“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.