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Al Dente

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

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I hadn't been since the renovations to to the Penn Quarter location but found myself in the area at the end of the summer with a "Starving" 6 year old at 2:00 PM.  (Never mind that he had eaten enough meatballs 2 hours earlier at my office...)

Despiste his mixed feelings about tapas in the past, I offered him a choice between "spanish snacks" or "hunks of cooked meat" (Hill Country).  He picked the snacks and in a moment of my own hunger, we ordered the RW menu.

We had gazpacho, a tuna salad, garlic shrimp, squid, croquettes and pork loin.  He refused to try the shrimp but everything else was a hit and I had to fight for my share.  He also loved the flan (which I told him was like panna cotta).  It was a great success and the service was quite good.  By the time we were done, the Penn Quarter Market was home and he was delighted to go explore there for a bit.

I'm going to be broke by the time he's a teenager.

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We haven't been to Jaleo in years, but last night we went to the Crystal City location for their Paella Sunday deal. What a deal it was! For $20 each, you get a small glass of gazpacho, choice of salad, and either the vegetable or chicken and mushroom paella, with flan for dessert.

I didn't have the gazpacho, due to my gluten-intolerance, but my husband said it was delicious. We both had the beet salad with Valdeon blue cheese, pistachios, citrus and a sherry vinaigrette. That was wonderful--the best beet salad I've had in recent memory.  It was light and bright, with a nice balance of acid and well-seasoned. I didn't think I'd eat the whole thing, but I managed.  The chicken and mushroom paella was huge, and full of mushrooms (I detected shiitakes and chanterelles), which gave the whole dish a very earthy quality. The chicken was plentiful and tasty. We took almost half of it home with us. I've had many flan preparations, and this was my favorite. It was not overly sweet, as many are, and the Catalan cream was light and airy and lightly sweetened.

I'm very grateful that they have a gluten-free version of their menu, and that our server seemed well-trained in that area. That was a huge help to me. But a word of warning to others with gluten problems: The beer labelled "guten-free" on the menu, Estrella Damm Daura, is made with barley, and tests at 6 ppm. That doesn't seem like much, but I've tried it twice and reacted to it twice. YMMV, but it would be nice if they would offer one more truly gluten-free beer.

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I know this is kind of old territory, since Jaleo has been around forever, but I just wanted to pipe in and talk about my recent experience. I go here fairly frequently but recently I brought my mom who hasn't been to DC in ages, and her restaurant choices in Hartford are OK, but not spectacular.

I gotta tell you, Jaleo is still my favorite restaurant in DC. Just everything about it is great. I still love Zaytinaya, but the décor is starting to get some wear and tear that takes away from the experience (worn tables that wobble) and the space can be really noisy, which is why I usually go in warmer months on their patio.   That is why I am glad Jaleo had a makeover so it looks great again, and with that whimsical/spartan Andres style.

The food is simply fantastic. Yes tapas isn't as buzzed about in DC anymore, but I love it and no one does it better. It's the combination of classic Spanish tapas (patatas bravas, flautas, etc.) but also the eccentrically inspired Jose Andres takes (liquid olives, Spanish mini burger). Also, his 5 different gin and tonics are absolutely inspired. I also love reading Andres's menus. The way he writes about his menu choices really inspires you. For instance, read this and try NOT to order a paella:

When I was a young boy, I used to help my father cook the best-known dish in Spanish cuisine: paella. He would put me in charge of the open fire where we would cook for our friends and family. This is where I learned the art of controlling the heat, a skill needed by any chef. While heat is important to creating the perfect paella, the real star is the rice. Bomba from Valencia or Calasparra from Murcia are the best to absorb all the amazing flavors and to keep a perfect texture. Â¡Buen provecho! - José Andrés

I almost forgot why I loved this place so much until I took my mother. The wonderment when she put a liquid olive in her mouth, or the amazement at trying  the oysters with lemon, gin and tonic reminded me of when I first tasted it, akin to the 7 year old me watching star wars for the first time.

I also kind of like that it's not as "trendy" as say Roses Luxury, or even China Chilcano, as you can almost always find s spot at the bar, order a handful of tapas and just enjoy yourself. I always say to myself, if my wife and I move to New York, wed be excited about the world of food opening up to us, but I would miss Jaleo most of all. 

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A few days ago I was faced with what I considered a hard task: get a not-too-fancy 6pm Saturday reservation in close-in NoVA for six people, including one vegetarian, three (including the veg and me) who care deeply about food, and three out-of-towners who were described as being non-adventuresome eaters.  I suggested Vietnamese (thinking of Minh's) and was told that this might be too weird, so I thought further.

Let me just say that I am glad that I thought of Jaleo Crystal City.

It is the perfect place to meet up with out-of-towners on this sort of mission.  Get some bread-with-tomato, some potatas bravas and some grilled chicken, to convince everyone that it will be ok; and then go broader from there.  The service was friendly, the food was great, and by the end I even had the out-of-towners each eating (and enjoying, or at least pretending to enjoy) a Ferran Adria pseudo-olive.

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After a Second City performance at Wooly Mammoth, we went over to Jaleo for a late afternoon snack. We had some salchichon, tomato bread, a cheese (Rey Silo Rojo), and the liquid olives just for kicks.

I got to say, we had a great time and the food was delicious. I hadn't been to Jaleo in, I dunno, six or seven years, but I was pleasantly surprised how good it was since the place doesn't seem to get much love anymore. We sat at the bar where my companion had the Jose's Gin & Tonic which looked beautiful with the large crystal clear ice cube, juniper berries, and sprigs of fresh lemon verbena.

But what's with the images of peoples' legs and feet (and dirty shoes) on the wall over the bar and on the bathroom floors? It seemed jarringly out of place.

Anyway, I'd like to go back soon and explore the menu some more. It seems like they're doing it up right.

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Thinking about Al Dente's comment as to why Jaleo doesn't get much love.  Seems to me it's the classic place that's just taken for granted as it trudges along providing excellent food and decent value without a lot of press or flashiness.  This thread was started 10 years ago!  How many restaurants provide this kind of quality for this long?  Impressive.

I've been there approaching 10 times and have never had a meal I did not enjoy.  And it seems most of the reviews on this thread also give positive reviews.

Like Jose Andres or not, he and his empire are doing all the right things with Jaleo.  I'm sure he's happy with his "boring" success.  And I like that it's always there for a nice meal when I don't want to seek out the restaurant du jour.

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A $14 gin and tonic?  Is this what it has come to?  I suppose it is better than the $20 gin and tonic in Las Vegas.

attachicon.gifScreenshot 2015-09-05 at 11.32.52.png

Well it is an expensive gin and tonic but consider some of the other elements:

First he is using citadelle.  I like that gin; I do like it for gin and tonics made with a great tonic.  They are using fever tree.  That is expensive.  In fact the fever tree might be more expensive in the drink than the gin in this case.  Citadelle btw goes for about $35 for the large 1.75 litre bottle.   That is almost 60 oz, so if they are doing a 1.5 oz pour that is about 40 gin and tonics at a little less than $1/pour.  I bet the fever tree might be more expensive.

But consider for dining out:

We all know the restaurant pays rent:  Everyone comments on it.  They also pay:

1.  The complete costs of Real estate taxes per foot.  Certainly several dollars/foot

2.  Utilities including electric and gas.  Certainly several dollars/foot.

3.  Some management fee to the building for whatever it is the building provides.

4.  Maintenance contracts for all their equipment in and out of the equipment.  Expensive and especially expensive when things break or one needs a lot of labor.

5.  Labor costs for all the staff;   I know the staff doesn't make a lot per hour, but there are a lot of staff in a restaurant like this:   You are paying for the prep time before the meal:  somebody is cutting the garnishes and splitting the herbs, all before we dine.

6.  Replacement costs for dishware, glassware, silverware, etc.   That stuff chips, breaks, gets dented and bent all the time.   That is an ongoing cost.

7.  The drink has a sip stick and a bev nap (beverage napkin) or a coaster.  Not much but it costs.

8.  SALARIES.   In a restaurant of this type there is a lot of staff.

9.  A fair amount of middle management.  Those salaries are higher.  (btw:  we were speaking with some of the staffing people who hire from the bar school for caterers and events, and they also recruit middle management and chefs.    The bigger restaurants and chains are all faced with hiring more people from out of town.   We are straining the local talent with experience with all these new restaurants.

10.  They have publicists and possibly "arrangements" with tour groups or hotels or whatnot to spur visits.   They have accountants and management staff all working on aspects to keep all the restaurants busy, supplied and staffed.

And then there are one hundred other items.

Now it IS a lot of markup.   But if the restaurant isn't doing volume, it really doesn't cover the costs.    We can make really great G &T's at home with really great ingredients for a fraction of the cost....but then we aren't dining out.   Its sort of why I really like great customer service to accompany all those markups.

btw:  I have an overactive math head.  Sometimes I know ingredient costs, and when I can my head starts calculating "markups".   Always silently   :D      But it really is why I like great customer service on top of the dining experience.   Also, over the years I've been to the different Jaleo locations.   I've always enjoyed the dinner and the dining experience.

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 But it really is why I like great customer service on top of the dining experience.   Also, over the years I've been to the different Jaleo locations.   I've always enjoyed the dinner and the dining experience.

Agreed,  My daughter and I sat at the bar in the Crystal City location on Saturday.  We shared the Gambas al ajillo (shrimp sautéed with garlic), Vieiras con cus cus de coliflor (seared scallops with sautéed cauliflower), Atíºn con ajonjolí­ y piquillos confitados (sesame-crusted Ahi tuna), and Lubina donostiarra (seared bass), all of which we agreed were expertly prepared and sauced.  The best part was that only the tuna cost more than a gin & tonic (the others costing the same as that beverage or slightly less).  Try as I might I could not convince her to try one of the liquid olives.

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Agreed,  My daughter and I sat at the bar in the Crystal City location on Saturday.  We shared the Gambas al ajillo (shrimp sautéed with garlic), Vieiras con cus cus de coliflor (seared scallops with sautéed cauliflower), Atíºn con ajonjolí­ y piquillos confitados (sesame-crusted Ahi tuna), and Lubina donostiarra (seared bass), all of which we agreed were expertly prepared and sauced.  The best part was that only the tuna cost more than a gin & tonic (the others costing the same as that beverage or slightly less).  Try as I might I could not convince her to try one of the liquid olives.

That dinner sounded like a lot of fun!!!!

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2 hours ago, DonRocks said:

The first time I went to Amada in Philly, it was disappointing, and honestly not much better than Jaleo; the second time I went, it was notably better than Jaleo.

I've been to Amada three times, once with Garces in the house. There are a few individual dishes they do better than Jaleo, but I find Jaleo significantly better than Amada overall.

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LOVED the oxtail croqueta special that I had at lunch in Crystal City the other day -- rich and creamy but not overwhelmingly so.  The tortilla del dia with "seasonal" asparagus was not their best effort though.  I avoid ordering any of their sandwich or rice dishes because the olive oil that they provide with bread is sooooo tasty (albeit quite salty for most palates, if not mine).

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On 11/10/2016 at 2:50 PM, silentbob said:

I avoid ordering any of their sandwich or rice dishes because the olive oil that they provide with bread is sooooo tasty (albeit quite salty for most palates, if not mine).

Heck, sometimes I go there just for the olive oil and bread. It's deliciously addictive.

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Went recently to the Bethesda location. When did their portion sizes become so huge? It used to be ordering 3 per person made sense, 4 even depending on what you ordered. Now it seems like 2 is more accurate. Grrr.

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On 9/5/2015 at 10:59 AM, dcs said:

A $14 gin and tonic?  Is this what it has come to?  I suppose it is better than the $20 gin and tonic in Las Vegas.

post-2-0-84309300-1441466459_thumb.png

Jaleo Spring Gin & Tonic Festival.  It sounds like only the gin tasting is complimentary, and that you will have to pay full price for the regular gin & tonic, now running $15, but I have no definitive word on that.

Quote

BETHESDA  |  WASHINGTON, DC  |  CRYSTAL CITY
SPRING GIN & TONIC FESTIVAL
April 09 - 15, 2018

Spring Gin & Tonic 
April 9 -15
A week celebrating the official cocktail of Jaleo!

In partnership with Ginworld’s DC Gin Week, DC-area Jaleos will be hosting complimentary gin tastings at the bar from 4-7 PM. Stop by for a taste and stay for one of our featured cocktails, including the Early Bird G&T (Gin+Strawberry tonic), back just for spring. Full schedule below:

Jaleo DC
Monday, April 9: Green Hat
Tuesday, April 10: Gin Mare
Wednesday, April 11 & Thursday, April 12: Ford’s Gin

Jaleo Crystal City
Monday, April 9: Ford’s Gin
Thursday, April 12: Barr Hill

Jaleo Bethesda
Monday, April 9: Gin Mare
Tuesday, April 10: Ford’s Gin
Thursday, April 12: Green Hat 

 

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I went to the tasting in Crystal city - Got a full size G&T from the Ford's Gin guy and talked bitters and Gin and Tonics with him for a bit - will stop by Thursday for my Barr hill tasting!

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Went to the Bethesda locale after about a five year hiatus.  Have to say that it was significantly better than it had been the few times I went back then. Ordered the sautéed spinach (this is always great), Pan con tomate, Caulifower with olives, dates, and paprika (also very good), chorizo wrapped in potato, Chorizo with puree, salmon fillet, croquettes, and also had the special truffle menu item of poached egg, puree, sautéed mushrooms, and shaved black truffle.  Definitely a strong enough dinner to win a place back on the dining rotation.  Not sure why this one had languished so much earlier, but this was much, much improved.

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The suburban Jaleos were mediocre for many years. I believe it's Jose Andres' fairly recent upshot in fame that has enabled ThinkFoodGroup to hire top-level restaurant workers (both Latino and otherwise) much more easily - think about it: That's a logical result of all that he has done.

My most recent meal in Crystal City was very good also.

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Good to know about the Crystal City location.  I went there about 8 years ago and thought it was terrible.  Never went back.  Now I may give it another try.

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