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First Impressions: Jaleo

Chef José Andrés scored the top two restaurants I was anticipating the most upon the opening of The CosmopolitanChina Poblano more so than Jaleo, but only because China Poblano was unique to the world.  China Poblano has turned out to be a lead off home run, thus my eagerness to dive into the Jaleo menu was ramped up even further. That very well could be why this review is going to come across as harsh as I think it will.

Menu at Jaleo

Menu at Jaleo

José Andrés is probably the most recognized Spanish chef in the United States.  He earned his stripes in the legendary laboratory kitchen of El Bulli in Roses, Spain with Chef Ferran Adrià.  This explains Andrés’ leanings to Spanish avant-garde cuisine. By the way, you risk losing your balls should you even whisper the words, “molecular gastronomy,” within ear shot of him.  Avant-garde cuisine it is.  But anywho, Andrés is a master of turning food on its head and presenting it in a way usually not seen before by mortal men.  But what does this mean for the good old-fashioned Mama-Simmering-The-Paella kind of food?

So-so Sangria at Jaleo

So-so Sangria at Jaleo

We started off with a carafe of Red Sangria ($29).  Meh. Nothing special about the sangria.  Not that it was terrible, but the development of flavor from the fruits, spices and various boozes wasn’t there. Perhaps too much turnover is at fault as you couldn’t fit another soul into the place, but still disappointing.  More about the sangria later…

Tile Mural at Jaleo

Tile Mural at Jaleo

As we sat waiting for the first round of plates we ordered, we couldn’t help but admire the room itself.  There are two bars in the room, one that is a standard booze bar and another that looks like where the bread and ham dishes are prepared.  One thing I loved was the tile mosaic behind the booze bar.  A tile mural, complete with color shading, of a chick in bed.  Nothing wrong with that.  The colors throughout the room are bright and vibrant, keeping the mojo at fever pitch for a bustling tapas joint.

Paella Pit at Jaleo

Paella Pit at Jaleo

The centerpiece of the room is the big wood-fired paella pit.  Massive pans with Valencia’s signature dish cooking away, flames shooting up to the stainless steel vent above.  It’s a pretty cool show to watch, but of course, the proof is in the pudding…err…paella.

Valencian Paella at Jaleo

Valencian Paella at Jaleo

While there are four types of paella on the menu, only one is offered at a time for ordering.  To get your choice of paella, you need a party of 5 or more (or at least pay the price) because they have to make a whole ginormous pan of it.  On our visit, they had the Paella Valenciana ‘Rafael Vidal’ ($20) available.  This version features rabbit, chicken and green beans.  For those that bust their nut over the socarrat (fancy way of saying crispy bottom layer of rice), this isn’t the paella for you.  I don’t really care either way about the socarrat, but it still wasn’t the paella for me as the rabbit had bone fragments strewn about in the hacked up pieces and the chicken was woefully dry.  Other than that, the flavor was good.  The artichokes were a nice surprise, but the bone-fragmented dry meat was too much to overcome.

The Almost Top Ham

The Almost Top Ham

While the menu should be commended for having a wide variety of imported Spanish cheeses and hams, it comes with its problems as well.  Although we ordered the Jamón Ibérico de Bellota Fermin ($22), I’m pretty sure we got the Jamóm Ibérico ($15).  Ibérico pigs are of the famed black-hooved variety, but the Bellota (pronounced bay-yota) are the ones in the forest on the hill that eat nothing but the acorns and brush on the forest floor.  It’s regarded as the best ham in the world, and it usually is.  It didn’t look quite like I remembered when it arrived, and when I tasted it, it really wasn’t what I remembered.  Not wanting to fuss and make a big deal, I didn’t say anything, which is my fault, but it was like you thought that you were about to nail Penelope Cruz, but Charo wound up being the one that knocked on the door.  A little haggard, but still not too bad.  Our bill later confirmed my suspicion; the wrong pig was ordered.

Other than the swine mix up, the only other bitch I have about service was that they all but opened our mouths with a jack and poured the sangria down The Wife and I’s throats.  If I weren’t a guy that writes these reviews, I’d tell the wait staff that we’d pour our own, but I don’t say anything because I want to see how the service is.  My suggestion to any and every diner out there; when it comes to bottles / pitchers of booze, pour your own. Drink at your own pace and avoid the upsell of more drink.  Unless, of course, that you want to get shitfaced on overpriced booze, then have at it.  But, in most circumstances, P.Y.O. (pour your own, get it?)!  While this is standard practice in any restaurant, the burr in the jock strap came when the lovely waitress filled our glasses up from the carafe and then took the carafe away while there was still about an 1/8″ of sangria left in it!  Sure, it was just a sip, but holy shit, did they REALLY need to get that carafe back to the dishwasher at that exact moment?!?

Excellent Manchego on a Decent Pan con Tomate at Jaleo

Excellent Manchego on a Decent Pan con Tomate at Jaleo

None of the food at Jaleo was bad, although some of it was underwhelming.  I found the dishes usually considered as The Spanish Tapas Greatest Hits were the most mediocre.  The Pan con Tomate with Manchego ($8) was decent, but pales in comparison to the offering next door at Aria.  And really….that’s the big question right?  How does Jaleo compare with Julian Serrano?  Well….on this one outing on this one night to Jaleo, as far as the “traditional” tapas are concerned, Julian Serrano puts an ass-whooping on Jaleo akin to what Mike Tyson did to Ricky Spain.  Move over Edward and Jacob!  This Bella has to choose between Team Julian and Team José!

Chicken Croquetas at Jaleo

Chicken Croquetas at Jaleo

A good example are the Chicken Croquetas ($10).  While Jaleo’s version is just fine, the brilliant execution of the Julian Serrano variety has spoiled me for life on the Chicken Croqueta.  Where Jaleo’s version falters is in the texture and the thickness of the outer layer.  Flavor is good and I’m splitting hairs, but I’ve got to call it like I see it.  If you are a chicken chunk fan, you may be on Team José, but the Team Julian version features an extraordinary bechamel infused with even more of a concentrated chicken flavor.

Dates in a Shoe at Jaleo

Dates in a Shoe at Jaleo

Another direct Team José / Team Julian battle comes with the Bacon Wrapped Dates ($8) of which I put a solid win in the Team Julian column as I’m not a fan of the deep-fried rendition at Jaleo at all. Not only does the thick, fried coating take away from the bacon, they come delivered in a shoe, which I personally find heinous.  I don’t like feet.  I don’t like feet at all.  I know the shoe has obviously never been worn, but it still rubs me the wrong way.  Most people probably won’t give a shit and even find the sneaker presentation to be fun, but please put my food on a plate.  The only thing worse would be for the dates to come out in a toilet.  But more importantly than the plating, the thick coating on each nugget makes the bacon component chewy.  No bueno.  At the end of the day, though, Team Firefly puts a whooping on both their asses in the Bacon Wrapped Date department.

Piquillo Peppers Stuffed With Crabmeat at Jaleo. Now we're talkin'!

Piquillo Peppers Stuffed With Crabmeat at Jaleo. Now we're talkin'!

Team José finally came out swinging when we got away from the gold standards with the Piquillo Relleno de ‘Txangurro’ ($14), which apparently is Spanish for deliciously charred piquillo pepper stuffed with Dungeness crab.  A really well put together, well balanced dish packed with flavor.  The char on the roasted piquillo pepper was perfect for the thankfully light crab mixture.  This was the best plate of the outing until we hit the next one…

Extraordinary Sopa de Ajo at Jaleo

Extraordinary Sopa de Ajo at Jaleo

The Sopa de Ajo ($9) was a grand slam.  This dish was at the level I was expecting all the others to be. Extraordinary.  A deep garlic broth was beautifully enhanced with the nuttiness (flavor, not psychological status) of black garlic and then took a ride on the umami bus with the sous vide 63º egg. Oh dear….that sounded like a Fieri-ism….please forgive me!  But this is a destination dish.  Eat this. You’ll like it. A lot.

Olives and "Olives" at Jaleo

Olives and "Olives" at Jaleo

Of course Team José has to get a little molecu….ummm….I mean…avant-garde on the menu as well, and the big tip of the hat to his friend and mentor, Ferran Adrià, is on display with the Aceitunas Rellenas y Aceitunas ‘Ferran Adrià’ ($12).  “Aceitunas” is Spanish for olives, and this dish features olives two ways; the standard, mother nature variety stuffed with a sliver of piquillo pepper and a sliver of anchovy and the other is a reconstituted spherified “olive.”  Basically what happens is they take puréed and strained olives so the resulting liquid is basically olive juice.  Then they add calcium chloride to the purée and drop the olive mixture into water that was mixed with sodium alginate.  A gel forms around the olive liquid, preserving it in a sphere while maintaining a liquid center…think like an over-easy egg yolk.  It’s a fun parlor trick and an interesting way to eat an olive, I suppose.  Molecular….err…umm…avant-garde gastronomy to me is often like a bad boob job; not necessary and diminishes the quality of what was natually there.

Delicious Chocolate Hazelnut Dessert Item at Jaleo

Delicious Chocolate Hazelnut Dessert Item at Jaleo

I think after the Great Battle for the Bluefin Tuna is either won or lost, my next cause I’m going to support is to fight for The Integrity of Cake.  Hardly an isolated issue at Jaleo, as it seems every restaurant in the world right now is making a mockery of cake, but if you’re going to call something a cake…please let it be a cake!  When I order cake, I’m not ordering a slab of dense icing with flecks of flour strewn about.  I’m not ordering a thick wedge of fudge. I’m certainly not ordering mousse pie.  I’m ordering cake.  Good old-fashioned, blow-out-the-candles cake.  Sometimes a guy just wants a nice piece of cake.

While I find it difficult to say the Pastel de Chocolate y Avellanas ($9) was a cake, I will say it was damn tasty.  A chocolate cookie on the bottom center of a ring-molded chocolate / hazelnut mousse with what could very well be the most extraordinary chocolate ganache I’ve seen, on top.  I don’t know if Team José used more of that avant-garde hocus pocus on the ganache, but the sheen on it was so good you can use it as a mirror.  The flavors and textures were superb.  It was a fabulous dessert.  But it wasn’t a cake.  Yeah yeah yeah…I know it’s a matter of semantics and I’m warning you on what really should be expected these days in restaurant dessert eating.  But…sometimes a guy just wants a nice piece of cake.

Should you go to Jaleo?  Absolutely.  Order cautiously, try something new, pour your own sangria and you should be fine.  If you’re in Vegas for a limited amount of time and can only hit up one of the Andrés eateries, there’s no question in my mind that China Poblano should be the one you choose.  I do want to go back to Jaleo at some point to try everything else on the menu, although after this first outing I’m not in a big rush.  However, one thing I am excited to give a shot would be the “secret restaurant”, that’s no longer much of a secret, located inside Jaleo called the E Bar.  Inside the E Bar you get a 20-25 course degustation of what Chef Andrés and crew does best.  It very well could be the most advanced culinary experience in town…and it’s only $150 per person!  There are only two seatings per day for this super-exclusive dining experience.  I want.

—–

Jaleo

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109

(702) 698-7950

http://www.jaleo.com/index.php/contact/las_vegas

Follow Jaleo on Twitter at @JaleoLasVegas

Jaleo by José Andres (Cosmopolitan) on Urbanspoon

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Mike Dobranski is a professional musician, amateur blogger, eater of good food, poker junkie, master of the inappropriate comment and bad husband to a wonderful wife.

Follow Mike and Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas

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4 comments to First Impressions: Jaleo

  • great review

    this was a great review. I am totally with you on so many points. P.Y.O is one for sure – I wouldnt ever try Jaleo just for that reason alone – and the fact the chick took your last drip is just fucked. I hate these upsell FOH, fucking make you spend more buy over pouring bitches.
    Yes, cake is cake – give me fucking cake.
    And a shoe to serve some tapas in – Why would they ever do this. I would start plating with the think, kicking my lady in the elbow or some shit.
    Great attention to detail in this review. Jaleo sounds like a one time try, inflated by hype, until they get all the KINKS worked out

  • Thanks so much for the kind words! Yeah, every restaurant is guilty for the overpouring, but taking the last sip was a significant party foul.

  • Great review! So obvious you’re a food reviewer and I’m not–I had no idea that cooking area was a “paella pit”. I just thought “Wow, look, the grill’s in the middle of the restaurant. Cool” and carried on with my meal. I liked Jaleo more than you did, but can appreciate that not everyone’s experience is going to be the same in a restaurant. I totally agree that Firefly’s dates are better, mainly because they don’t have that breading covering up flavors. What’s the point of wrapping the dates with bacon if you’re then going to mask the flavor of the bacon with breading? Why not just save some money and make them deep-fried dates?

  • Get yourself to é stat! I just went this past weekend, and it was one of my top meals in Vegas ever. Certainly, it’s the most inventive food being served in the City at the moment. See: http://www.kevineats.com/2011/01/e-by-jose-andres-las-vegas-nv.html

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