I’m Tired of Hearing That JULIAN SERRANO Isn’t a Good Restaurant


It happens every time. As soon as I started live-posting on Facebook and Instagram about a meal I’m having at Julian Serrano, the comments start pouring in:


“Phoning it in.”

“Wanted to like it but didn’t.”

“Not a fan.”

These opinions come fast and furious from a fount of foodie friends every time I mention I’m dining there.

“Oh come on, ELV,” they’ll say. “Everyone knows Jaleo is so much better.” (No, it isn’t. It’s different, but not qualitatively better.)

So what’s the problem? Has Eating Las Vegas lost its finely honed sense of taste and discernment? Is everyone out of step but me?

Let’s take a step back and assess.

To begin with, there is a problem and it’s called progress. The kind of progress that comes from a more educated consumer. The kind of consumer who, thanks to the internet, knows a helluva lot more about food than he or she did in the 90s, but still not nearly as much as they think they do.

Fifteen years ago, Spanish food was almost unheard of in America. If you asked an educated American who Ferran Adrià and José Andrés were, most of them would’ve guessed “Latino telenovela stars.” Outside of a few Spanish joints in a few big cities, Spanish tapas were a niche market, and a mighty small one at that. Few remember that Cafe Ba Ba Reeba came to town about this time, hung around for five years, and then quietly folded its tent, years before Andrés made his first big splash at The Cosmopolitan.

No one gave two craps about Spanish food ten years ago and now everyone’s a friggin’ expert.

All credit is due to Andrés for raising everyone’s awareness of the bounty of Espana, and there’s no doubt that his restaurants are some of the best in Las Vegas (and the United States). But Julian Serrano — a native of Madrid — knows a thing or two about this food too.

So why all the love for José and dissing of Julian? Partly we think is because of p.r. (José is a one man force of nature) and Serrano is more of a classic chef — someone who lets his cooking do the talking. But it’s also about a fundamental misunderstanding of what Spanish tapas are, and how, in classic form, they are not always to American tastes. That, and the epicurean standards of the day demand more bells and whistles than many classic tapas deliver. (This is why Andrés gets cheers from the casual gastronome, while Serrano gets a shrug. José’s chefs are always doing cartwheels in the kitchen, while JS sticks more to the basic small plates that made these dishes famous.)

This is why, when we post a picture of this first class bouquerones:

…we hear snide remarks like: “Big deal, food from a can,” from people who didn’t even know what a bouquerone was a decade ago. (For the record, Joël Robuchon once told me that the hardest dish to make well is a Caprese salad. “There’s no room for error,” he said. “Even the slightest flaw is visible.” For the record #2: He wasn’t talking about growing your own tomatoes and making your own mozz.)

These days, everyone’s a critic and the adage that a little learning is a dangerous thing gets proven every day on our Facebook feed. (True, traditional bouquerones are bought pre-salted and soaked (in vinegar) and packed here, but so are various Spanish peppers and other fish. And I’d rather eat a pound of certain packaged tuna than an ounce of some of the stuff that gets pawned off as fresh in our humble burg. The Spanish are the canned food kings of the world, and the tapas bars of San Sebastian are filled with little bites that come from their tradition of ready-to-eat seafood.

But forget things like stuffed peppers and charcuterie (that isn’t cured in-house here or anywhere but Spain), and focus on paella:

…the national dish of Valencia that used to be one of the weakest links in JS’s menu chain, but now holds its own with the rest of the fare. Is it as good as Jaleo’s? No, but that’s because the latter may be the best version of this dish in America, thanks to a $1,000,000 fire pit. But Serrano’s is damn tasty, with a properly managed socarrat, and loads of juicy seafood and chunks of meat:
This is now my third paella in a row at JS that was everything you could ask of the dish, minus the smokey perfection that Jaleo achieves. So what’s not to like? Certainly not this calamari with black rice:
….as satisfying as rice and squid can be, or the wine list, an easy-to-manage, well-curated collection of Spanish beauties that won’t break the bank. By way of example, this nutty, concentrated, oaky white Rioja is a steal at $70 on the list, and the perfect accompaniment to that paella.
Still not convinced? Then try to these warm-from-the-fryer churros served with a chocolate sauce of sinful intensity:
 Our only complaint of the entire meal was that they’ve replaced the heretofore ethereal crema catalana (shallower dish, silkier consistency, with a hint of orange or lemon) with a crème brûlée of competent ordinariness.If, despite all this evidence, you’ve decided you don’t like Julian Serrano, there’s no use in arguing further. Is it one of those charming joints along the Costa Brava where you (and maybe a dozen others) nibble on shellfish that almost jumped from the ocean onto your plate?
No, it’s a huge Las Vegas tourist restaurant geared to serving hundreds of diners a night a facsimile of real Spanish food. Not molecular olives, mind you, but real Spanish food that would make Don Quixote proud….if Don Quixote were real, alive today, had a passport, came to America, and took his head out of his ass long enough to enjoy a good restaurant for what it is. 
In the Aria Hotel and Casino

5 thoughts on “I’m Tired of Hearing That JULIAN SERRANO Isn’t a Good Restaurant

  1. John I read you constantly and am counting the seconds until the new Eating LV book is out. I commented here respectfully a year or so ago when you were lamenting the LV food scene and you wrote the coolest response. I love Jaleo and Serrano. As a NY Jew foodie who has close friends in your burg with whom I fress often in your hood I beg you to never ever stop doing what you do.

  2. ….and yes paella is eaten for dinner….another Vandy grad posting on the mothership I see…does it ever end….

Comments are closed.