Jaleo- No Crumb Left Behind

“Bread is the king of the table and all else is merely the court that surrounds the king. The countries are the soup, the meat, the vegetables, the salad but bread is king.” -Louis Bromfield

Welcome back, my rabid readers, welcome back (and when I say “rabid readers,” I mean, “Mom, Holly and Simone.”). I meant to have this recap typed up and posted this past weekend, but you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men.

After a week and a half hiatus, the Cuisine Queens (the jury’s still out on the name. If you have thoughts, leave me a comment and share them!) are back at it again, spreading our love for good food and good drink throughout the greater District of Columbia. This week was Holly’s turn to choose the restaurant, and to Simone and mine’s relief, she did not pick a hotbed of veganism or Chinese food.

This outing led us to the Chinatown hotspot Jaleo, a Spanish tapas bar that also makes a mean paella. (And yes, I fully recognize and appreciate the irony of a Spanish restaurant in Chinatown). Simone and Holly had met the proprietor of this fine establishment on a previous outing to one of his restaurants and so were eager (well, Holly was) to try this place.

Now, this was not my first outing to Jaleo. I interned on Capitol Hill two summers ago, and my roommates and I had dinner at Jaleo on one of our last nights in the city. We split the seafood paella as well as other assorted tapas, though the latter was mostly for my friends’ benefit. I lived with two vegetarians, so when we all dined together, meat was in short supply. However, I will never forget the massive shrimp that sat atop our feast of rice and other fishy things. Their big, beady black eyes were staring at me (Yes, the entire shrimp was served). There was also the fact that I ate cuttlefish, not knowing what cuttlefish are. Would you like to know?

This is a cuttlefish:

Tastes like chicken? More like rubber.

Doesn’t it look tasty? If you said no, you’d be correct.

Anyway, I digress. Upon arrival, I requested that we not order the seafood paella or any dishes that included cuttlefish. Luckily, I didn’t have to twist my dinner companions’ arms to get them to agree.
For those of you who have not partaken in tapas before, the term “tapas” refers to a variety of small plates that are usually shared amongst a group. Perfect, consider there were three of us and a variety of choices on Jaleo’s menu. After ordering a half-carafe of sangria (delicious, by the way, even if Simone did immediately pick and eat of the fruit out of her glass), we decided that, since there were three of us, we would each order two tapas and split amongst ourselves.

Before I go into detail about our tapas, I should mention the bread. Oh, the bread! Served with a warm dish of olive oil which was garnished with a clove of garlic and a sprig of rosemary, it was the perfect way to keep our hunger at bay while we waited on our waiter to come back to our table (the poor thing was having a rough night; he dropped our first pitcher of sangria, and then later, I think he dropped some more glasses).

Anyway, the food. We split six tapas between us. First, there was pan con tomate (bread brushed with fresh tomatoes), which was topped with Pasamontés farmhouse Manchego- thick slices of sheep’s milk cheese. With it, Holly ordered one of the night’s specials, which was some sort of cold green bean salad, topped with a garlic-y dressing. My two leafy-green loving companions also ordered the ensalada de coles de Bruselas, which was a warm brussels sprout salad served with apricots and Serrano ham. Note: This particular dish arrived right as I excused myself to the ladies’ room. Upon my return, it had vanished. Therefore, this is the only dish that I cannot comment upon its taste. (Can you tell that I’m heartbroken about that one?)

We also ordered the gambas al ajillo– which is shrimp sautéed in garlic and pepper- per our server’s recommendation as well as lomo de buey or hangar steak for our meat items (I am carnivore, hear me roar). Our final dish was the papas arugas, which were Canary Island-style baby potatoes served with a mojo verde (a dipping sauce comprised of cilantro, cumin, garlic, Sherry vinegar and olive oil sauce).

Other than the fact that the baby potatoes looked nothing like what we expected; literally, it was a bowl of boiled baby potatoes and a little dipping sauce next to it, everything was delicious. We practically inhaled all the food…

…and we ordered two more baskets of bread. We couldn’t help it! It was so good, and tapas isn’t meant to make you full. It got to the point of ridiculousness, however, when our waiter attempted to take the half-eaten basket from us (after we ordered our dessert) and we immediately shouted him down.

Moral of the story: bread is good.

For our dessert, we split the Espuma de avellanas y chocolate, which was basically a chocolate and hazelnut torte. Please recall my obsession with this flavor combination (read: NUTELLA. So good, y’all), and I’m happy to report that this dessert did not disappoint. I think we licked the plate, à la Holly’s sister, Laura, with my mom’s baked Alaska dessert.

And naturally, we picked the one night the Washington Capitals were playing their archrivals, the Pittsburg Penguins (everyone say BOO on Sidney Crosby. Say it. Now.), so right when we finished dinner, fans were pouring out of the Verizon Center. As the Chinatown metro stop only services the Red, Green and Yellow lines, we decided to walk two blocks to Metro Center, as we need the Orange/Blue lines.

However, the night doesn’t end there. Oh, no, we’re not done yet. Upon walking back to the metro, we happen upon downtown DC’s newest dessert store, Froyo. What is this, you might ask? It’s nothing more than a really, really fancy frozen yogurt stand. Yet Holly, my beloved cousin (love you, HoChHo!), insisted we stop by because she thought she wanted some.

Please note that at this point, Simone and I are clutching our stomachs, stuffed to the gills, and Holly could eat something frozen and sweet. I was at the state where I wanted nothing more than to go home, crawl into bed and fall into a food coma. Although I will admit, Froyo looked like a nice place for somewhere to stop by when it’s hot.

After much deliberation (and a few free samples), Holly decided that she did not want any Froyo, so we parted ways at Metro Center with many air kisses and a promise for another dinner date soon.

There’s something to be said for good friends, good drink, and good food. No matter how terrible a week you’re having, whether your love life is in the dumps, you’re ready to rip your hair out at work, or you’re sick of your nightly staple of Lean Cuisines and water, everything looks brighter when you can gab with your girlfriends over wine and a good meal.

And, of course, bread.

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