This post is part of a larger series from my trip to Las Vegas in January 2014. Other posts in this series include I'm Going to Vegas and Why I'm Excited, Whirlpool CES 2014 - I Made it to CES!, and CES Post Conference Reflections, and L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.
Even though I've never been to Spain, I love the Spanish concept of tapas, or small plates. It's super fun sharing a bunch of little bites with a group of friends. You get to try a much larger variety of dishes, and you don't have to commit to eating the same thing for an entire meal.
Jaleo is a Spanish tapas restaurant by well-known Spanish chef José Andrés. It started in Washington DC. over twenty years ago and has since grown to many locations around the country. I visited the original DC location for cocktails and snacks a couple years ago, and loved it. Also, I've been a huge fan of José Andrés' other restaurants, such as é by José Andrés (also in Las Vegas), Samm in Los Angeles, and minibar in DC.
So it seemed natural that I would someday want to try having a full meal at Jaleo. A perfect opportunity arrived while we were in Vegas during CES back in January.
José Andrés loves gin & tonics and has a classic version he calls Jose's Favorite which I tried and loved in DC. When I tried to order it here, the server convinced us to try the Cítrico instead, which was made with Oxley gin, Mediterranean tonic, grapefruit, lemon, coriander, and mint. It was different, but also quite nice.
Here's Bryan adding the tonic to the gin filled drink. Love that huge ice sphere!
Of course, we weren't just here for the drinks, but to actually taste the food. The first thing we couldn't help but notice was the paella.
Paella is a huge part of Spanish culture and it's featured front and center at Jaleo. Right in the middle of the restaurant is a GIGANTIC charcoal grill where you can watch chefs making monstrous-sized pans of this Spanish rice based dish.
It's luck of the draw which paella will be available when you are ready to order, and they rotate between several of them. Every 20 minutes a new one is available. A party of six or more can custom order an entire paella. Otherwise, you order a la carte depending on what is being made at the time.
We had wanted the lobster paella, but it was going to take a long time (we had just missed the last rotation). So instead we ordered what was available: Paella De Pollo Y Setas Silvestres, a traditional paella of chicken and chef-selected mushrooms.
It was fantastic! It also came with tons of garlic aioli, which was awesome. The rice was slight crunchy, slightly chewy, and I loved the flavors from the mushrooms. It turned out to be one of my favorite dishes.
Pan De Cristal Con Tomate Fresco (literally "crystal bread" with fresh tomatoes) is an extremely light, airy, and crispy bread from Spain. It's a ton of work to make the bread. In Spain, they have these special machines that stretch the dough like bubble gum over and over again. The constant stretching causes the dough to incorporate tons of air pockets, which really gives it a unique texture.
At Jaleo, they ship the bread directly from Spain because they could not find anyone in the U.S. who could make this incredible bread.
I first tried this bread in DC and loved it. I especially liked how the unique, crispy bread absorbed all the tasty flavors from both the cheese and the fresh tomatoes. The airy, crispy, yet elastic texture is something that's quite unique and definitely worth trying.
Jaleo's jamon Iberico de Bellota comes from a company called Fermin, and you can order it at the restaurant for $35/oz. It's very good, though it's no different than if you had purchased it at a specialty market. Jaleo pretty much serves it straight up, sliced.
Another decadent dish we got was the Coca Con Erizos De Mar ($26), a wam crusty cristal bread topped with butter, sea urchin, and jamon iberico lardon.
Similarly, these cute little Endive cups topped with orange slices, goat cheese, and sliced Marcona almonds were refreshing and beautiful, but didn't necessarily wow us in terms of flavors.
This next dish, Aceitunas Rellenas Y Aceitunas "Ferrán Adrià" ($14) is a tribute to Ferrán Adrià, one of the fathers of modernist "molecular" cuisine and one of José Andrés' mentors. This dish was a play on the concept of olives. In the bowl was a pile of real olives stuffed with anchovies and piquillo. In the fancy spoons were spherified balls that looked like olives but were actually a salty, spherified olive-flavored balls that burst open with olive liquid inside.
Though the concept was fun, the dishes were a bit too salty with strong anchovy flavors.
The Huevo Frito Con Caviar ($18) was a fried organic egg topped with caviar.
Finally for dessert, we had Pan Con Chocolate, a chocolate custard with caramelized bread, olive oil and brioche ice cream.
All in all, our experience at Jaleo was mixed. We thought the cocktails were excellent and the paella was a definite winner. It was my personal favorite dish of the night. I also loved the pan de cristal con tomate fresco (crystal bread with tomatoes), and could eat tons of that.
The rest of the tapas varied. Most were reasonably tasty, but none were truly amazing nor did they blow us away. Everything was OK, but we came away a bit disappointed, perhaps because of overly high expectations. If I were to come back, I would get a nice cocktail, a nice pile of cristal bread (with tomato!), and share a bunch of paellas. I think it's what they do best.
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