We're not shy about our love for Jose Andres. We love the bold flavors and fun atmosphere that his restaurants offer (see our thoughts on Minibar, Oyamel, and Cafe Atlantico). We ventured out to Jaleo in Penn Quarter to test out the Paella Festival. We had only been to the Jaleo in Crystal City so it was fun trying the one that is in our backyard. We started with a pitcher of fruity sangria. It was about 8 million degrees outside so this refreshing drink was a must.
Jaleo, for the uninitiated, is a tapas restaurant. To go with our paella, we ordered a variety of tapas. To start, the Datiles con Tocino. The menu describes them as "fried dates wrapped in bacon that you will want to eat every day." How cute is that? Not only is the description cute, it is accurate. If it wasn't for the whole fried and bacon thing, I could definitely eat these every day.
Next were the roasted sweet onions with pine nuts and blue cheese. The onions were uber-sweet and contrasted really well with the sour bite of the blue cheese. The fact that the dish is served cold and contains blue cheese might turn off some people, but that's ok, more for me!
The main event was the paella: Fideos a banda con bogavante (traditional fried pasta, paella style with lobster and fresh squid). B read an Express article about Jaleo bringing in a chef from Spain for its paella festival (Maria Jose San Ramon). She cooks up a variety of paella with pasta instead of rice. We were really psyched to try it and though the flavor was excellent, but I think it needed more time over the heat. The noodles weren't at all crispy and left the whole pan with a rather mushy texture. My favorite part of paella is the crispy part that sticks to the pan and we didn't get any of that on this visit. The paella was, however, packed with generous servings of lobster and squid.
The next dish was another pesky looksbetteronthemenusapien, which we initially met at Wasabi (see here). The description of salmon with cauliflower puree and raspberries sounded intriguing, but mostly the dish just tasted like a piece of salmon. The cauliflower puree didn't add a lot of flavor and there wasn't enough of the raspberry flavor to jazz it up. Also, no fun to pick bones out of your fish.
For our starch course we tried the Papas Arrugas (Canary Island-style wrinkled baby potatoes served with mojo verde). Canary Island-style must mean "looks like dessert but tastes dry." The potatoes didn't soak up any of the sauce so it felt sort of disjointed. This didn't faze B though. Recipe for success in his world = starch + salt. He ended up eating the whole bowl.
I was a big fan of the Lomo de Buey (grilled hanger steak with piquillo peppers). It was tender and the piquillo peppers added a nice zing.
Our visit to Jaleo was a bit like our table: hot and cold. We were seated in the uber-air conditioned dining room but near the patio door so every so often would get huge blasts of hot air from outside. The same could be said about the meal. Every so often we'd get huge blasts of flavor and smiles all around, while a couple of other dishes left us cold. The variety of Jaleo's menu and the fact that Jose Andres is just a really likeable guy, means we'll be back.
Second Thoughts from B
I've been to each of Jose Andres' restaurants and in my humble opinion, Jaleo is the least outstanding. Saying that, however, is like identifying the least attractive supermodel. Ultimately, they are all really good choices and it just comes down to a matter of personal preference.
Speaking of personal preference, that is one of the things I love about the diversity of Jaleo's menu. It is a great place to go with a group of people when several different needs must be met. Jaleo can be "fit for foodies" who are impressed by Jose Andres' name yet wouldn't intimidate a less sophisticated palate. You'd be comfortable dressed up or in jeans and a t-shirt. Vegetarian requirements? No problem. Someone on a diet? Tapas are the perfect thing for portion control. Basically, there's something for everyone.
Paella was the something for me on this night. Having recently returned from Spain and sampling the original dish in Madrid, I had a craving (and writing this now is making my mouth water). I don't know what it is about paella but I think it has recently ascended to the top of my comfort food list without ever having appeared in my childhood. I just want to stuff myself silly, curl up in a little ball, and fade off into a food coma. I don't know what else I can say... I'm hooked.