Monday, August 26, 2013

Jaleo Bethesda Food Review

Jaleo - Bethesda

Two decades ago, before Café Atlántico, minibar and my beloved Zaytinya, José Andrés introduced the nation's capital to Spanish cuisine with Jaleo. Eight years later, he expanded into Bethesda, leading a suburban culinary revolution that has DC shaking in its collective boots. I recently learned that the Bethesda location is set to undergo some changes (Jaleo will close for six days, September 3-8... before reopening on Monday, the 9th.) So many memories (my first shark) I had to visit one more time: If only it were still Restaurant Week...

Well, color me with paint! Jaleo decided to extend Restaurant Week until September 1st, allowing me a pseudo-swan song with some of my old favorites. I stopped by just after their 11:30 AM opening (I like to avoid crowds) and was escorted to a window table by Jaleo's host. From there I met my server Laura, a ten year veteran who's seen it all, yet still has a newbie's exuberance and smile: How nice to be helped by someone who loves working where she does. It didn't take long to trade stories, then place an enthusiastic order for three tapas and dessert (plus a Diet Coke.) $20.13 for four courses? Why can't we make it Restaurant month or... year? I should start a petition!

Gazpacho estilo Algeciras

Unlike most restaurants, Jaleo offers a wide selection to choose from... Four choices for each course. Decisions, decisions. I settled on Gazpacho to start, followed by a classic Patatas Bravas and Fried Dates wrapped in Bacon atop the most glorious apple-mustard sauce ever constructed. I left dessert up to Laura.

Patatas bravas

Before we get to the food, allow me to applaud some of the best service in the area. Everyone is polite (even someone washing the windows, stopped to smile and wave) and professional. I stress the latter, because Jaleo is one of those rare places that manages to do both equally well: It's almost like eating at someone's home... someone who knows a thing or two about making everyone feel welcome.

My Gazpacho arrived with the usual (but still impressive) presentation I've enjoyed many times before. Chilled soup isn't one of my favorite things to eat, but I smiled with each and every spoonful. Kudos for mini bites of bread and tomato and the reassuring shine of olive oil.

Dátiles con tocino ‘como hace todo el mundo’

On to Patatas Bravas, a dish I've come close to mastering at home (but without matching the perfect frying found at Jaleo... it's the blanching, don't you know.) Tiny bites of potato, with just a hint of salt and covered with alioli and a zesty tomato sauce. Truth be told, I prefer more tomato than alioli, but I cleared my plate in record time. The trick to a great lunch is pacing yourself... Good luck, when the food's this good.

In between courses, Laura and others checked in to see how I was doing. Plates are quickly taken away, but never once did I feel rushed. The staff at Jaleo has timing down to a science. Water refills? I never saw my glass half-empty. P.S. Thanks for a sensible portion of soda: I'm trying to cut down; and who better to emulate than Europeans, when it comes to avoiding excess. Food portion sizes are perfect also.

Next up, fried dates wrapped in bacon. I almost went with the seared salmon; but one bite of the apple-mustard sauce more than validated my decision. The dates were sweet and chewy; and although the bacon's hard to spot, the batter was void of any greasiness. You could rename them "Heaven poppers" for obvious reasons. I googled apple-mustard sauce less than 30 minutes after lunch. Something tells me it won't be the same; but you have to try, don't you?

Helados y sorbetes
Last but not least, dessert. I left the flavors up to Laura, who didn't let me down. Two sorbets and a scoop of decadent vanilla ice cream, a sprig of mint and a Catalan crisp (think biscotti.) Don't skip the mint, it takes the sorbet to a whole other level. I heaped praise upon Laura, paid the bill ($23.99 + $6.01 tip) and promised to return after the refurbishment. I can't wait to see what José and ThinkFoodGroup come up with (I've heard rumors of Spanish art and foosball tables.) Just don't take away your chorizo and olive oil ice cream with grapefruit.