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Jaleo, Local Spanish Tapas Chain - Penn Quarter, Bethesda, and Crystal City

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When I moved to the DC area in 1997, one of the first "serious" restaurants I went to was Jaleo. I was just back from nearly a year in Europe with over a month of that time in Spain, so I was hankering for a tapas bar. I was prepared to be disappointed with Jaleo, but instead found myself returning every few weeks over the next couple of years.

I intended to go to Cafe Atlantico last night, but the bar at Jaleo looked tempting. And for the first time in a long time, it looked like there were a few free seats.

I started with a couple of scallops in Romesco sauce. I enjoyed the sauce, and the scallops were a bit past their prime but still decent. Queso de Tupi "Abuelo Tunica" was a surprise. This was a soft cheese that had been mixed with some sort of Spanish liquor served with bread and fig puree. It had a boozy sharp flavor that hit the spot. I also tried the Ensalada de Remolacha which consisted of beets, orange segments, walnuts, mixed greens and Cabrales-- one of my favorite cheeses. This was tasty, though the beets just didn't taste super fresh. I wouldn't go so far as saying they were canned, but they had definitely been around a while. I finished up my meal with a variety of sliced Spanish sausages: Chorizo, Soria, Butifarra, and Salchichon de Vic. All the meats were great, but I didn't care too much for the whole wheat toast points that came with it. Everything was washed down with a Garnacha, Carinena, Syrah, and Merlot blend called Perlat.

I'm glad I stopped in. It had been too long. If I'm in the area, and it's still early enough in the evening to get a seat at the bar, I'll be back. Soon.

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I'm glad that a Jaleo thread was started, as I was at the Crystal City location on Tuesday night. We started with the Marinated fried shark, which was probably the best dish of the night. The shark was crisp on the outside, but tender and juicy once you bit into it. Jaleo displayed another great touch with fried foods with the Traditional fritters of dates and bacon. This was also a favorite, as the flavors all balanced each other very well. I could have eaten a ton of them. We also had the Scallops in Romesco sauce, and perhaps this is an example of lack of consistency between locations. Our scallops tasted fresh and slightly sweet, and were cooked perfectly. The Grilled quail with honey alioli and rosemary sauce was tasty enough, but it is very tough to split a tiny quail between three people. The Grilled beef sirloin with ‘piquillo’ pepper confit would make any carnivore very happy. We also had the Skewer of grilled chorizo on garlic-mashed potatoes, which look like little cocktail weiners but taste nothing like them. The only dish that was a "miss" was the Spanish Mackeral. The sauce was nice and spicy, but the fish was very oily.

Service was fine except when it came to our after-dinner drinks. A tip for wait staff: If I order a red wine, and you bring me a white wine, don’t insist that you brought me the correct wine :P . Our waiter disappeared for 10 minutes and finally came back with the correct wine. Despite this “glitch”, the meal was very enjoyable and would definitely return.

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Service was fine except when it came to our after-dinner drinks. A tip for wait staff: If I order a red wine, and you bring me a white wine, don’t insist that you brought me the correct wine  :P . Our waiter disappeared for 10 minutes and finally came back with the correct wine.  Despite this “glitch”, the meal was very enjoyable and would definitely return.

Pete, what do you mean by insist? Did this person actually argue with you? Try to make you feel foolish? Seems to me that as soon as you say "No, that's not it." they should immediately bring you the wine list again so you can clarify.

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Pete, what do you mean by insist?  Did this person actually argue with you?  Try to make you feel foolish?  Seems to me that as soon as you say "No, that's not it." they should immediately bring you the wine list again so you can clarify.

He sort of argued about it. The conversation went like this:

Me: I think you may have brought us the wrong wine. The wine that we ordered is a red wine.

Waiter: But this is a white wine.

Me: Yes, I can see that this wine is white, but this is not what we ordered. We ordered the Dolce Monastrell here (points to wine on menu), which is a red wine.

Waiter: That is the wine that I brought.

Me: Can you check on that? We had this wine at Minibar a few months ago, and it was red then (at this point I dumped the white wine on him).

Waiter: (drying himself off) Umm….let me check.

10 minutes later he returns with the correct wine.

Waiter: Here you go. Sorry. We have both a white dessert wine and a red dessert wine.

[Just kidding about throwing the white wine. :P ]

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For tapas?  Jaleo.  Hands down.  Don't waste your time elsewhere.  There are many restaurants that serve "small plates" as they say these days, but tapas is Spanish and for the best tapas in DC you go to Jaleo.

hehe, after reading this i feel a little dumb...i should have said "besides Jaleo, which of course has he best tapas in the area."

but yeah, you are absolutely right about Jaleo.

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I see our very own Jose Andres made the list as one of the "Tastemakers" in Forbes magazine.

Tastemakers: Chefs

Both Jaleo and Zaytinya are frequent stops for me, and I'll never forget my Minibar experience. Loved the caesar salad.

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From an email:

Jose Andres invites you to join him in celebrating the publication of his first cookbook!

Enjoy a very special menu with a selection of Jaleo's award-winning tapas and an autographed copy of:

Tapas: a taste of Spain in America - Clarkson Potter/Publishers - On sale November 8, 2005

$85 per person

(Tax and gratuity not included)

10% of the proceeds donated to benefit DC Central Kitchen

To reserve, please call (202) 638-1910 or send an email

to the link below:

mailto:RSVP@joseandres.com

Thursday, November 10, 2005 @ 7 pm

Jaleo. 2250-A Crystal Drive / Arlington, Virginia

Monday, November 14, 2005 @ 8 pm

Jaleo. 480 7th Street, NW / Washington, DC

Tuesday, November 15, 2005 @ 7 pm

Jaleo. 7271 Woodmont Avenue / Bethesda, Maryland

Edited by cjsadler

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I thought I may as well note some of my experiences at the Jaleo in Penn Quarter. I eat there fairly often, so this is not an exhaustive catalog of what I have tried and found good, but merely a list of some of my favorites and some things that are to be avoided.

Food

Dátiles con tocino como hace todo el mundo. I expected something completely different from the menu description of these fritters--perhaps a chopped paste of dates and bacon. I was very pleasantly surprised. The datiles are pieces of bacon wrapped around dates, dunked in some sort of batter, and then fried. The soft sweetness of the dates, the chewy savoriness of the bacon, and the outer crispness make a tremendous combination.

The arroz y setas con queso Murcia is a warm and comforting sort-of-risotto with woodsy mushrooms covered by a sharp slice of cheese. It was significantly better when it was made with Idiazabal cheese, but remains very enjoyable.

Thick matchsticks of Manchego cheese and tart apples are tossed together with some olive oil for the manzanas con Manchego, a glorious combination of the different tartnesses of the cheese and apples with luxuriant oiliness.

The ensaladilla rusa is a concotion of potatoes, tuna, and egg, chopped up and bound together, topped with slick preserved tomatoes. I could eat this every day for lunch, really I could.

Pollo al ajillo con salsa verde. What I get when I have a hankering for green sauce and the Grill at Galileo isn't open. The pieces of chicken aren't always, however, cut with lack of inedible tissue in mind.

The tortilla de patatas tastes weakly of potatoes. It's so bland as to be positively offensive. It's plainness is of sufficient potency that, eaten with other items, it blanded them. To be avoided.

Desserts. As whenever I go to Jaleo, I order far too much food, I rarely have gotten to the desserts. I have, nonetheless, managed to try the flan and the rice pudding. I thought that the flan didn't seem slippery enough or to have the right almost-jellyish feel, nor much depth of custard flavor. The accompaniments had a far-too-jarring taste of bitter orange. I was quite sad, as I am by and large a great fan of Steve Klc's work at Zaytinya. The version at Guajillo was vastly superior when I last tried it.

The arroz con leche, in contrast, is creamy and rich, topped with espuma and crunchy bits of something or another sweet and caramelly. It is, however, presented very impractically in a tall glass with an enormous spoon. This means that it is just about impossible to preserve any espuma to eat any with the lower bits of rice pudding. It also means that one must turn the glass upside down to get out the last bits of pudding.

Other little details. Jaleo has commendably dark-crusted bread. Less commendable is the bread's tendency toward some slight staleness, probably because of pre-cutting. The pickled onions are dainty and carry a slight switch-blade of tartness. The cappucino seems to be competently made, but with disgustingly stale beans or, possibly, pre-ground coffee. (If you want coffee, the Starbucks across the street is vastly superior.)

Service. Never much better than somewhat distant. Usually not much worse, though sometimes much much worse. Today, for instance: My waiter greeted me, once he had come to my table after a period more than a little excessive for a not-too-busy weekday lunch, by saying "Yes?" He avoided me as much as possible throughout the rest of the meal, assiduously looking away as he came near my table. I had to stand up and wave to him to catch his eye to order dessert. His gracious farewell as he gave me my check was "See ya." His attitude was brusque and surly throughout. By and large things are much better, but you will likely not feel particularly well-served.

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Went to the Jaleo in Bethesda tonight.

We had Pan con tomate y jamón serrano-Spanish imported cured ham with traditional tomato bread, Pan con tomate y queso Manchego-Tomato bread with ‘Manchego’ cheese, Pato con peras-Duck confit with pear sauce, Calamares a la Romana-Fried squid with allioli, Patatas al ‘Cabrales'-Potatoes with ‘Cabrales’ cheese sauce, and Cazón en adobo al estilo de Cádiz-Marinated fried shark like people do in Cádiz, with the Espuma de chocolate blanco con fresas-White chocolate mousse with fresh strawberries, mint & pistachio for dessert.

Most everything was yummy, if a bit overpriced. The shark tasted odd (compared to shark steaks I've had), I think from the marinade, but was very tender. The mousse should have been heavier or lighter, but was yummy. The squid was good, but I had the calamari fritti at Sorriso for lunch yesterday, and that was the one squid to rule them all, so the squid at Jaleo tonight paled in comparison.

The waiter, while very polite and friendly, required flashing lights and signal flags to get his attention, so we tipped rather less than we would have otherwise. It wasn't crazy busy or anything, and he came around a couple times and failed to notice us gesticulating wildly for his attention. He did however, seem to be genuinely failing to notice us, not actively ignoring us, so we didn't leave him a bunch of pennies in a drink glass. :)

Edited by HelDC

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For those interested, Jose Andres is on the Kojo Nnamdi show on WAMU (88.5 FM) right now. :)

Very nice interview. Worth catching off-line @ WAMU.org. Boy does he have a lovely accent and impishness that is captivating! Think I'm going to have to plan a museum visit to justify my Jaleo jones.

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Has anyone been to the Bethesda Jaleo recently? I suggested it to friends for tomorrow, and they said they have had a few disappointing meals there lately. I've only been to that location once and thought it was Ok but not up to the DC branch's standards.

Edited by Heather

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Has anyone been to the Bethesda Jaleo recently?  I suggested it to friends for tomorrow, and they said they have had a few disappointing meals there lately.  I've only been to that location once and thought it was Ok but not up to the DC branch's standards.

Always seems hit or miss to me. I've had some fabulous meals in Bethesda, and some rotten ones in DC. I can't figure out any kind of pattern on days, location, dishes, etc. I was at the Bethesda location a few months back, and had a perfectly nice meal.

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Salmon Belly over Piquillo Pepper Confit, and Datiles-Date and Bacon Croquettes-sublime. Go early, get some gratis paella, and watch the crowds form-$4 Amontillados-service by Freddy-great atmosphere.

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I have to say that for all the moaning about too much Jose-pimping and the overtures of Big Bad Chain, Jaleo in Penn Quarter has always provided good times for me. Especially if you're there on an off-peak, random time like Sunday afternoon - sit at the bar, guzzle sangria, nibble bacon-wrapped goodies - makes you love life even more and forget that there is a Monday. I love the dates, the goat cheese-stuff piquillo, the chicken croquettes, and I am officially in love with their paprikaed octopus.

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I made my first trip to Jaleo (downtown) this weekend with my dad, embarrassed as I was yet again to have never been to the tapas temple.

The food was really quite nice, and I look forward to tasting more some time. Unfortunately that night the service was so abysmal we only got to four dishes before dad insisted on paying and leaving.

The date fritters were, as described here, just delish; the salty-sweet, crisp-chewy combo totally hits the spot for me. And the endive with goat cheese, orange segments, olive oil, and almonds was gorgeous--a terrific combination of flavors and textures and great quality ingredients. The garlic shrimp and cured meats were not spectacular, but perfectly good.

But the service... Oy. It bothered dad more than it bothered me, but it was truly, empirically awful. We were there Friday night, but at 5:00 pm, and the place wasn't even half full when we left an hour later.

Just one example: I ordered the three-sherry sampler. The busser who brought them couldn't tell me which sherry was which and the waiter didn't come back for over five minutes so I could ask him. As I worked my way through the sherries, I realized that two were the same. So I flagged down the waiter, who looked at me skeptically then spent an inordinate amount of time comparing the wines' colors (identical!) in the window. He finally took one back and brought another. It was, of course, the same one he'd taken back in the first place, so I sent it back again. Luckily the third (fourth?) time was the charm, but come ON. Incidentally, for each "send back" it took over five minutes to track the guy down and over five minutes for him to make the "exchange."

I think I'll return, but it will be with no expectations and to the bar where I can watch the pour myself. Sigh.

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Very disheartening, qwertyy.

I will be attending a "mom's night out" at the Bethesda location tomorrow. Not sure whether our dish selection will be terribly exciting as I will be with a bunch of very unadventurous eaters, but will report back tomorrow.

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Last Wednesday my wife and I hit the one in Crystal City (I think the service is better than the DC location, and I find the food to be the same quality (that was not always so). On this trip we went with the heavenly date fritters, the fried potatoes with pepper sauce, garlic shrimp, tuna in anchovy oil, and Serrano on tomato bread. We topped it all off with a pitcher of the Rose Cava Sangria. All of the dishes were a hit. At times the garlic shrimp are a bit over-down, but not on this trip. My only complaint would be that they took away the shrimp bowl before we could sop-up all of the oil with our bread.

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Very disheartening, qwertyy. 

I will be attending a "mom's night out" at the Bethesda location tomorrow.  Not sure whether our dish selection will be terribly exciting as I will be with a bunch of very unadventurous eaters, but will report back tomorrow.

Service in Bethesda can be pretty bad. When I was there yesterday with relatives (their choice, not mine), we waited almost half an hour for half of our dishes. The waitress said "they take longer to cook", but she came back with them 30 sec later, and they had cooled to room temp... The place was no more than 20% full. But to be fair the food was good. Try the seasonal specials of trumpet mushrooms with tomato confit, and the boneless pork rib and wheatberry stew.

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My only complaint would be that they took away the shrimp bowl before we could sop-up all of the oil with our bread.

That's what your fork is for--guard the bowl!

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Service in Bethesda can be pretty bad.  When I was there yesterday with relatives (their choice, not mine), we waited almost half an hour for half of our dishes.  The waitress said "they take longer to cook", but she came back with them 30 sec later, and they had cooled to room temp...

That's not good news either.

The last time we went to the Bethesda location the service seemed OK. That said, it was my husband's birthday, we were with close friends that we hadn't seen in a while, and we drank so much wine that our recollections are most likely suspect. <_<

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That's not good news either.

The last time we went to the Bethesda location the service seemed OK.  That said, it was my husband's birthday, we were with close friends that we hadn't seen in a while, and we drank so much wine that our recollections are most likely suspect.   <_<

I think that's the key. Get your drinks first, order the next round before your glass is empty, and just relax, ignore the service as much as possible, and let the night be about food and friends. It can work, and I think it's worth it there.

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I've gone twice recently before catching a movie at the Landmark. When I told my server that I had to be out the door in an hour to catch a movie, they were polite and responsive. Both times I received fine service and made my movie with time to spare.

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I've gone twice recently before catching a movie at the Landmark. When I told my server that I had to be out the door in an hour to catch a movie, they were polite and responsive. Both times I received fine service and made my movie with time to spare.

I'm glad to read that.

A few years ago, at one Sunday lunch when we were trying to catch a movie, we waited so long for our food - after the second, third, and fourth requests - after the manager got involved - that when the dishes finally started arriving the manager came back and told us that the entire meal was on the house. And we had not complained or asked for anything, other than "would you please check on our order?" I believe the problem was a brand-new waiter who lost our order three separate times. <_<

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