If there’s one thing you should know about the DC food scene, it’s that none of it would be possible without José Andres. He was doing big things in this city before it was trendy, and he has only continued to be an incredible inspiration to food lovers everywhere. In honor of José, I decided it was about time to go back to Jaleo, his first restaurant in the city, because it had been far too long…
The original Jaleo is located in Penn Quarter, and is honestly the sole reason why tapas have become cool. Jaleo is heavily influenced by Andres’ Spanish heritage, and with one glance at the menu, it is very apparent that every dish is wholly traditional. This is definitely not your watered down Spanish tapas place trying to meet a $100 per table check minimum by jacking up the price on your paella.
I started off my meal by ordering sangria, because it’s essentially a rite of passage any time you step foot in a Spanish restaurant. The sangria at Jaleo is especially notorious for being delicious, and you have to get it. End of story. I also ordered another wine-based cocktail called the “Memento” made with red wine, grapefruit, ginger, cloves, and mint. Even though both of these drinks used wine as their base, they had two completely different flavor profiles, which I really enjoyed.
One of my favorite things about tapas restaurants is that it’s socially acceptable to get a ton of dishes. I pretty much do that all the time anywhere I go, but it was cool feeling normal for a fleeting moment. I started the meal off with the Empedrat De Mongetes, which was a white bean dish with tomatoes and fresh herbs. The beans were cooked perfectly, and the acidity from the tomatoes evened out their creaminess well.
Next came the Tortilla De Patatas, which was completely different than any tortilla you’ve had in your life. In Spain, “tortilla” doesn’t refer to the thing you wrap your burrito in. On the contrary, a Spanish tortilla is kind of like the American omelette – an egg dish filled with whatever fixings, which in this case included potatoes and onions. I am a huge fan of potatoes in my omelettes because I am a carbaholic at heart, so this dish was particularly exciting for me.
The next round included the Bacalao Con Samfaina, and “liquid olives” inspired by famed molecular gastronomist, Ferran Adrià. These liquid olives were very peculiar. They had the consistency of oysters, and you ate them like oysters, but they definitely tasted just like olives. The resemblance was uncanny. I have no idea how these are made, but I would like to know. The bacalao, also known as cod, was fantastic, and the “Catalan” vegetable stew underneath was flavorful and filling.
Last came the Cordero Asado, Coliflor Salteada, and Lomo de Buey. In English, this translates respectively to Braised Lamb, Cauliflower, and Steak. I loved every single one of these, but if I had to choose, my favorite was the Cordero Asada. This braised lamb was some of the most tender meat I have ever had, and it was accompanied with some roasted potatoes, which you know I love.
The Lomo de Buey, or steak, was also incredible, and it was served atop some roasted piquillo peppers. Piquillo peppers are similar to bell peppers, but in my opinion they are far sweeter and more meaty.
The dessert round was fantastic as well. I usually never bother to look at the menu because I just assume everything has either gluten or dairy, but Jaleo was extremely accommodating. My server suggested a cherry sorbet, and a granita with fresh grapefruit. The granita dish came with olive oil ice cream, which my mom enjoyed on her own (yes, I brought my mom; she LOVES Jaleo), but it was easy to navigate around the dairy. The grapefruit was extremely fresh, and I particularly enjoyed the olive oil drizzle on top. The cherry sorbet was without a doubt some of the best sorbet I’ve had in my life, and the best part was that it was made in-house. If you’re a restaurant looking to win me over, make your sorbets and ice creams in-house rather than outsourcing. I will love you forever.
If you are from DC or have been living here for a while and consider yourself a permanent resident, a trip to Jaleo should basically be mandatory, right after enduring the DMV to get your Driver’s License. With nearly a hundred items, and a menu with a key that is extremely easy to navigate, Jaleo is one of the top gluten-free spots in the city.