a toasted bread and tomato sauce or simple marinated olives.

Meat and poultry choices include chicken of various design (traditional or marinated garlic), flat iron steak, chorizo, lamb, tenderloin, dates stuffed with spicy pepper and wrapped in bacon, and more.

Pay special attention to the "New" tapas section, which takes the traditional idea of things on skewers and send it to a new dimension with things like ahi tuna with avocado and mango, lobster and pineapple, and breakfast on a stick with fried potatoes, eggs, and chorizo.

There are also cheese and meat platters, salads and soups, and full plates of things like chicken, monkfish with ham, lobster, pork loins, and lamb chops to mention a few.

We sampled a wide variety of the tapas and declared all of them winners, as impossible to choose a best of as it would be to pick a favorite child, but two of them were the most memorable. The pineapple that came with the lobster is called "molecular," and instead of a chunk of the fruit it is almost like a jellied version of it that tasted like the sweetest pineapple you've ever tasted. The combination was perfect. Also the bacon wrapped dates because, well, everything is better if its wrapped in bacon.

A full dessert menu offers a variety of tempting tastes including traditional flan, chocolate cake, Spanish creme brulee, and more.

At first glance the prices seem almost crazy low until you remember that this is a tapas restaurant and you are getting, at best, a few bites of each thing. The range is $8-17 with most in the $12-14 neighborhood and since it will take at least three per person to constitute a full meal you're looking at a $40 minimum per person before beverages, dessert, tax, and tip. So yeah, expensive but not more than you'll pay for the average ala carte steak at a Strip restaurant and certainly much more interesting. Paellas are $40-50 but can serve two people easily, standard meals are $24-45, and desserts all $8.

So yes, Serrano's cuisine is definitely more accessible to a wider audience, but you're still going to have to be willing to pay dearly for it.

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