Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Jaleo

Jaleo is a Spanish word meaning revelry, fun, and bustle and brings alive the spirit and flavors of Spain under the direction of famed chef José Andrés.  Jaleo in Penn Quarter 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.  Closest Metro is Archives/Naval Memorial.

Created in 1993 by Rob Wilder, Roberto Alvarez, and José Andrés, Jaleo has become a DC institution with a recent face lift in Spring 2012.  The new look is described as “a relaxed environment of bold colors, with a hint of madness and irony, and a touch of Mediterranean surrealism.” The interior features sleek furnishings and artwork created in Spain by some of the country’s best contemporary designers.  The pops of red color and the beaded curtains immediately stood out as we entered.

I went for lunch with my work colleagues to check out the Summer Restaurant Week offerings.  We were seated next to the window at a table that fit our group of five comfortably.  Our server greeted us cheerfully with iPad in hand and directly went into presentation mode to explain both the food and beverage menus.  The iPad was very high tech for a beverage menu with various links and tabs that allowed you to further drill down and read about the actual grape or other ingredient that made up each drink.  It was fascinating, but a bit too much explanation for cocktails at 11:30am.

We had each studied the RW menu prior to our arrival so we were ready to order, which made things easy for our server.  Jaleo's RW lunch menu had four courses to choose from for $20.12: soup/salad, traditional tapa, fish/meat, and dessert.  For the first course, I chose the Ensalada de Remolacha con Citricos - a beautiful salad with vibrant red beets and sweet grapefruit and orange segments.  This colorful salad was so delightful and refreshing, I would have been satisfied with a large plate of it as my entire meal.  The Spanish blue cheese added a nice saltiness that perfectly harmonized the dish.  Others in the group ordered the traditional cold tomato soup of Gazpacho and the Ensalada Rusa, which looked like potato salad. Both of those dishes had great flavor too, as expressed by my colleagues.  Next, I chose the Gambas al Ajillothe very, very famous tapa of shrimp sautéed with garlic.  Eight pieces of shrimp were piled up in a bowl of spicy pepper-infused oil.  I thought the oil was way too much, and slightly unappetizing, until I realized they also brought a mini basket of bread with it for dipping.  The shrimp had intense garlic and pepper flavor, but the excessive oil did not sit well with me.  Others ordered a safer tapa of Croquetas de Pollo, but found them a tad bland and oddly creamy inside from what they determined to be a cheese mixture of some sort.  My colleagues all were expecting something different and these chicken fritters did not satisfy.  Third, I stuck with seafood and ordered Calamares a la Romana.  The calamari were lightly fried and incredibly tender, not chewy, but lacking any seasoning.  I longed for some lemon to squirt over to offset the heavy garlic aioli that accompanied the baby squids.  Again, it was a generous portion and filling, but boring overall as a dish. Others ordered the Salmon, which looked so healthy and light upon its bed of vegetables; the Grilled Lamb that was "meh" as uttered by coworker JG; and the Pork Loin, which was "seasoned differently that made it pleasant, but overall just alright" as described by coworker GD.  Finally, for dessert we all ordered the Flan al Estilo Tradicional de Mamá Marisa that was expertly cooked, allowing for a velvety texture.  The Spanish custard was shadowed by a light Catalan cream and oranges that again, balanced out the sweetness of our last bite.

All in all, the RW menu options at Jaleo were tame to appease the masses but left something lacking for those looking for exciting and authentic Spanish tapas.  I truly enjoyed my beet salad and flan dessert, but was not blown away by any one dish (just as I was not at José Andrés' other restaurant we visited last RW).   I am left to wonder if this is due to RW limitations in general, or the possible dilution of authenticity as José Andrés continues to expand his DC restaurant empire.

UPDATE: This restaurant was awarded Bib Gourmand in October 2016.

Total Rating: 3.78
Food: 3.5, Price: 4, Service: 4, Ambience: 4, Accessibility: 5

What I ate:
Ensalada de Remolacha con Cítricos
salad of red beets, citrus, Valdeón cheese and pistachios with Sherry dressing

Gambas al Ajillo
shrimp sautéed with garlic

Calamares a la Romana con Aioli
fried fresh calamari with aioli sauce

Flan al Estilo Tradicional de Mamá Marisa
con Espuma de Crema Catalana
a classic Spanish custard with ‘espuma’ of Catalan cream and oranges

Jaleo on Urbanspoon

2 comments:

  1. You certainly captured my sentiments. Good review and interesting remarks at the end.

    One hears so much about Jose Andres and Jaleo, so expectations get high . . . and then, although there is nothing truly bad that you can say about the food, and the place is nice, there is no “wow” that immediately makes me make a mental note that “I must come back and bring others to this place”. (In contrast with the Spanish restaurant in Chicago, Jose Garces’s Mercat a la Planxa . . . I just had dinner there this year and it was great.)

    My experience at the other Jaleo (Crystal City) was a terrible paella, which I regret to this day not sending back to the kitchen. But you have to be careful about that . . . according to Antony Bourdain’s book “Kitchen Confidential” . . . the cooks and staff will add “extra ingredients” to the replacement meal.

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    1. Thanks! I agree, Jaleo is more like a chain restaurant now. Sorry to hear about the bad paella. If it was truly that bad, I think it would have been ok to send back. At least give them a chance to try and amend it, or substitute for something else.

      I must try Mercat next time I visit Chicago! Both you and GD have raved about it quite often.

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