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October 14, 2001

Jaleo: It's a Small World

Susan wrote the review, with commentary from Bobby (in red) and from me (in blue)

The Setup

After drinks and nachos at Parker's and a brief stop at Second Story Books, the usual suspects (Bobby, Viren, and myself) took to wandering the streets of Bethesda in search of food. As usual, every restaurant in the area was suggested, and then promptly vetoed or had Bobby's nose turned up at it on the grounds that it was too fancy, too weird, or Levante's.This inspite of the fact that Susan and I offered to go to Bobby's favorite hobbyhorse restaurant -- some random Korean BBQ place in Rockville.

The Decision

Finally we mustered up the courage to look at the menu posted outside of Jaleo, the tapas bar, in hopes of finding out what the heck tapas means. Upon seeing the phrase "Levante style" on the menu, my eyes lit up (Literally! Kind of a surreal effect -- like Tinkerbell glowing, except it's only Susan's eyes).. We decided to go for it. The moment we entered, Viren and I knew it must be a good place because the hostess table had a bowl full of matches in little Jaleo match boxes. Despite Bobby's disapproval, we took one each. (It should be noted that both Viren and Susan have a penchant for playing with fire... at the dining table!). How rude! I don't "play" with fire -- I'm a professional when it comes to fire, and ways of creating it, thanks to the wonderful institution of boy scouts...

The Restaurant

I should add a few (and, never fear, I will keep it to a sane definiton of few) words about the decor and ambience of the restaurant. The predominant color in there seemed to be yellow -- now I'm not sure at this late date whether there was any actual yellow in there, but I'm left with that impression. Other than that, Bobby liked the wall decorations (which included this gigantic painting encased in frosted glass depicting 3 people -- about the only thing I remember about it is that it's predominant color was red). The animate scenery wasn't too shabby, especially the ones gracing our neighboring tables. Although, one of them decided that she would complete the restaurant experience for the rest of us by talking loudly on a cell phone for an extended period of time. Now, if I had happened to be one of her companions, I would have been very inclined to snatch the cell phone out of her hand, walk to the kitchen, and see what kind of tapas they could create from the innards of a Nokia cell phone.

The Food

We promptly put in our order for a chicken and shrimp paella -- they make them fresh, and hence they take about 45 minutes to prepare. They provided very salty olives, pickles, and cocktail onions to tide us over while we waited.

Since Jaleo is a tapas bar, we figured that the experience would not be complete unless we ordered one each. Viren tried to order a (fill the blank) but our waiter convinced him to get an order of red peppers with goat cheese instead two thumbs up. In my opinion, this turned out to be the best thing we ordered, and, oddly enough, was the only thing we got which looked like the mental image each one of us had about what tapas are -- stuff rolled up in bread like a burrito.

Bobby, as usual, got fried calamari. And, as usual, he convinced me to try one. Also, as usual, I hated it (nothing against the calamari -- I just prefer that my food not give me the impression that I am chewing on a dried up rubber band).

I ordered a spinach, raisin, pine nut, apple tapa. The first bite was good. But the more I ate, the saltier it got ( I'm forcing myself through herculean effort to not make remarks at his point). Meanwhile, people at the tables on either side of us ordered the same thing and added salt to it! Either mine was the anomaly, or the sweet champaigne we had to drink made it seem that much saltier.

When the paella arrived we forgot to wait the suggested 5 minutes before digging in, but I don't know that it made that much of a difference. The paella was served in style, in a large (still hot) skillet, adorned with lemons and garnishing. The rice was orangish yellow and had a pleasant smell. The rice turned out to be somewhat undercooked (on purpose?), and the chicken could use a bit more spice.

Viren and I were somewhat disappointed that the chicken was still on the bone, which prompted Bobby to remind us that America is one of few places where one can find skinless, boneless chicken breast (God Bless America!). Hence, to my surprise, I found that the shrimp was my favorite part (and I am not a terribly big fan of shrimp). Unfortunately, having filled up on nachos and tapas and salty olives beforehand, Viren and I were not too interested in the paella, leaving Bobby to do most of the work and scold us for not doing our share of the work. He even tried to bet us that he could eat the whole thing (enough for two to four people) in one sitting, but we declined to take the bet when he informed us that one sitting would last at least another 2 hours.

The Conclusion

In conclusion, I think I would have preferred Levante's, but I wouldn't mind returning to Jaleo to see the flamenco dancers and drink some sangria.