We at ELV have never claimed to be proficient professional prognosticators. We have have no idea how big a success City Center will be (if at all), and make no claims of a track record when it comes to predicting who will succeed or fail in the restaurant biz in our humble burg.
However, we feel fairly confident of one prediction: Julian Serrano — the Spanish restaurant and tapas bar in Aria — will be the first big hit among all of its upscale eateries.
We say this because it already is one. Open less than a week, the joint is jumpin’ at lunch and dinner. We attribute this to many factors: 1) Serrano has spent eleven years here, helming the well-regarding Picasso, and has built up a loyal, local following; 2) his new restaurant is relatively easy to find (right next to Aria’s registration desk; 3) the place is airy, open and accessible (unlike, say, the Jean Georges Steakhouse); 4) the all-Spanish menu perfectly captures the zeitgeist of how people are eating these days; and 5) the food is fantastic.
This is the tapas restaurant Las Vegas has needed for a decade. The real enchilada (or should we say: the real “patatas bravas”) in how Spanish food is supposed to taste. Simple, satisfying and ingredient driven, tapas not only allow the small plate grazing that is all the rage these days, but they make for a wallet-and-waistline-friendly experience — albeit one matched perfectly to wine drinking.
The wine in this case that deserves your attention is sherry — that most underrated of wines — whose hints of sea, salt and oxidation compliment these small tastes so well. Salty Iberico ham never tastes better than when paired with a crisp Manzanilla or fino, and there’s nothing better than an nutty Amontillado with some oily sardines or Serrano’s bacon-stuffed, deep-fried dates.
Besides being the perfect match for tapas of all kinds, sherries have the additional bonus of being one of the more reasonably priced wines in the known universe.
There are two ways to learn about sherry (an anglicized pronunciation of “Jerez” — prounounce “hereth” with the accent on the second “e”): travel to Spain, or start eating a lot at Julian Serrano. JS is a lot closer, and has the added bonus of having Sommelier of the Year ‘o8 Desi Echavarrie as its wine director. He patrols the floor day and night, looking for converts to the cult of the solera. Des will gladly give you an education with every glass, but as a public service, and to save both of you time, here is a quick primer on this noble (but often forgotten) wine:
The types of sherry:
Dry sherries: Fino and Manzanilla. These are pale in color, very dry and delicately flavored. The Manzanilla has a salty, nuttier taste, that reminds our staff of a warm, Andalucian sea breeze.
Amontillado. Medium dry, generally of golden color with a dry but nutty taste.
Palo Cortado. Rich, medium dry, generally not as nutty as an Amontillado, nor as rich as an Oloroso.
Oloroso. Darker and richer than those above, Olorosos go perfectly with strong meats and cheeses.
Dessert sherries : Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez (often abbreviated as PX). These are both intensely sweet and thus, are perfect for desserts, chocolate and blue cheeses. The Moscatel is generally a younger and softer wine, and the Ximénez is positively raisin-y and rich beyond belief.
Cream: Best for Aunt Edna or whatever sewing circle you belong to.
So start your sherry sipping post haste, and while you’re learning about its charms, it doesn’t hurt to be be nibbling on Serrano’s deconstructed fish stew (a marvel), molecular tuna with raspberry gelee (tart and briny), or a classic, whitefish ceviche that shows what a master can do with some good fish and a little acid.
Equally compelling are his paella (the Valenciana – smoky and savory – full of rabbit, chicken and chorizo), and the simple but satisfying desserts — including a molten chocolate cake that might be the last word in this unctuous confluence of chocolate delights.
That cake goes great with some Pedro Ximenez (1982) that Echavarrie has tucked away for special customers. We’re guessing that many of you are about to become one of those.
In the Aria Hotel and Casino
3730 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109