This is the first time I’ve written about Julian Serrano for this blog, though I’ve eaten there twice. The first time I ate at this tapas restaurant at Aria, I met my (then) new friend Joe for dinner, and we had a great time getting to know each other while sampling small plates. The company and conversation were good, though the restaurant is a bit loud.
Because I was there with Joe, I wasn’t paying as much attention to the details of the restaurant as I should have as a blogger. I blame my upbringing. I was raised that if you are with someone else, you pay attention to them, not to whatever else is going on around you (and certainly not to your smartphone). So I wasn’t exactly taking notes and only took a couple of (poor) photos of dishes we ate.
But the main reason I didn’t blog about it was that I couldn’t work up the motivation. Other than the ceviche, the food just didn’t wow me. (Though I can say it was the first and only time I’ve ever eaten squid ink.) I couldn’t help but compare the dishes we tried unfavorably to other Vegas tapas restaurants I’ve enjoyed, Firefly and Jaleo.
One thing about Julian Serrano made an impression on me, though, leading me to feel I would have to give it a second chance some day: The restaurant has a very long, curved bar with a lot of seating. This place would be ideal, I thought, for solo dining.
Turns out I was right about that.
The second time I ate here, it was a fluke. I had actually wanted to try MESA Grill that night, but I had no reservation, and the place was packed. Rumor had it that Bobby Flay was in the kitchen that night. Disappointed, I started walking south on the Strip and wound up at Julian Serrano.
Julian Serrano’s restaurant design is contemporary, with warm colors like gold and orange and fake trees sprinkled throughout. The restaurant is open to the lobby at Arian, and crammed with tables, which is probably why it’s so loud all the time. I didn’t have to worry about that, since I was dining sans companion, which meant no shouting across a table to be heard.
I immediately made my way to that lovely long bar, where there were several empty seats. When the bartender turned his attention to me, I asked him what his specialty was. He told me he could make me anything, and asked me what I usually drink.
I was reluctant to tell him, because I didn’t think it would be much of a challenge for him. I mean, how many different ways can you make a Jack and Coke? Well, he proceeded to whip me up a drink with bourbon, gin, bitters, lime juice, ginger ale and something else I can’t remember. (Grenadine, maybe?) It was nothing like Jack and Coke, yet it was very tasty. I was impressed he came up with that from my answer.
I perused the dinner menu and found myself torn by so many choices that all looked equally good. There are more than enough classic Spanish dishes here, like brava potatoes, serrano ham, olives, and paellas, along with a few that should appeal to palates not accustomed to Spanish food. But you’re really better off if you have an experimental palate. (People who are just plain “meat and potatoes” types probably wouldn’t like it.)
I started with the sauteed baby spinach with pine nuts, raisins, apple and shallots ($11). After all, I had to get my daily dose of fruits and veggies somehow, and I do love sauteed spinach.This one was as good as Jaleo’s.
Next up, I had that tapas restaurant staple, the stuffed dates (medjol dates with goat cheese, crispy pancetta, and tomato marmelade – $12). Julian Serrano’s stuffed dates aren’t as good as Firefly’s (no one can touch Firefly’s), but they’re better than the deep-fried abomination at Jaleo’s.
Finally, I rounded out my meal with the Beef and Cheese ($17.50), a sinfully plain name for such an outstanding dish. It was a piece of prime beef tenderloin (the tenderest of tenderloins) and cheese sitting atop a piece of bread, with honey with walnuts. Delicious!
Every dish had decent presentation, but more importantly, a winning combination of flavors and textures. Each dish had it all—a tiny bit salty and sweet and tender and crunchy. It was one of the best meals I had all year. I’m always impressed with dishes that surprise me, like the beef tenderloin. Who would think to combine beef with honey and walnuts? Brilliant.
There was great weeping and gnashing of teeth when I realized I had no room for dessert. (Why? Why? Why does this always happen???)
Dinner was pricey for my pocketbook, but I was on vacation. I’m not going to freak out about a splurge meal once in awhile. Especially one as good as this. So I signed the bill and headed on my way.
While walking through Aria’s casino, I stopped to try a Joker’s Heist slot machine and wound up winning back the money I spent on dinner and then some! So in the long run, I was glad MESA Grill was packed that night. It worked out really well for me. That, my friends, is serendipity.