Friday, August 24, 2012

Jaleo

I don't have to tell you I'm a sucker for tapas and Spanish cuisine.  I find them to be so much more than just small, tasty plates for sharing, but rather the center of great conversation and awesome drinks. There's nothing like nibbling on them while sipping some wine or sangria. While I was eating my way through D.C., I noticed this was the home to Jaleo, a popular and modern tapas restaurant, under the direction of renowned chef/owner Jose Andres. Chef Andres was named Outstanding Chef of the Year at the 2011 James Beard Foundation Awards and more recently, was included in Time Magazine's list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. There are a total of three Jaleo restaurants in the D.C. area, (Downtown D.C., Bethesda, Maryland and Crystal City, Virginia) and one in Las Vegas. I had my adventures at the one located in Downtown D.C. at 480 7th St, NW.



The word "Jaleo" means "dance" "shouting" or "merry-making" in Spanish. There is a painting by an artist named John Singer Sargent called El Jaleo, which depicts a scene of a woman dancing flamenco in a room full of people either mesmerized by her dance or entranced in the strumming of their musical instruments. This painting serves as the inspiration for this place; even gracing its interior with a large mural reproduction. The decor of the restaurant is casual-chic with vibrant colors and over-the-top pieces such as a converted game table topped with a glass and used for dining.

iPad to browse drink menu


Red Sangria
Selection of Three Cheeses
Soon after we were seated, our server handed us an iPad, where we could browse Jaleo’s drink menu. I thought that was cool and pretty original. I ordered a glass of Red Sangria which was refreshing and sweet. With drinks in hand, we reviewed the food menu and I noticed that Jaleo offers a modern interpretation of traditional Spanish cuisine. Sounded exciting! We started off with a Selection of Three Cheeses: Idiazabal, Pasamontes Manchego and Cana de Cabra. I wanted to make sure I tried a variety of textures and flavor profiles. The Idiazabal was a smoked, nutty-flavored sheep's milk cheese which came paired with homemade quince paste. Quince paste is a thick jam also known as membrillo, made from quince fruits and having a sweet, slightly floral taste. The Pasamontes Manchego was sweet and tangy and paired with compressed apples in muscatel, and the Cana de Cabra was a soft, semi-sweet cheese, paired with raisin walnut bread and fig jam. Of the three, my favorite was the Cana de Cabra.

Savory Cones
Cold Melon Soup
Next, I wanted to try a couple of their "conos"; bite-sized pastry cones with different fillings. I had the Cono de La Serena con Membrillo and Cono de Salmon Crudo con Huevas de Trucha. The first one was filled with La Serena cheese; a creamy cheese that balances a light-bitter taste with an earthy flavor and with Quince Paste (Membrillo). I didn't love it. The taste kind of escaped me and I couldn't find anything exciting about it. The second cone, made with salmon tartare and topped with trout roe, was more appetizing. The delicate taste of the salmon was a treat and I just wish it would've lasted more than just one bite. It had been an extremely hot day, so our server suggested I order a cold soup. I wasn't sure whether I wanted a gazpacho or not so she recommended a special Melon Soup they had for the day. She was right! It was easily one of my most memorable dishes of the evening. With crispy bits of ham, it was the perfect combination of salty and sweet.


Pan de Recapte con Anchoa
Pan con Tomate y Jamon Serrano
The next tapa we ordered was the Pan de Recapte con Anchoa. This was a traditional Catalan toasted bread with peppers, tomatoes and salt-cured Spanish anchovies. It was a real memory jogger for me because being from Spanish descent, I remember having this with my family in the small town of Sant Antoni in Barcelona. It was a hit and very authentic in its flavor. In keeping with the whole toasted bread tradition, we also ordered the Pan con Tomate with Jamon Serrano Fermin. It was the same toasted slice of crispy bread brushed with fresh tomato and topped with Spanish Serrano Ham. The dry-cured ham was delicious; thinly sliced and with a delicate texture.

Jamon Iberico de Bellota Fermin
Mini Hamburguesas
We enjoyed it so much we wanted to try more cured ham. We went for the Jamon Iberico de Bellota Fermin, a charcuterie board featuring cured ham from the legendary, acorn-fed, black-footed Iberico pigs native only to Spain. It is considered among the finest hams in the world. The paper-thin slices of ham glistened from the beautifully marbled fat; providing a rich nutty flavor and tender texture. I can’t say that I tasted the acorns, but the depth of the flavor in the meat was mild and slightly sweet. This dish was also served with the toasted bread brushed with tomato. Following this treat, I was intrigued by some mini burgers on the menu that were also made out of the Iberico pig, so we ordered two: The Iberico de Bellota Mini Hamburguesas. They were juicy, soft and seasoned well.


Croquetas de Pollo
Chistorra Envuelta en Patata Frita
If you've been reading carefully, I'm sure you know that I must have been suffering from carb overload at this point. Many of the tapas we ordered came with bread. That wasn't going to stop me tonight. Next tapa definitely gave us a lot to talk about - but not necessarily for its flavor. The Croquetas de Pollo, or traditional chicken croquettes. They came served in a sneaker! That's right, I said a sneaker. This was definitely a conversation starter but I can't say much about the taste. The croquettes were OK but a bit bland for me. I do have to say, the presentation was definitely original and made ordering them worthwhile. I did enjoy the Chistorra Envuelta en Patata Frita. A slightly spicy chorizo wrapped in crispy potato, it was extremely tasty. The potato was nice and crisp and a perfect complement to the spicy kick of  the chorizo. We were fighting to grab these.


Gambas con Gabardina
Chorizo Palacios
Liking the whole dipping thing, we ordered the Gambas con Gabardina. These were batter-fried shrimp with caper mayonnaise.  Well seasoned and lightly battered, they were delicious. I found the caper mayonnaise to be a perfect complement to the taste. Without skipping a beat, out came the Chorizo Palacios, a slightly spicy cured pork sausage seasoned with pimenton and garlic. We always order chorizo when we go "tapear" so we were curious how these would compare. Unfortunately, they were the least favorite of all the tapas we ordered. I found the chorizo to be a bit tough and could not detect the seasoning at all.


Patatas Bravas
Espuma de Chocolate Negro
Although we were pretty stuffed, we overheard our server mentioning the Patatas Bravas to the table behind us and recommending it as a top seller. It arrived at their table, and I have to say the dish looked really good. The sliced potatoes were sitting on a spicy tomato sauce and topped with alioli and paprika. Needless to say, we ordered one. It was one of those things though where I shouldn't have been such a nosy parker. It looked tastier than it was. For some reason, the tomato sauce didn't work for me. Barely able to sit down comfortably anymore, I had to do at least one dessert because it was a special day...my birthday! We had the Espuma de Chocolate Negro con Bizcocho de Cacao y Helado de Avellana. It was awesome! The dark chocolate mousse and cocoa sponge cake were creamy and divine, and the hazelnut ice-cream had me licking my spoon. Very nice ending to our tapas meal.

Jaleo is an exciting restaurant with a vast selection of traditional and modern tapas with a twist. While I preferred some to others, overall we had a fun time. Chef Jose Andres also owns another restaurant in Los Angeles called The Bazaar which has recently opened its doors in Miami as well. Stay tuned as I embark on an adventure there real soon and bring you all the scrumptious details.

For more information on Jaleo, you can visit their website at http://www.jaleo.com/ or call them at 202-628-7949.


Jaleo on Urbanspoon

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