To put my first official DC dinner in perspective, I’ll equate it to a Boston Red Sox rookie stepping up to the plate for his first Major League at-bat and smacking a moon shot over the Green Monster. Will he hit a homer every time? No. Will he enjoy this one? Absolutely.
My friend Dawn was in town from NY, and we joined her sister and brother-in-law at Jose Andres’s Penn Quarter establishment, Jaleo. Wow, what an introduction to the local restaurant scene. I can’t say I’ve ever had bad tapas, but on my personal tapas scale, this was high, high up there — a sentiment confirmed by Dawn’s brother-in-law Mike, who just came back from Barcelona a few weeks ago and has a solid grasp of what constitutes good tapas.
There was a nice Friday night buzz at the place. Both the dining room and bar were hopping but still felt comfortable.
We shared carafes of two types of sangria — a red wine sangria…
And a sparkling white Cava sangria. The Cava in particular was awesome: exceptionally smooth, with a hint of honey-like sweetness.
This first dish I clearly remember seeing Claudia Bassols eat on “Spain… On the Road Again.” (She talks about it here. And of course, I think most guys would agree with me, Claudia Bassols is memorable for many reasons.) It’s the most deceptively simple looking dish — pan con tomate, or toasted bread smeared with fresh tomatoes.
So delicious. It bursted with flavors of garlic, olive oil and bright tomatoes. Mike told us to save a few pieces for the jamon that was coming later, and I spent the next twenty minutes hungrily eyeing the two pieces we’d set aside.
Dates wrapped in bacon and fried.
Soft, sweet dates nestled in salty, crispy bacon. I mean, come on!
Calamari with aioli. I enjoyed these, but actually, I thought the coating could have been crisper.
Patatas bravas: fingerling potatoes with a tomato sauce and aioli. It was hard to stop popping these into my mouth.
More meat, this time chorizo wrapped in paper-thin potatoes. Like an upscale twist on a pig-in-a-blanket. These elicited many “oohs” and “aaahs.”
Gambas al ajillo, a tapas staple.
I’ve had versions of this dish where tiny and mushy shrimp were swimming in a sea of oil. These shrimp were plump and meaty, with a solid bite. And the amount of garlicky oil was just right.
This pic I took after I’d already taken a bite. It’s a Spanish omelet with potatoes and onions.
Again, appears so simple, but I sure as hell have never made an omelet that tasted like this. What’s the secret? I have no idea, but I’d like to know.
Sauteed cauliflower with dates and olives.
I think Dawn, who’s not a cauliflower fan, even liked this one.
Is there anything about this picture that would lead you to believe it would not be delicious? It’s a grilled chorizo with potato puree. And yes, it was outstanding.
And then the killer.
Jamon Iberico, that pricey, hard-to-get, divine cured ham from Spain’s Iberico pigs. I think I’ve had Jamon Iberico on two other occasions, and gotten weak in the knees each time. It’s so meltingly tender and packed with a wallop of deep, clean flavor. We draped it over the pan con tomate (it came with four slices, and we still had the two left over, thank god) and let the magic happen. This was a serious treat, it really was.
Maybe because my eyes were still rolled back in my head from the jamon, I forgot exactly what this dessert was called. It was very much like a flan — super silky and smooth.
As I said up top, this meal was like a blast out of Fenway Park. Who knows, my next few outings may be singles and doubles; I just know I won’t forget this homer any time soon.
480 7th St. NW