Jose’s OG Tapas Bar

It’s been a long time, but I’m slowly making my way back from my somewhat extended hiatus from blogging. Needless to say, this is the first entry I’ve written in almost two years, and truthfully, the main reason I’m able to get this far is because I’m on a business trip. For those of you that have children, you know what it means when you’re traveling away from home….

This is a “down and dirty” entry meaning the pictures are courtesy of my iPhone 5 and I uploaded and took notes straight onto my blog via the app. Amazing how technology has evolved to the point that you can do anything and chronicle it almost immediately.  I’ll probably need to blog more this way, because finding time for myself is like hunting for gold these days.  Now on to my culinary excursion tonight…..

After discovering that Jaleo was a 5 minute walk from my hotel, I immediately made a reservation for 1.  I have heard of Jose Andres’ forever and I know he got started out here in Washington DC, so in spite of some mixed reviews on Yelp, I was curious to check it out.  I got there on the early side of 7pm, so it wasn’t full but got very packed pretty quickly.  I immediately decided to go with the tasting menu, so I could sample all the best the chef could offer.  I actually didn’t mind eating by myself, but I think it was mostly because I was taking furious notes throughout the meal.

 

Cheese Plate
San Simón, Idiazábal, Pasamontes Manchego

I’ve never been a big fan of cheeses, but it’s hard to deny the beauty of really high quality fromages.  I’ve also learned that it’s often times as much about the accoutrements that really make cheeses shine and that really was the case here. The San Simón (far left) was probably my favorite largely because the caramelized nut brittle added a nice sweetness and texture to the smokiness of the cow’s milk cheese.  Idiazábal (middle) also had a smoky quality, but it was a sheep’s milk cheese and the quince-flavored jam served as a good palate partner.  I would have expected the Pasamontes Manchego (far right) to have been my favorite seeing as I have never met a Manchego that didn’t make me want to eat more, but it was surprisingly my least favorite.  It was served with a compressed apple that was soaked in a muscatel, and it really didn’t work for me. The taste of alcohol overpowered the fruity flavor of the apple and really clashed with the Manchego which really lacked the characteristic smokiness I would normally expect.

 

Manzanas con hinojo y queso Manchego
Manzanas con Hinojo y Queso Manchego

This was a salad of sliced apples and shaved fennel tossed with Manchego cheese and toasted walnuts.  Interestingly enough, the Manchego cheese in this salad had more punch, and along with the walnuts, it added some nice accents and texture.  It was very clean and refreshing, but not much else memorable about it.

 

Endibias con queso de cabra y naranjas
Endibias con Queso de Cabra y Naranjas

The endive was topped with orange and sliced almonds.  It was also supposed to include goat cheese, but that was the one thing I told them I didn’t eat so they took it out.  Unfortunately, I’m thinking that it probably messed with the flavor combination of the dish, because the endive ended up tasting a little bit flat and uninteresting.

 

Fritter Trio
Trio de Croquetas

I was quite excited when these croquettes came out.  There were quite a few on the menu, but these would have been the first 3 I would have ordered anyways.  I’ll start from the left with the Buñuelos de Bacalao which was a salt cod fritter.  It was a little bit salty, but when dipped in the honey aioli, it tasted quite delicious.  The honey aioli was sweet but also had this tangy onion-like after taste that almost offended but equally intrigued my palate.  The middle one is a Croqueta de Pollo which was filled with a creamy chicken-flavored filling.  I still liked it but it was probably the least interesting of the three.  The far right one was a Dátile con Tocino ‘Como Hace Todo el Mundo’ and it was hands down my favorite.  I absolutely adore bacon wrapped dates, but these were coated with an apple mustard and then deep-fried.  Like Pdho always says, you can’t go wrong with anything deep-fried and these did not fail.  The inside of the date was sweet and creamy, and the layers of bacon and outer batter really complemented well.  I really could have eaten a handful.

 

Gambas al Ajillo
Gambas al Ajillo

The garlic sauteed shrimp is a very typical tapas dish, but this was a more unique take.  The garlic flavor was still the base of the sauce, but the aroma of wine was more distinct and really gave a unique richness to the shrimps.  I don’t know exactly what else went into this brava sauce, but the combination of flavors brought this dish to a new level. The shrimps might have been a tiny tad bit overcooked, but that is just being nitpicky.

 

Espinacas a la catalana
Espinacas a la Catalana

The spinach was sauteed with raisins, apples and topped with pine nuts.  There was some good flavor in this vegetable dish, but it was just spinach at the end of the day.

 

'Rossejat'
‘Rossejat’*

I really wanted to try the paella, but it isn’t normally part of the tasting menu.  However, I was able to ask them to replace an item with the Rossejat which is essentially fried noodles prepared like a paella.  I don’t know how different it is than fideo, but it reminded me a lot of a fideo dish that I had in Barcelona before.  The shrimps and calamari were cooked in a seafood broth and the entire dish was topped with a garlic aioli.  After the fried dates, this Rossejat was definitely a highlight of the meal.  It wasn’t as heavy as a paella but still had a similar essence. Don’t be fooled… the serving was huge and I was pretty full by this point so I ended up taking most of it home.

 

Pan de Chocolate
Pan de Chocolate

I had to give the dessert a taste, and I ended up taking more than a few bites of this chocolate cake mostly because of the hazelnut ice cream.  As a whole the dessert wasn’t very sweet. The cake was made with dark chocolate which I rarely like, but the ice cream and hazelnuts really balanced out the bitterness of the chocolate and gave a hearty crunch to the dessert. A very nice end to the meal.

All in all, I was quite pleased with the meal itself.  The restaurant is rather large and definitely has a star chef vibe about it, kind of like it was one in a series of restaurants from a celebrity chef, but the wait staff was extremely nice and quite attentive.  Maybe it was because I was dining alone or maybe because I was taking pictures and writing notes in my iPhone so they thought I was probably a food critic of some sort. Hahaha!  It was definitely a more traditional take on tapas than his other restaurant that I went to in Los Angeles, The Bazaar. It is hard to really compare both, because they really are different executions on the “tapas” concept, but I think in general, the flavors as a whole were solid at Jaleo.  Some dishes were a little flat and others were good, but overall the meal probably wasn’t as spectacular as I would have expected given Jose Andres’ reputation.  Although it didn’t break any culinary boundaries or push the meaning of cooking to new definitions, I still really enjoyed the food and would recommend it to anyone visiting the DC area.

 

Jaleo
2250 Crystal Dr.
Arlington, VA 22202

PAFO Ratings for Jaleo:
Price $$$
Ambiance 3 stars
Food 4 stars
Overall rating 3½ stars

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