Maybe it’s the tree lined streets, the outdoor seating, or the ample sunlight thanks to the height restrictions to buildings. I can’t exactly pinpoint a reason, but somehow Washington DC feels like a city that’s perfect for Tapas.
So it’s also no surprise that DC is home to a celebrity chef that specializes in Spanish cuisine – José Andrés Puerta. Much like Jean Georges, he’s only referred to by his first name.
It’ll be at least a few more months before we see a José Andrés restaurant in New York City, something that’s long over due. In the meantime, Chef José Andrés operates a handful of restaurants in DC. Jaleo was created back in 1993 next to DC’s Chinatown. Since the erection of the Verizon Center, the neighborhood has changed tremendously, and only recently Jaleo underwent a complete renovation.
It’s quite sad that I never got to see and experience the Jaleo pre-renovation. As the neighborhood and people’s tastes evolved, Jaleo was also progressing through the years. My friend raved about Mini-Bar during her visit to Jaleo last year, claiming it’s as close to an El-Bulli like experience as you’re going to get on this side of the Atlantic. With the full renovation Mini-Bar is no longer part of Jaleo, though it will reappear around the block shortly as a separate entity.
Taking a cue from what I know about Spanish dining from the TV show No-Reservations, I opted to dine at the bar. The renovated space felt a bit too modern for a transcending experience, but the bar seats were still a comfortable place to dine.
Even for small plates, the menu is quite large. We started with some delicious Chorizo slices, and whet our appetites with two spoon fulls of uni.
On a hot summer day, a gazpacho hits the spot, though I thought this dish lacked a bit of originality.
Onto perhaps the most classic item, garlic shrimp. I was devastated that the shrimps didn’t have the heads on. The garlic broth was absolutely delicious though.
You can’t go to Jaleo without getting a Paella. The special of the day was a chicken and mushroom paella. This was easily the highlight of the meal, though serving it at the bar was certainly tricky for the wait staff.
My trip to Jaleo was not exactly what I expected. It seems that as the José Andrés restaurant empire expanded, and higher end concepts (such as Bazaar by José Andrés) are created, Jaleo has moved slightly downmarket to satisfy the masses. The restaurant felt like a Spanish version of Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain, whereas I was hoping to have a timeless dining experience like Matsuhisa or Jojo.
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480 7th St NW
Washington, DC 20004