I travel to Washington DC quite frequently for work, and usually end up staying either near our offices in Bethesda or near Reagan Airport in Crystal City. In both locations, there is an outpost of Jose Andres' Jaleo (tapas) nearby. As a result, I end up eating there usually twice a year for lunch, and twice a year for dinner.
Last week, I had dinner at the Crystal City location. Tapas on one's own is tricky, but it had been a long day so I decided to approach it like a tasting menu. I ordered 3 items to start and then 2 more, and the waiter had the kitchen prepare them sequentially. Sadly, I have no photos to share with you.
1. Gazpacho de remolacha con queso de cabra y naranjas - Chilled red beet soup with goat cheese and oranges
This was a very intense offering, and I'm not sure how they would have served this in a sharing style. The warm goat cheese, oranges, and chunks of beet were brought in the serving bowl, and then the soup itself was poured over it tableside. I was concerned about this course being too much of a juice, but it wasn't. It was still intense like a juice, but there were enough additional flavors to cut it, and there was definitely an oil of some sort added to the mix. The beets appeared to have had been simmered and then chilled. A-
2. Gambas al ajillo - Shrimp sautéed with garlic
It is very difficult for me to have tapas without having gambas al ajillo, ever since having it Madrid nearly two decades ago. Jaleo does not present it in the traditional individual ramekin, but instead plated. They are tiny shrimp, as they were in Madrid and in most places where I've had the dish, and the oil and garlic mixture was excellent. But it lacked the clearness of some of the best preparations, and I think serving on a room temperature plate had something to do with that. I doubt I'll order it again for a while. B-
3. Arroz de pato ‘Jean-Louis Palladin’ - Rice with duck confit, duck breast and foie gras cream
The highlight of the evening. Almost a risotto preparation, with that nutty kind of taste to the pan-toasted rice. The portion duck breast was ultra-thin and seared crispy, creating a cruncy texture that was then offset by the delicious foie gras cream. The portion side was surprisingly large, at least 1/2 of what one would consider a 'dinner entree' portions and definitely enough to serve as an appetizer portion for three people. A.
4. Butifarra casera con mongetes ‘Daniel Patrick Moynihan’ - Homemade grilled pork sausage, with sautéed white beans
As with the shrimp, it is diffiicult for me to have tapas without at least one pork product. I've had this sausage as a lunch special many times before. It's a solid item, perfectly charred with a relatively coarse grind, probably five to a pound. Their lunch version of this dish would fit in perfectly at Hot Doug's. The white beans are just ok, and give a pleasant textural contrast, but I'd rather have some carmelized onion. A- for the sausage, B- for the beans, so B+ overall.
5. Garrotxa (Catalunya) - Semi-soft goat’s milk cheese, with delicate flavors of milk and a hint of nuttiness
Instead of a dessert item, I finished with a cheese, although I did pair a little bit of it with the sausage. Very tasty and the sweetened reconstituted dried apricots made for just enough of a dessert feeling. But the portion size at 1 ounce for $7 was a bit small. B
I wasn't drinking wine as I was getting over a flu, so the total for the five courses came out to $49 plus tip. At that price, I felt it was a very solid meal that gave me a diverse set of flavors and textures without a true clunker in the bunch. While I've previously skipped Jaleo for dinner when I'm alone, I can see myself taking this type of quasi-tasting approach on an annual basis.
2250 A Crystal Drive
Arlington, VA 22202
7271 Woodmont Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814
480 7th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20004
"You may not want to take its picture, but you really want to eat it." - Nigella Lawson