Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dinner with the Spanish Ambassador

To many in DC, Chef José Andrés is known as the “unofficial Spanish ambassador.” In these parts, being unofficial makes you more likable, because you can’t ignore parking signs or speed limits and, unlike us mere mortals, get away with it. But even if Chef Andres was the actual ambassador, I think it would be tough for anyone to hold it against him, especially once they tried his food.

This past Friday night, Elliot and I were able to indulge; his mother and step-father were in town for the weekend. And as they're just as big of foodies as we are, there was only one true mandate when it came to planning our itinerary: great restaurants. Also, his mom is a big Top Chef fan, so it made sense to keep the momentum going from Andrés’s recent appearance on the show and head to Jaleo.

From start to finish, the entire experience at Jaleo lived up to Chef Andrés’s reputation. The carafe of sangria was not only poured with precision, but the taste of the fruity wine punch bordered on perfection, with the little bits of fresh fruit adding to the already magnificent flavor. Each bite of the patatas bravas had just the right amount of spice mixed with the garlic aioli. Chef Andrés says that you will want to eat his fried dates wrapped in bacon every day. I can guarantee you... he isn't lying.

Elliot's step-father suggested we try Jaleo's version of paella. Although I have dined here many times, I have never tried this traditional Spanish dish. The paella needs to be ordered almost immediately upon sitting down because it takes at least 30 minutes for the dish to be cooked. Let me tell you right here and now that the wait was worth every millisecond. The large dish of rice, chicken and mushrooms came out piping hot and was served on top of garlic aioli. (Side note: This was a brilliant move. Layering the aioli onto the plate before serving the paella means that the dish effectively cooks in the additional ingredient.) As everyone took their first bites, it was evident from all of our faces that this was an entree that was executed to perfection.

Although we got to the restaurant right after happy hour, it is only appropriate that I share with you that their “Jaleo Hour” is well worth the claustrophobia that tends to surround the bar from 4:30 – 7pm. The sangria flows at the liberal price of $4 a glass and a handful of tapas plates (including the bacon wrapped dates and patatas bravas) are offered for $5. Some drinks and a few noshes can easily turn into great meal on a budget.

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