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Jaleo Turns 20

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#1 weinoo

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Posted 03 April 2013 - 11:09 AM

A trip to D.C. this past weekend to see the cherry blossoms was a bust. For cherry blossoms, that is - because the bums weren't open. So I blogged about Jaleo instead...

In Washington, D.C.  20 years ago, Chef José Andrés opened what was then one of the first restaurants in the U.S. to focus on serving tapas...that restaurant was, and still is, Jaleo. It sparked a revolution in dining here, and we know where that has led us to today - restaurants where the menu categories read like weather reports: sun, soil, water, earth, moon - and on and on.  I mean, at some places it's actually difficult to cobble together what was once considered a meal: starter, main and dessert...because evidently, that's not the way we want to eat today.  I guess that's why whenever we dine out, we have to hear the obligatory "how the menu works" spiel - as if we'd never ventured out of our caves to eat.  Whatever. 

Now chef owns/operates at least a dozen restaurants, not just spanning "the district" but across the U. S. as well.  Some I've loved and some I haven't, but that's neither here nor there.  This past weekend, we had the opportunity to revisit Jaleo, which is celebrating its 20th birthday, and which recently had a makeover.

The place looks good.  And whatever they've done (lots of fabric, absorbent surfaces, etc.) it sounds good, too...the four of us could actually carry on a conversation without shouting.   But what really blew us away was the food - we must've tried 15 or so items, and there wasn't a clunker in the bunch.

Take the Aceitunas, the liquid olives that are a tribute to José's mentor Ferrán Adrià...


A fun way to start the meal, to be sure.  Here's another delicious one...


A perfect combo of oranges, almonds and goat cheese happily nestled in an endive leaf, topped with some fine olive oil.  Then some more serious stuff...


A special of fried artichoke hearts atop a pool of tasty olive purée led to this...


A warm brussels sprout salad with apricot, apple and crisps of Serrano ham was really delicious, though I'd hate to be the prep cook who has to peel the leaves off of the brussels.  Next up...


A lovely crabmeat salad and of course a classic, the garlic shrimp...


I didn't get a chance to photograph, before our group started scarfing them down, some of the best tasting mussels I've had in years (and Significant Eater agreed).  These were simply steamed with olive oil and bay leaf, but man were they good.  We then moved on to what might've been my favorite bite of the night...


Warm oysters with potato, sweet pimentón and olive oil.  Sadly, I didn't get the odd one, but that's ok.  To finish our savories...


A paella of fried fideus (Catalan for noodles),  perfectly cooked shrimp and squid - this was the surprise hit of the evening.

A couple of desserts followed, including a fine gin & tonic sorbet with tonic espuma...


Oh, the drinks were good too - my delicious Picon Punch went down easily, and at $9, a bargain. Sig Eater's cocktail (a fancy gin thing) was prepared with a flourish tableside, and was tasty too.

For many restaurants, 20 years is a lifetime.  Often, they get stale and predictable.  But even though we've had some of this food before, most of it tasted as fresh and as vibrant as it did back in '93.  On that note - happy birthday, Jaleo...you're looking good.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"
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#2 Hassouni

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Posted 03 April 2013 - 11:36 AM

Nice writeup Mitch, thanks! Jaleo has always been one of my "ol' faithful" sort of places.


Edit: by "always" I mean "since I started going out on my own," given I was 8 when it opened....

Edited by Hassouni, 03 April 2013 - 11:37 AM.

#3 DTBarton

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Posted 05 April 2013 - 07:42 AM

I've been to Jaleo several times over the last 6 or 7 years.  The consistency is really an accomplishment.  Another barometer for me on the quality of a restaurant is can I remember what I ate a few years back.  From Jaleo, I can still remember remarkable quail and spanish mackerel tapas (so good that you order them again at the same visit) and a great one with caviar and quail egg, I think.  Had a very nice meal at the Bethesda Jaleo last year.  Table for 8 and only a couple clinkers out of many dishes, a thoroughly acceptable batting average.

#4 janeer

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Posted 05 April 2013 - 07:06 PM

Funny, my first trip to Jaleo (like a decade ago now) was seriously underwhelming. Food mediocre, noise level insufferable. I never went back. But those pics looks great. I too was in DC over the weekend and thought about trying Jaleo again--probably should have. Had Easter brunch at Bibiana. Nice enough.

#5 law_doc89

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 02:44 PM

They have definitely move tapas out of the relm of simple bar food, that's for sure.

#6 pkeibel

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Posted 24 April 2013 - 06:34 AM

I have a reservation for Monday, can't wait