Welcome to the totally redesigned Jaleo.
This Jaleo, which resides right in Penn Quarter in DC, is the original Jaleo, which has been open for nearly 20 years. Deemed by some to be the "DC restaurant most overview for a facelift," Jaleo closed its doors in the winter of 2012 for close to a month to revamp the entire space.
The design of the new space is stunning. Designed by Juli Capella of Barcelona, who also helped Andres design his Las Vegas Jaleo, this new dining space is colorful, whimsical, and fun. The bar is covered with colorful foam hexagons, which double as sound absorbers, significantly reducing the noise levels in the entire restaurant (upper left photo). Tiny fun spaces, such as the hidden "date spot" near the window (lower left photo) offer a romantic semi-private dining area that's great for people watching. Even the front hostess table is shaped like a flower pot, with a huge flower lamp hanging above.
With the new renovation, Jaleo also revamped its menu a bit. Although many of the dishes are the same as before, about 20% of the menu has changed, including more "playful" interpretations of traditional Spanish fare, a few more dishes incorporating Spanish Iberian ham, as well as a slew of new cocktails.
As part of our DC tour, we visited Jaleo in the afternoon to focus on cocktails. According to the schedule, we were to enjoy a one hour "cocktail class" at Jaleo.
It turned out to much more than that. Not only did we learn about (and sample!) several cocktails from Jaleo's new bar, we also muched on a variety of mouthwatering small plates, along with a fun dessert that incorporates some cool molecular-gastronomy techniques.
After getting a tour of the new space, we sat down to learn all about the perfect gin & tonic. According to our host, general manager Jorge Figueredo, gin & tonic is huge in Spain. With this new renovation, Andres decided he wanted to focus on this almost "national" drink by offering six different versions of it.
We started with José’s Choice, José’s own personal favorite recipe for a gin & tonic.
We start with Hendrick's gin.
and then add Fever Tree tonic.
There's some other ingredients in there, like kaffir lime, lemon, and juniper. I can definitely see why this is José’s top choice. Quality ingredients make a ton of a difference in a simple drink like this one. It was bright, refreshing, and my eyes were certainly opened to a drink that I used to think was only OK.
What better "bite" to enjoy the drinks with than some exquisite, delicate salmon tatare with trout roe and sheep's milk cheese cones (one of the new menu items) from the kitchen?
People who are confused about what drinks to get can request one of the many iPads, which is loaded with tons of information about all the drink offerings.
You could try the Coriander blossom, a lovely cocktail made with lemon and lime . . .
or Or the Vegetal, an interesting cocktail that is both beautiful and surreal, filled with floating fennel, radish, cubeb, and kumquat.
How about the Barrel Aged, made with Old Tom Gin (whisky barrel aged) with pickled ginger, allspice, orange, and lemon?
Q Q Tonic (which is made with agave syrup) is used in the New Western, made with Silvertin gin, Fever Tree tonic, tarragon, lemon, lime, and borage.
The staff brought all kinds of little bites for us to enjoy with our cocktails. Pan de cristal con tomate ($8.50) was absolutely fantastic. Pan de cristal (literally "crystal bread") 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 Boston who could make this incredible bread.
I loved this bread and took multiple helpings. 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. I would order this again in a heartbeat if I ever returned.
We asked multiple people who worked there, "what is your favorite thing to eat here? What is a must have?" Surprisingly, we continued to hear "you have to try the Croquetas!"
Croquetas are deep fried breaded mashed potato "balls" that typically include some kind of meat (in this case, chicken). It's a tradition for José Andres' croquetas to be served inside of a shoe. In some states, it actually comes in a real shoe. However, D.C. food regulations wouldn't let them do that, so they had to come up with a glass sneaker, instead!
These were hot, savory, crunchy, and oh-so-satisfying.
I wouldn't necessarily say it blew me away as being the most unique or "must-get" thing the restaurant offered (my mind was still on that pan de cristal) but I did enjoy the bite quite a bit.
Ostras ‘Gin & Tonic’ ($15) - This was a cute take on gin & tonic, raw oysters that are actually served with a bit of lemon, gin, and tonic!
Refreshing and light, they were tasty, though I still prefer eating really good raw oysters pretty much plain.
We also sampled some lovely Mejillones Vinagreta, mussels served with pipirrana (a Spanish salad with tomatoes, potato, and peppers), sherry dressing and honey ($9).
The theme continued as we enjoyed our dessert, also called ‘Gin and Tonic’. It consisted of gin and tonic sorbet, a fizzy tonic "espuma" (foam), lemon and aromatics. It was fascinating how they emulated the fizziness of tonic with the foam. The manager told us that there was a special type of molecular gastronomy compound that could make foams appear to taste fizzy, even though there's no actual carbon dioxide inside.
It was an illusion, but I was totally fooled!
Jorge Figueredo, General Manager and one of the chefs with whom we spoke. They were fantastic hosts.
Here's the whole crew, sitting at the funny fooseball table (yes, look underneath the glass, you can actually play during dinner!)
It was definitely a fabulous way to spend an afternoon. Not only did we learn a lot about the art of gin & tonic (I personally became a new fan of this drink!), we also had a chance to sample some fantastic bites from the restaurant.
Getting just a small taste of their menu totally peaked my curiosity as to what the rest of the food tastes like. I loved José Andres' food the last time I had it at SAMM inside Bazaar in Los Angeles. I'm also a huge fan of small plates in general. This is why I'm pretty certain I would really enjoy a full meal here at Jaleo.
Definitely the next time I'm in D.C., I'll have to take Bryan here again. I'm pretty certain he'll love the new Jaleo.
480 7th St NW
Washington, DC 20004
This trip was part of a media tour of Washington DC paid for by Destination DC, a non-profit organization that supports the DC travel and tourism sector.
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