Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Un-frugal Foodie: Julian Serrano

After visiting the restaurant with friends, my mom thought Ian and I should try Julian Serrano's new restaurant in Aria. My mom's cousin Kerry, her daughter Hannah, and my dad also came, so we got to try a lot of different items from their mostly tapas menu. The restaurant is called Julian Serrano, and the prices certainly reflect the chef's arrogance as much as the name. Everything was great, but if I had to come up with a sixth taste (besides sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami) it would be 'value,' because the value of a dish, or lack thereof, seems to make things taste different to me. When you order here you are hoping for dishes that are so unique and wonderful that the prices are justified, yet when the food comes out of the kitchen it becomes evident your expectations were too high and disappointment is inevitable. Take for example the imported Spanish 'pata negra' ham, described on the menu as 'the most delicious ham in the world' for $35. Obviously this is a ridiculously bold and definitive statement for anyone to make about a single meat, however, hopeful me fell for the marketing and ordered it anyways (thanks for indulging me, dad). While the ham was certainly lovely, and I can't say I specifically remember ever eating another that I found better, it was still a meager portion of ham for $35 and I've had comparable before (the curing of meats throughout Europe is an art form, and I've been lucky enough to experience this first hand).

The combination of small portions and hefty prices is bound to result in continued disappointment as you make your way through the menu. The scallop (pictured above) was done about as well as any other, but $12 for one of them is just too much to ask. The mushroom risotto ($10) was creamy but slightly underdone and the salmon with truffle ($12) was just so so. Definitely pass on the avocado canneloni ($10) which I found to be texturally amiss and void of any redeeming flavor. The almond stuffed dates ($8) were alright, but not only are the dates at Firefly a better value, they taste better as well. These dates had a panko bread coating that was unnecessary and bulky, which took focus away from the dates themselves, and the accompanying spicy sauce didn't pair well with them at all. The cheese plate ($14) included cana de cabra (soft goat milk cheese), aged manchego, and soft sheep milk extremedura, and was served with a fruit compote and soft toasty bread. Each cheese was complex, and it's hard not to love cheese, but I don't know if anyone other than the producers can really take credit for making a fine cheese plate. The piquillo peppers were delightful, with an oozy cheese center that was far more sophisitcated than that of Firefly, but was not worth the $10.

The good news is that I found the least expensive dishes to be some of the best anyway. The open-faced Pan Manchego ($8) was a wonderful Spanish take on a grilled cheese, and the beet salad ($10) was not only an architectural gem but a well-balanced and colorful creation. The steamed mussels ($9) were plump and the broth was something special, though it was frustrating to capture the broth in the shells because of the pot used to serve them. In addition to tasting better than most of the other dishes, this was also the best value on the menu. If you order these items I think you'll be happier with your experience and your bill.

Tip: I noticed from the menu pictures taken by another blogger that prices were $3-5 less in December of last year. If you do want to go here I would suggest you hurry, before they become even more absurd.

Today's Food Ratings:
Since there are so many items and I've told you what I found to be the best, I'm just going to give an average: 7

Restaurant Rating: 7 (The decor is funky but who wants to look out at the Aria check-in desk while you're eating. They should have put the buffet here.)


'most delicious ham in the world' - their words, not mine
Mushroom Risotto
Beet Salad
Avocado Canneloni
Pan Manchego
Cheese Plate
Steamed Mussels
Stuffed Dates
Stuffed Piquillo Peppers
Truffle Salmon
Almond cake - so, so

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