One of the early reasons people went to graze in Penn Quarter, even before it was called Penn Quarter, was Jaleo. And this tapas party by José Andrés never lets you forget that its Spanish name translates as “fun.” Nowhere else do foosball tables double as eating counters, glass heads serve as bowls for citrus — or faces beam from restroom floors. The kitchen plays along, offering dozens of small plates that tap into every craving. A spicy bite of chorizo wrapped in fried potato improves on the usual pig-in-a-blanket; green beans taste regal when they’re dappled with Spanish goat cheese and heaped on romesco; and see-through circles of silken raw salmon, paved with pine nuts and capers, glisten beneath a drizzle of anchovy-lemon oil. For the ham-obsessed, Jaleo shaves the fabled meat from acorn-fed, black-hooved Iberico pigs. Meanwhile, the richest tuna salad in the city is one of multiple options on the three-course, pre-theater menu — a show of its own for $30. Sangria or albariño might be the obvious quaffs, but the bar does neat riffs on gin and tonics, one version of which is jazzy with ginger and allspice. Chasing all the new restaurants doesn’t leave me much time to spend with the tried-and-true, but if there’s one spot you’ll see me more than any other, it’s a barstool at one of the most spirited restaurants in town.
2013 Fall Dining Guide
2013 Fall Dining Guide By Tom Sietsema
October 10, 2013
"Look! A book signed by Escoffier!" says the big kid in chef's whites, otherwise known as Jose Andres, the vision behind the best tapas restaurant I know and a passionate student of gastronomy. Andres just happens to be in the buzzy dining room in Penn Quarter and spots me the night I drop in for garlicky shrimp and an omelet dotted with spicy pork sausage, and he just happens to be carrying a cookbook fragrant with old age. When he spies a fried calamari sandwich on my table, he flashes a smile and says it's what fueled him in the Spanish military; later in the evening, he brings over his latest find. "You must try this cheese!" he purrs, patting a small round of near-melting sheep's milk from the esteemed Finca Pascualete that, sure enough, rocks my world, too.
I can't guarantee the entrepreneur will be animating Jaleo when you're there. But I can promise the food and drink -- the bite-size cones of salmon roe and the artful gin and tonics -- will be just as divine. Even without the big cheese, Jaleo is a blast to behold.
Wow, this neighborhood has changed so much since Jaleo opened, and it's a LOT harder to get a table now. But the food's still tasty, the sherry is still interesting, the sangria is still well done, and the service is improved.
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