Julian Serrano at Aria - Las Vegas
If you hadn't noticed, Vegas ain't what it used to be. Name chefs like English and Ramsay rule over the all-you-can-eat buffets, and the monopolizing presence of French Canadian contortionists have all but rendered the Siegfried and Roy's extinct.
Which is fine by me.
Buffets aren't really my thing and I'd rather see Steve Carrell's send-up of Las Vegas magicians than actually go to a Vegas show with one.
Not that I'm particularly fond of those self-important Cirque du Soleil snooze-fests, either, where weird is done for weird's sake, but the Beatles show at The Mirage? Kinda good because, well, they don't use that New Age Euro crap as soundtrack.
After seeing it, what will probably be my last Cirque show for a while, we chose a restaurant that was conveniently located in our hotel--the reasonably priced Spanish tapas restaurant by Julian Serrano, called, um, Julian Serrano.
It isn't too exorbitantly expensive or required that we be dressed up--a happy middle between the Guy Savoys and the downtown steak-and-egg specials.
Best of all, some of the dishes look like what my college roommate might have slapped together at quarter past midnight, which is kind of refreshing in a restaurant that looks like this.
Two fried eggs are laid atop fast food fries with cut-up Spanish chorizo (though I'm pretty sure he would've used hot dogs or Vienna sausages). The egg yolk oozed out like sauce, mixing with the spicy red oil that leeched out from the chorizo, creating a new substance that's better squeegeed by the fries than ketchup.
Then there was the "Black Rice", a creamy/chewy appetizer-sized portion of a sort-of Spanish seafood paella merged with Italian risotto. Colored as dark as crude oil by squid ink, flavored by sofrito and a decorated with a few char-kissed rings of calamari, we ate the thing while our lips made inky black streaks on the napkins.
We ordered an actual risotto after that. And it was already nicely cheesy even without the slice of manchego on top, with the grains retaining just a little bit of tooth. Between them, there were mushrooms, big, squishy, tasty ones hiding like undiscovered jewels that announced themselves boldly when I least expected.
The last thing we tried turned out to be the item that we saw pictured on posters that advertised the restaurant throughout the hotel--the tuna raspberry skewer.
A cube of raw ahi, crusted with sesame seeds was the bottom building block; the top part was a raspberry Jell-O shot they described as "molecular"; and together it tasted as though you took a slurp of a smoothie right after sushi.
It's good, but it also encapsulated what Vegas can be: flashy but without a lot of substance.
Altogether the meal cost under $70 (with tax, tip, and a dessert I didn't mention), which is still steep, I know, but considering I don't gamble, I think I made it out of Vegas better than most schmucks.
Julian Serrano at Aria
3730 S Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
ARC Restaurant - Costa Mesa