Ever since Las Vegas firmly established itself as a powerhouse city in the restaurant world, every new casino opening has proudly boasted a line-up of marquee chefs. Julian Serrano is the eponymous tapas restaurant by the chef who created Bellagio’s Picasso, one of the groundbreaking restaurants in Vegas dining. Although I do not have much experience with Spanish food, I was eager to visit Serrano, hyped by accounts that this was the highlight of the whole Aria casino. I found the food adequate but not especially impressive. Unfortunately, the experience was marred by new restaurant opening woes that left us displeased.
Serrano is prominently featured in the Aria casino, located immediately adjacent to the front desk lobby. Decor is flashy and bold with dominant warm hues.
Sitting is split between a main dining area and a circular bar stretching across the interior of the restaurant.
Before I talk about the dishes, I should discuss the opening troubles mentioned previously. I visited Serrano about 2 weeks after the grand opening. Some people think that new restaurants and new casinos should be given leeway during the first month while they smooth out the operation and stamp out any difficulties. I’m all for being understanding, but if they’re going to charge full price, they shouldn’t be judged with lower standards.
I ate lunch at Serrano around 2 PM, with the restaurant maybe 30% occupied. However, twenty minutes passed before we received our first dishes. Tapas are essentially all appetizers so we were getting antsy sitting there waiting. The rest of the dishes took even longer to come out, and a waitress finally came out and apologized, saying that their computer order system had crashed. Not only that, but they were “out of stock” for two of the dishes we ordered (lobster-pineapple skewer and stuffed dates). By this time we were tired of waiting, so we chose not to order anything else and just wanted to finish lunch and get out of there.
I am no stranger to waiting in Vegas restaurants, and I make an effort to focus on the food when talking about restaurants. However, the overall dining experience with what appeared to be a disorganized staff negatively impacted the enjoyment of my meal at Serrano. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at some dishes.
Brava potatoes with spicy tomato and alioli sauce. The potatoes were pleasantly crispy on the surface with a fluffy interior. I didn’t care for the alioli sauce, which was too sour for my liking, but the spicy tomato provided a nice depth for the potatoes.
Spanish chicken croquetas. Appropriately crispy with a creamy chicken filling. Very lackluster presentation though.
Flat calamari with lemon extra virgin olive oil and onions. I loved the clean, fresh taste of the calamari which was complemented by lemon. Simple and delicious, my favorite dish out of the bunch.
Pintxo de chorizo. Well prepared sausage with caramelized surface and a sweet interior. The mashed potatoes were almost tasteless next to the burst of flavor from the chorizo.
Tuna-raspberry skewer. I appreciated the experimental attempt at playing with flavors, but the raspberry taste completely dominated both the tuna and the wasabi. I can’t remember tasting any wasabi flavor whatsoever, which is quite surprising and shows the complete flavor imbalance with this dish.
Marinera paella with shrimp, monkfish, mussels and calamari. Don’t be fooled by the pan, which is ridiculously shallow. Not worth it at all for the $45. The paella was also salted to the extreme and almost inedible. We were sufficiently bothered to flag a waiter, who said it was supposed to be salty. Maybe so, but all 4 members of my party thought it was excessively salty (even me, and I usually love salty food).
The paella was the last dish of the meal and left us chugging down water before we exited the restaurant. Out of the 6 dishes, I thought only the calamari with lemon was genuinely good while the rest ranged from adequate to poor. The restroom was actually my most memorable part of the restaurant. It is lined floor to ceiling with shimmering mosaic tiles and is quite a psychedelic visual spectacle. Spanish lessons play on the speakers in the bathroom, which was humorous and made the room that much more surreal. I am too self-conscious to walk into a restroom and start taking photos while other people are inside, and apparently I’m not the only one because I can’t find photos of this online anywhere. I can’t say I would recommend coming to Serrano just to check out the restroom, but if you’re going to be dining there anyway, don’t miss the highlight.
Julian Serrano (inside Aria Resort & Casino)
3730 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109