Spanish Tapas – Tasting Menu at Jaleo D.C.

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On the last morning of the United States Personal Chef Association conference I made a reservation for 4 at Jaleo D.C. Friends on Facebook had commented that while in D.C. I HAD to get into Jaleo to eat.

I met so many fantastic people at the conference. There were three chefs I dined with on the first evening of the conference that I really bonded with over the weekend: Chef Barbara from New York, Chef Lester from Massachusetts and Chef Sharon from Georgia So the four of us set out in a taxi with a rather entertaining taxi driver to dine together one last time before leaving D.C. It certainly was a meal and evening to remember!

Upon entering Jaleo we were immediately seated in the front of the restaurant next to a couple, originally from Cuba, that had driven 3 hours just to come eat paella. We established high expectations of the tapas we were about to consume before we’d even glanced at the menu. The four of us spent a long time reviewing the menu, trying to decide how we were going to go about tasting as much as possible. We knew we wanted a paella, so we immediately put in an order for the only Paella still available that evening, Black Paella.

We had such a difficult time making choices of what to try first. Our server, sensing our wishy-washiness, offered us the Chef Tasting Menu – a variety of tapas, each of which the head chef would introduce to us at our table. We immediately jumped on the opportunity. THEN our server offered us a wine tasting menu to complement the dishes. At that moment we all knew we had to indulge.

And the tapas adventure quickly began.  The chef came to our table and introduced each “set” of plates (following the order of the selections on the menu). A detailed description of each wine was given to us by the restaurant manager, who had just returned from a trip to Spain. By the end of the evening we had oooooohed and aaaaaaahed over 15 savory tapas, 3 desserts and 6 wines.

Our first three tapas: Pastry cones filled with salmon tartare and trout roe, pastry cones filled with La Serena cheese and quince paste, Pan de Cristal, and a plate of three Spanish cured meats. The pastry cones were my favorite of this set of tapas. You bite into this crunchy, lite cone and are met with creamy, brilliant flavors.


The next set of plates to arrive: Mussels served with pipirrano, sherry dressing and honey; endive with goat cheese, oranges and almonds; and roasted sweet onions with pine nuts and blue cheese. The flavor combinations and textures in each of these tapas were perfect. Of this set of tapas, the roasted onions were my favorite, with the mussels coming in a really close second place.


Then came the “Frituras” (the fried selections): Chicken fritters served in a very fun glass tennis shoe; empanadas of cod brandade with honey; and spicy chorizo wrapped in crispy potato.  I couldn’t pick a favorite here; they were all fried to perfection. We were all tilting the cone the empanadas came in to get more honey; the honey was the perfect complement to the creamy cod filling and the crunchy dough. The aoili at Jaleo is amazing. At this point we weren’t being bashful and there were some fingers running along plates to scoop up remaining dots of sauces.


We asked our server to slow things down as were were feeling a little “rushed” by the pace of dishes arriving to our table. We wanted to analyze and discuss each bite. We wanted to savor each dish.

The next three selections: The iconic tapa – Spanish Gambas al ajillo (shrimp sauteed with garlic); sauteed seasonal mushrooms with La Serena potato puree; and Canary-Island style rabbit confit with apricot puree. I have never been a fan of eating rabbit but I could eat that rabbit confit 3 meals a day for days on end before I tired of those flavors.


Our last three savory plates arrived at a calm pace, individually: Spanish pork sliders, Patatas bravas, and Arroz Negro (black rice with porcini mushrooms, cuttlefish and squid ink). This paella is far from a traditional paella. Our server brought out the paella in a large paella pan and then went back to the kitchen to plate individual servings. While I enjoyed the paella, I was pleased that we had tasted so many other dishes at Jaleo. If I had only had the black paella, I don’t think I would be as eager to return to Jaleo. The patatas bravas were perfectly cooked. I can never pass up a great potato dish.


Our grand ending was a trio of desserts. I will be really honest here and say that I was thrilled I had chosen to wear a loose sundress because I was about to burst. Our spoons were moving very slowly from plate to mouth as we tasted each dessert: Dark chocolate mousse and a hazlenut ice cream topped with a thin crisp with sea salt and thyme (I think); a play on gin and tonic in the form of foam; and Olive oil ice cream with grapefruit. While the first two desserts were tasty, it was the third that we all loved! I never thought I’d be pleading for the last bite of grapefruit. I was thankful my chef friends didn’t make me fight them for that last bite of grapefruit.


My last dinner in D.C. at Jaleo was one of the highlights of my trip. Yesterday one of my clients e-mailed me to ask if I’d be interested in cheffing his birthday dinner next month. What did he request? You got it – TAPAS!  I cannot wait to put together a tapas tasting menu for his party and start perfecting the dishes. I might have to include a rabbit confit.

The next time you are in D.C., go to Jaleo and request the Chef Tasting Menu with the Wine Pairing Menu. And make sure you visit the bathroom. The floor in there is rather interesting!