Aria (last visit: April 2010).
Julian Serrano is the chef at Picasso. Serrano's eponymous restaurant is his second offering, an upscale version of a tapas bar.
There are soups, salads and a number of paellas - but tapas are the stars. They range from the traditional to "new tapas," such as avocado canelonne. Servings are designed to be shared. My server suggested four or five dishes per person, but you'll need a hearty appetite to eat that much.
Open to the hotel, the restaurant is moderately dark, but not too dark. Spot lighting on the tables makes it easy to see the menu. There's lots of black, from the ceiling, to the simple tables and chairs, to the stylized trees. Flamenco music plays in the background. As I read this, it doesn't sound too appealing, but it works, creating an informal atmosphere where it's easy to relax.
Service was friendly and efficient. I chose to order all of my tapas at one time, and my server said he'd make sure they arrived spaced out, and in a good order.
The server was true to his word, and the tapas arrived nicely spaced out. I no longer remember the order in which dishes arrived, so I'll just list them.
Imported Spanish "Pata Negra" Ham. The menu called it "the most delicious ham in the world." The four thin bacon-size slices were chewy, pleasantly salty, and had a very strong ham flavor. Combined with some excellent chopped tomato salsa and toast, it was excellent. Was it the world's best ham? Perhaps; I'm no expert. However, it was hardly a transcendent experience. At $30 per serving, I think I'll stick with plain old Serrano ham (aged 18 months) next time.
Huevos Estrellados (fried potatoes, eggs, imported Spanish chorizo). I'm not sure why I liked this dish so much. It was just two small sunny side up eggs on top of a plateful of crisp French fries. A sprinkling of good chorizo added flavor. There was nothing incredibly exotic or inventive about this dish - it just tasted good.
Seared Scallops with Crunchy Romesco Sauce. Two large scallops were seared until crisp on the outside, but rare on the inside. They were sweet and meltingly soft. You have to like scallops prepared this way but if you do, this is the place to get them.
Pintxo de Morcilla. As near as I can tell, this was Spanish blood sausage, served with tomato compote, onion, a veal sauce and hard toast. I enjoyed this dish a lot, but despair of describing it. If you want to try something different, I'd definitely go for this one.
Ahi Tuna Tempura. Two small chunks of tuna, seared, wrapped in nori, very lightly battered, and deep fried; served with wasabi cream and mango. This was my least favorite tapa. It was fine - but nothing more than that.
Crema Catalan. This is the Spanish version of crème brûlée - but better! It was eggier and richer, but somehow lighter at the same time.
I'm not much of a drinker, but managed to try a glass of white Sangria. With mild apple and citrus flavors, it was very refreshing.
A tapas bar is more fun with a group than solo, but even so I enjoyed it a lot. The food was very good, and by Strip standards quite reasonably priced. Highly recommended!
The meal was $90, plus drinks, tax and tip. Avoid the super expensive Pata Negra ham, and eat a more reasonable amount of food, and the bill should be closer to $50 or $60.
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