Javier Debuts at Aria Resort & Casino
by catherine de orio
Neighborhood Mexican restaurants in America too often seem like caricatures out of Disneyland—festooned with piñatas, sombreros, and mariachi instruments—making one nearly indistinguishable from the next. Enter Javier’s, in Aria Resort & Casino at CityCenter, which serves up traditional, regionally inspired Mexican cuisine in a stunning space that seamlessly flows between the elegant, old-world feel of Mexico City and the laid-back vibe of the country’s paradisiacal waterfront towns.
Even without the prime location in the center of Aria’s casino floor, the dramatic design of Javier’s would ensure that it wasn’t missed. A large circular metal bar serves as the centerpiece. Inspired by a vintage roulette wheel, it’s topped with rare African ziricote wood, a hardwood used in guitars, and canopied with an intricate, chandelierlike installation consisting of hundreds of twisted nautical ropes that cascade to the floor. Drawing influences from all over Mexico, veteran designer Dodd Mitchell honors the country’s cultural heritage with handcrafted pottery from Guadalajara; reclaimed leather belts adorning the windows and doorways; 4,000 clavos (nails) w ith decorative heads throughout the lounge; and corset-style lacing on the leather booths and the ceilings.
But the pièce de résistance (or its Spanish equivalent) is the intricate chain-saw art installation, carved by artist J. Chester Armstrong, illustrating both the Mayan creation myth and modern Mexican history. The five panels, set on the far wall of the main dining area, span 25 feet and weigh 3,000 pounds, making this the world’s largest piece of chain-saw art.
Although the open layout of Javier’s results in a great place to see and be seen, sometimes privacy is what we seek. And the magnificent private dining room, with its ceiling and walls tiled in shimmering abalone shells, is every bit as impressive as the main one.
Lest you think Javier’s is all style, a few bites of one of its creative dishes will provide the substance. According to Omar Sosa, founder Javier Sosa’s son and the general manager of both the Las Vegas and Irvine, California, locations, the food may draw more from the areas of Michoacán and Mazatlán but it’s influenced by Mexico as a whole. “We try to bring Mexican home-cooking to our guests,” he says. To do so, the restaurant serves many dishes based on family recipes, including the Fideo del Mar, an entrée of linguine teeming with fresh seafood, inspired by a dish his mother cooked for them as children. “We want you to eat something at the restaurant,” he says, “that we have grown up eating in our house.”
The menu features many standard Mexican dishes, but the seafood plates are where Javier’s really shines. “When you think of Mexican food, people think of just tacos and burritos,” he says. “But in Mexico we also eat a lot of shrimp, crab, lobster, and steak.” Steak and lobster are the restaurant’s most popular choices in Las Vegas. The Filete Antiguo pairs filet mignon with sautéed onions, mushrooms, and a subtly smoky chipotle sauce, while the lobster enchiladas come in two varieties, Pueblo and Cabo Azul. Javier’s, however, is most famous for its crab enchiladas. “They are always a staple,” Sosa says. Every dish uses the highest-quality ingredients: Think Kurobuta pork, Prime Angus beef (all center-cut steaks), Dungeness crab (100 percent leg meat), Jidori chicken, Maine lobster, and fresh seasonal fish sourced daily. And if it can be made in-house, it is, including the sauces, moles, salsas, and chips.
Since no meal is complete without one of the restaurant’s hand-shaken margaritas, try the Javier’s signature variety, made with a special blend of sweet and sour mix, Espolón reposado, triple sec, and Grand Marnier. “It’s sweet, so you don’t realize how strong it is,” Sosa warns. If you’re more of a straight shooter, you can pick your poison from the gnarled metal tree sculpture bearing bottles from a collection of more than 80 types of tequila. Take down a Patrón Silver, the most frequently ordered shot, or indulge in a single-malt Scotch-quality tequila, like the Jose Cuervo 250 Aniversario edition or Clase Azul Ultra Añejo (which will set you back $250–$300 a shot-sized serving, to be sipped). But whether you plan to shoot or sip your tequila, it’s always served in a tequila flute. “That’s how it is served in Mexico,” says Sosa, “and that’s the way to drink it, out of the flute.” Aria Resort & Casino, 866-590-3637
photography by sabin orr; courtesy of javier’s (dining room)