I was visiting from out of town and tried this place on the recommendation of some chowhounders and really, really loved it. I went totally offal and had sweetbreads and blood sausage and tripe (3 different dishes all with distinctive sauces so nothing was alike) and then a caesar salad (mainly to feel virtuous after so much rich food). I ordered 2 glasses of the day's red wine special and when the second took too long to come, they comped me on it without my having complained or any such thing. The total was 32 for 4 tapas (fairly bountiful each) and the one glass of wine. No dish I had wasn't really delicious and none was more than ample in size. My out-of-towner view on this place is that it is really, really nice. I will go there the next time I have to be back in Washington in that area.
Thanks for the feedback. Those of us who recommend Jaleo get some flack from time to time that there's better in LA or NY or even Spain.
Since I don't live in those places, I can sure say Jaleo is a lot more convenient.
Oyamel flopped because the audience (mostly Federal/Pentagon contractors) didn't want the sort of edgy cuisine they were selling. However, Bebo Trattoria which currently resides in the old Oyamel space is doing very good business because they've struck just the right price/portion size/service point. The only downside is that they open at 11:30. Most Crystal City denizens arrive at work VERY early and are usually ready for lunch around 11.
Oyamel will do VERY well in Penn Quarter. If you want something more sophisticated than Jaleo and have the cash, this is your place.
I know that it sounds a little absurd to turn up one's nose at Jaleo when the only other option is a plane ticket, but here's my beef with it and other places of its kind here: it's what I think of as the metrosexualization of tapas.
I've been to several different parts of Spain (basque country, southeast coast, and central-madrid), and this is what I've perceived as "authentic tapas": the restaurant is seated meson (big table in espanol)-style; that is, there are several long, wooden rectangular tables where all the patrons are seated, and a bar, where there are plates and plates arrayed with the various tapas of the day, everything from fresh squid to jamon serrano to quail eggs, and the requisite taps for Amstel/San Miguel/etc. Patrons order straight from the bar, and items not on display can be ordered at the bar or from a waitress. This results in a place where all restaurantgoers sit or stand together, and, god forbid, may even interact with each other, while they eat small portions of hearty tapas.
Now, this was my experience at the maryland location of jaleo: patrons are seated at individual tables in the midst of what looks like a pier 1 showroom, lit up in bold reds to look all spanish-like. They sip on overpriced sangria while checking items off the menu card, which they then hand to the waitress. A few minutes later, a guy who doesn't even speak english will unceremoniously dump a few plates of your order onto the table and vanish. Portions are smaller and more expensive, and a lot of items on the menu trade authenticity for an appearance of being cutting-edge and gourmet. All and all, this did not leave me satisfied.
Yeah, I know I'm getting whiny here, and my personal experience even contradicts the top poster, especially with regard to the portions. But I'd really just like to find a less pretentious way to eat what is usually an unpretentious, common style of food in its home country.
I don't think you're whiny at all and I agree 100% with what you've written. Unfortunately, I think that if you were to transplant an authentic tapas place from Madrid or Barcelona, it would fail, and for the very reasons you've cited. It's the same reason why Acadiana serves "Louisiana inspired" cuisine: the K Street lawyer crowd doesn't want to pick the heads off their shrimp and get gumbo juice on their suits. As far as tapas places go, Americans have very small personal contact zones and like their privacy, so small tables are the norm. The American tapas customer also wants small portions of what they perceive as sophisticated food. And a lot of people are not interested in a big entree (for weight reasons), and would rather have a few bites of something with a glass of wine. This is why tapas is the new steakhouse: restaurants are always looking for ways to charge more for smaller portions.
We have a long tradition of "americanizing" foreign dishes, and tapas is no exception.
This exact same phenomena can be found at Dino. They sell for $5 the same cichetti found in any back ally Venice bar for 1 Euro. More to the point, there is no opportunity of mixing it up with the gang because each party is seated at individual tables. I would add that it people WOULD like less privacy if shown the possibilty of a more commuinity atmosphere - the problem is many don't know it exist becuase they only have the current business model as a frame of reference.
I love to hear about authenticity. Some of what you write is fascinating and wonderful and I'm jealous of your travels, and I'm also a bit relieved to hear that Spanish food and the entire experience is still better in Spain.
But some of what you write is whining. "Overpriced" "smaller portions and more expensive" compared to a market that is appreciably different than ours is whining. Yes, I'd like it to be less expensive too. And portion size: you should see what the tapas are like at Las Culebrinas in Miami. One is enough to feed a family of five.
But you know what? I can still eat at Jaleo downtown for less than I'd spend anywhere else in the neighborhood and have a meal that is at least twice as good.
To me, the cooking is completely rustic and simply presented, even when that works out to look beautiful. So I'm not sure what you mean by the attempts at "cutting edge" or "gourmet."
As far as the ability of your server to speak English, well, I can only hope you appreciate the irony of that comment. My guess is that his Spanish was pretty darn good!
Hey, bgn -- How did you like the food?
Jose Andres, who knows something about Spanish tapas bars, has not tried to recreate them in his Jaleos. What he has tried to do is to use his knowledge of and love for Spanish cooking to create the sort of D.C. restaurant that he wanted to run, and that he (correctly) thought would be successful here.
Of course the dollar-to-volume-of-food ratio is different here than in (most of) Spain. This ain't Spain. But I typically come away from Jaleo thinking that it's one of the best bangs for my back in town. One can get a *lot* of delicious food and drink for under $40 there. (BTW, try the white sangria or the amontillado; skip the red sangria.)
Good observations all. And martyl, barring all that I've previously said, I found that the food was good. I'd certainly give Jaleo another chance, just with different expectations in mind, namely:
- This is a Spanish-*inspired* tapas joint, not an authentic Spanish restaurant.
-This is DC, and shit can be expensive. (I moved here from central Virginia three months ago, so I'm still getting used to some things).
And let's not forget: Spanish beer totally sucks.
BGN, I agree with your points about real Spanish tapas, but in my view, a lot of what Jaleo serves is better. Many bars in Spain will happily serve you an old tortilla espanola, maybe re-heated in a microwave, and floppy.
San Miguel is bad beer, Cruzcampo is bad beer, Mahou is bad beer. I'm happy to be in the US, sometimes!
As the original poster, I just wanted to add some observations:
I know I am not getting "authentic" by not ordering tapas in Spain, but:
a. as someone who doesn't like bland food, I found the tastes at Jaleo to be comparatively distinctive compared to many US places. I have travelled and lived in Europe and thought Jaleo's tastes were not that Americanized;
b. I am a big eater and did not find their portions overly small. I have just lived 2 years in LA and 2 years in NY and there "tapas" really are small and are clearly a way to charge more for less. I did not feel this to be the case at Jaleo. I ate well and for about $20 less than a less filling meal would be in NY or LA;
c. I take to heart the posters' worries about the lack of communal dining in US tapas. I must say, though, that I had asked in an earlier post about coming to that area in DC for a place where I could do work while eating (I was behind on a project that absolutely had to get done) and Jaleo was perfect for that. It clearly doesn't encourage big communal encounters among strangers and that was just fine for me the night I was there. I actually often need a table for one where I can continue to do work, and I am often glad when a restaurant accomodates the single diner. Jaleo was great at doing that.
OK, this thread DID get a little side tracked....
I should have mentioned in my post that I LOVE the food at Jaleo.
For that matter, I love the food at Dino.
Heck, I even love the food at Acadiana - though "inspired by" or not, there is never ANY excuse for a restaurant removing shrimp heads!
I have to admit I have eaten about 5 times at Jaleo (Gallery Place and Bethesda locations), and each time, I have not been impressed by food quality or service (which is always essential to the dining experience). I've given Jaleo many chances to change my mind, and they have never really cut it for me. I've always wondered if it was a bit overrated because of the novelty of it when it first appeared many years ago in the still developing Chinatown area.
On the other hand, no one has mentioned La Taverna del Alabardero over on 17th St between H and I Streets (Farragut West metro). That is a place that is excellent and resembles my food experience in Spain! It's the best Spanish food in town even though it is on the pricier side (compared to Jaleo). Their sangria is great and the food is decadently delish. Service is top as well, which makes a huge difference. :)
I like Taberna (on 18th st) for the 1/2 price happy hour tapas, particularly the patatas bravas and the anchovies. Taberna is famous for underseasoning the food, so I think it is possible to eat very well there but to go for more exotic dishes like rabbit or razor clams. A piece of beef is going to be monotonous slab.
You may be asking too much of Jaleo, artistique. It is what it is, and that's a tapas place, not a place to dine.
The food is out of the ordinary and interesting, the atmosphere is fun and energetic.
It's a great place to go before or after the theatre or a cocktail party where you didn't get enough to eat but had too much to want to go out for dinner. I really find it enjoyable for that.
And exactly what the OP wanted - he could work while he ate, like in a coffeehouse or casual restaurant.
Now, Taberna! That's a place to eat fine Spanish food. Some say the best in the US probably because of the Spanish diplomats and natives in DC who want the alta cocina that reminds them of home with the elegant service to match.
Not a place just to order paella and what we've come to think of as Spanish food from eating tapas. Worth the money, but actually not that much more than a bunch of small plates and definitely worth the difference.