Wednesday, April 24, 2013

DC Part Four: Jaleo.

One of the most exciting parts of our trip to Washington D.C. was the idea that I would get to eat at least three of four restaurants owned by one of my favorite culinary icons, Chef José Andrés.  Within DC, his establishments MinibarJaleo, Oyamel and Zaytinya have captured the hearts and tastebuds of locals and visitors alike, with their stylish settings, extraordinary food and everyday accessibility.  For a small-plate junkie like myself, it was hard to decide where exactly I should start with these "bucketlist" restaurants- which deserved to be first?  Should I save the best for last? Which one do people enjoy the most?  The only one I didn't visit was Minibar, the molecular gastronomy lovers dream (José trained for years alongside famed Ferran Adrià of El Bulli)-- due to extremely high reservation demand and lack of enough scheduled notice, Minibar will have to be our treat next time we visit, and I'm ok with that.  It gives me something spectacular to look forward to...

I began with Jaleo.

"Under the direction of famed chef José Andrés, Jaleo offers an impressive assortment of tapas, the traditional small dishes of Spain, as well as savory paellas, superb sangrias and a fine selection of Spanish wines and Sherries in a festive, casual atmosphere. Created in 1993 by Rob Wilder, Roberto Alvarez, and José Andrés, Jaleo has become a DC institution."

Located in DC's Penn Quarter, Jaleo's exterior calls out to passersby with its huge, red-type spelled out in the two-story tall windows.  The restaurant itself had a complete renovation in March of 2012, giving it a modern, funky interior, full of color and pattern.  I was most amused by the giant portrait of human legs, seemingly flying into the party-zone above the bar.  The technicolor honeycomb ceiling and vibrant red furniture, accompanied by the beaded wooden curtains in the windows give the feeling of stepping into some incredibly sassy, fun, exotic diner.  The staff is friendly, and my waiter was an absolute darling- always smiling and ever-attentive.  
Trying to calm my nerves (and excitement by being there), I ordered a glass of sparkling rose from their incredibly extensive Spanish wines list, sat back and took in the scenery.  The restaurant was clearly in-between seatings, a little after lunch and a few hours before dinner.  A few patrons at the bar, several couples enjoying a casual afternoon, girlfriends sharing a laugh over sangria.  It felt so much like a restaurant in the middle of Barcelona that my heart skipped a beat with happiness.  I looked over the menu and picked a few plates to sample.  
I started with the wildly famous Aceitunas Ferrán Adrià (Ferrán Adrià liquid olives).  What you are looking at is not actually a green olive... It's a liquid olive, created by using the reverse spherification technique made famous by the boys at El Bulli.  Hard to explain-- there is no skin, it's just a bubble of self-contained olive juice sitting in a spoon.  Delicious, salty, flavorful olive juice.  I was so excited to try it, I practically jumped out of my seat when the waiter recommended it.
Next I chose the Pan De Cristal Con Piquillo (toasted slices of uniquely crispy and ethereal bread brushed with fresh tomato with roasted red peppers).  A Spanish classic, delicately toasted with rich, red piquillo peppers layered on top.  Nothing compares to the freshness of the peppers in the dish, I could eat them all day long while sipping my rose.  Yum.

Of course I sampled the Patatas Bravas (fried fingerling potatoes with spicy tomato sauce and aioli).  I ate this so fast, I couldn't even get a picture of it.  The waiter brought it to my table and poof!  It was gone as quickly as it arrived.
I finished up my mid-day meal with the Ibérico De Bellota Mini Hamburguesas (Spanish mini burger made from the legendary, acorn-fed, black-footed ibérico pigs of Spain).  This is one juicy, flavorful, gooey, greasy, tasty, tiny delight.  I immediately thought of the hubbs as soon as it arrived, and felt guilty for indulging without him.  The handmade roll was squishy and light-- I liked that it wasn't too dense and didn't overpower the burger.  I devoured it and could have easily asked for another serving, but decided to hold back out of glutton-embarrassment.

I'd love to visit DC again and try dinner at Jaleo.  I feel like I barely chipped the ice, but still got a good idea of José Andrés' vision of tapas in America.  I was incredibly happy with the entire experience here, and very much enjoyed the food and the atmosphere.  Ideally, I'd bring the hubbs back, we'd start with some fancy cocktails and then sit for hours, sampling the menu.  I will most certainly return.  After all, Jaleo is a Spanish word meaning revelry, fun, and bustle...  Indeed it is, and I look forward to visiting again.

Next up, Oyamel!

Be well,

Photos 1 & 3 courtesy of Jaleo.
All other photos author's own.


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