Wednesday, May 4, 2011

DC Dining, Finally

Sorry I have been away awhile, kids. I've been caught up with party planning for our first game night here at the new place. Plus, yesterday was my birthday, so I had to go partake in some excellent local cuisine to celebrate. However, it's time to get back to business. So, let's move on.

Enter Jaleo.

Jaleo was a restaurant that I first heard about on Iron Chef. If you remember from my previous post, Jaleo's Executive Chef, Jose Andres, smacked down my future baby's daddy, Bobby Flay, during battle goat. When I heard that Andres' restaurant was in D.C., I just had to go.

Well, here we are!
Chef Andres' style is Spanish influenced. His restaurant is a tapas bar. Neither Jon, nor I, knew what that was. What we understood it to be was appetizer-like dishes, but we had more of a little fried finger foods. Perhaps like Mexican empanadas. Boy, were we in for a surprise.

Tapas is simply Spanish for appetizer. So basically, you order 4 or 5 dishes to share about the table so that you can focus on the conversation and not dive into your meal, so to speak. Well, let me just say that our waitress was crap, and if she would have explained that to us in the beginning, we might have enjoyed our time a little bit more. The service we received was terrible! After trying to get reservations unsuccessfully for three nights, we were greeted by a teenager and waitstaff in blue jeans. I don't care how good the food is, if the waitstaff sucks, a restaurant will tank.

The first thing we were served was a chewy bread (good) with a cup of olive oil. In the olive oil was a rosemary branch and a clove of garlic (skin still on and unroasted). While it was a beautiful presentation, the oil absorbed almost none of the flavors of the aromatics. Disappointing.

Presentation: B+, Taste: C

Like most restaurants we go to, we always order a cheese plate. I must have been a mouse or a Frenchie in a former life, because I live for cheese. We had a variety of cheeses, mostly of Spanish goat origin. The collection was reasonably priced with a variety of excellent flavor pairings and texture ranges. Score: A+

Squeeek! I mean squee!
Then we had to decide between a large variety of tapas (or small courses). After we finally flagged down our waitress, we asked about how many we should order. She recommended about 5 selections for a table of 2. Because we had ordered the cheese plate appetizer, we decided that each of us should picking 2 plates for the table. It was a personal goal of mine to pick one safe dish (something I knew I would enjoy) and one unsafe dish (something I had not tried before). Jon went with two safe dishes. We placed our order and leisurely ate on our cheese. We couldn't enjoy our cheese long though, because our tapas starting coming within 3 minutes, in a haphazard fashion.

My unsafe dish came out first, and coincidentally, was one of the restaurant's best sellers: Dátiles con tocino. Bacon wrapped dates, which are then battered and fried. The menu stated:‘Como hace todo el mundo’ (you will want to eat this every day). I have never eaten a date before, and with an endorsement like that, how could I not give it a whirl?

Well, six little fried dates arrived at our table within about 3 minutes of our order. They looked like little hushpuppies, plated on a white saucer with a white cocktail napkin. Presentation: F. They were, of course, molten initially. After giving them a chance to cool, I braved my first bite. The little date was chewy with a chewy bit of bacon on it. The batter was crispy, but a bit oily.  It was a sweeter dish than I would have expected given the bacon. They weren't fantastic but they were OK. Definitely not something I will be craving everyday. Taste: B.

Jedi Andres: "You will want to eat this every day."
Us: "Your mind tricks won't work on us Jedi."

Next up was one of Jon's safe dishes. He ordered Gambas al ajillo, "the very, very famous tapa of shrimp sautéed with garlic." Initially, this was going to be a straight Jon dish, because I don't like seafood. He received a small bowl of about 5 shrimp, which appeared to sauteed or boiled in a golden yellow sauce. One bite of the shrimp revealed an intense garlic flavor. There was no fishy flavor at all. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and were not chewy. Jon devoured them, giving me a couple bites while I forced down my dates. Presentation: B+. Flavor: A.

Perhaps this should have been labeled "eat every day"
  Next came out Jon's other order: Trigueros con romesco. (Grilled asparagus with romesco sauce). Romesco is a Spanish-style, tomato, bell pepper, and garlic sauce thickened with nuts or bread. Presentation: B. Flavor B. Basically, it tasted like grilled asparagus in a thick spaghetti sauce. Meh.

The final course was mine and I was very excited to see it come out. My safe order was Lomo Ibérico de bellota con manzanas. (Fresh loin from the legendary, acorn-fed, black-footed Ibérico pigs of Spain served with roasted apples.) It was also our most expensive tapa at $20. It looked fancy enough when came out, but the plate was white, the apples were blanched, and the pork was slightly browned. It would have looked much more impressive on a brightly colored plate. Presentation: B-

We are running out of room for all these little plates.

Now on to flavor. I am not going to to lie, it was the most tender piece of pork I have ever eaten. It was also the fattiest piece I've ever eaten. I imagine that comes from the acorns, which are very calorie rich. The meat had a good flavor, but as you can see in the photo, the portion size would have easily fit in the palm of my hand. A good half of it was fat, so there were only a few bites of actual meat. That was very disappoint ting considering the cost. Also, the "roasted apples" were really nothing more than a smear of apple sauce. Taste: B-.

By the time we had finished all our tapas, we were still hungry, but it had been more than 30 minutes since we had last seen our waitress. We saw some desserts go by, but our growing dissatisfaction with the service encouraged us to seek dessert elsewhere. After receiving our check of over $100 for basically 5 appetizers and 1 alcoholic beverage, we were pretty unhappy. It wasn't so much the price or quantity of the food that was so disappointing, really. I mean, we expected to pay more for less at an "upscale" restaurant. However, we expected better service and way better atmosphere. The waitstaff wore blue jeans for crying out loud! If I am going to go to a premium restaurant, I expect the staff to at least be wearing black slacks, not holey jeans. It was like we were eating at a Chili's for 4 times the price. Overall restaurant rating: C+. I was, naturally, quite devastated.

Jonathan and I ventured back into the chilly night air as we walked back to the train station. We took in the city a bit and discussed our expectations versus the results of our meal. Then, we happened to notice a little bakery that was bustling still at 9 p.m. We took a peek in the window:


We wandered in and ordered a chocolate, peanut butter cupcake for me, and a red velvet cupcake for Jon. Mine was pretty good, though a little dry. I imagine they would have tasted a little better earlier in the day (probably fresher). A nice local allowed me to photographer her holding the bakery's signature box.

"I'm going to be a hand model!?!?!"
The bakery had a nice discount for returning the box in an effort to go green. I can appreciate that. We consumed our cupcakes on the street as we made our way back to the hotel. It was a pleasant way to end the evening of our first Iron Chef quality meal.

1 comment:

  1. Happy better-late-than-never birthday!
    I love food adventures, though I haven't had one in forever, at least out. I did make some questionable oysters pastries the other day, though, so that might count.


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