Food critic

This restaurant is in Tom Sietsema’s inaugural Hall of Fame.


Rossejat, a traditional “paella” of toasted pasta with shrimp and calamari, and a sandwich made with Jamon Iberico Fermin. (Dayna Smith/For the Washington Post)

Jaleo

(Excellent)

I know, I know, I’ve been singing its praises seemingly forever. But if there’s a better, all-purpose, more consistent place to eat in the heart of the city, I have yet to taste it. Specializing in Spanish tapas, the most senior of José Andrés’s restaurants has all sorts of demographics covered, from sworn carnivores and dedicated vegetarians to diners in search of deals. Respectively, those customers should check out housemade chorizo with olive oil-enriched mashed potatoes; the salad of apple, fennel and manchego cheese; and the three-course, pre-theater, Thursday through Sunday menu for $30. Then again, a patron can leave the choices to the kitchen with a sampling of popular dishes, starting at $55. Most impressive of all, perhaps, is how Jaleo continues to live up to the energy of its name after a quarter-century in business. Party on, amigos!

3 stars

Jaleo: 480 Seventh St. NW. 202-628-7949. jaleo.com.

Open: Lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, weekend brunch.

Prices: Small plates $3-$40.

Sound check: 77 decibels / Must speak with raised voice.

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The following review appeared in The Washington Post’s 2017 Fall Dining Guide.


A sandwich made with Jamon Iberico Fermin is one of the standbys on the diverse Spanish menu at Jaleo. (Dayna Smith/For the Washington Post)

Behind Jaleo’s exuberance is some seriously good cooking

(Excellent)

Pausing outside to study the party inside, a tourist calls out to the posse racing in front of him: “This looks like a nice place!” Before I can tell the stranger how much of a fan I am of the oldest and arguably liveliest restaurant in the D.C. empire of chef José Andrés, he follows his people into a lesser place to eat in Penn Quarter. Here’s what they’re missing: a model Spanish tortilla layered with potatoes, onions and a runny egg; a glossy salad of snow peas and shaved onions on an orange puddle of romesco; a plate of baby squid “straight from the south of Spain” that’s a testament to flawless frying. Sangria de lujo (luxury) comes with a table-side show, a bottle of Grenache poured into a half-pitcher of punch. The space is as fun as the food is serious. The bull’s head in the corner is sporting a mask.

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The following review appeared in The Washington Post’s 2016 Fall Dining Guide.


Rossejat, a traditional “paella” of toasted pasta with shrimp and calamari. (Dayna Smith/For the Washington Post)

A once-groundbreaking restaurant still does things right

Has it really been 23 years? My long relationship with the best tapas restaurant this side of the Atlantic has made me so familiar with the epic menu, I decided to let unknown diners compose my last meal here. En route to my table in the dining room, dressed to humor us with necklace-wearing faux bull heads and images of leaping people at the bar, I mentally recorded what fellow diners were eating; once seated in the fun house, some of their orders became mine. Two flutes of crackling bread layered with the prized ham of acorn-fed pigs are ham sandwiches as I imagine they’re made in heaven, and I nod in agreement when a server tells me the fetching mix of green apple, shaved fennel, crisp walnuts and nutty manchego is Jaleo’s most popular salad. Giving paella a run for its money is fideua, a shallow pan of fine short noodles dappled with sweet shrimp and garlicky aioli (and hiding tender squid in the mix). The lesson: If strangers can make such good calls, imagine the scrumptiousness that follows when you get suggestions from the staff.

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The following review appeared in The Washington Post’s 2015 Fall Dining Guide.


Jaleo on Seventh Street NW is home to D.C.’s finest tapas. (Joseph VIctor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post)

No D.C. restaurant fits its name better than Jaleo, which a sound check would translate as “Party!” and which still serves the finest tapas I’ve had outside Spain. Behold the glass-paved foosball tables, and bring on the salt cod fritters! From the bar comes a show-stopping, minty-fresh gin and tonic, and from the kitchen come little somethings for appetites of all persuasions, everything beautifully presented. Witness the edible painting of smoky red peppers, sweet onion and soft eggplant splashed with sherry dressing and heaped on toasted bread. Or marinated rabbit sweetened with apricot puree. Or spicy chorizo wrapped in fried potato — a pig-in-the-blanket for the ages. If you can’t ID something to like from the lot, you’re being impossible. Evenings find paellas, plus desserts that venture beyond flan to include chewy olive oil ice cream on pink grapefruit. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, if you’re tired of Jaleo, you’re tired of life.