Chef José Andrés has been credited with bringing the small plates concept from his native Spain to America. And no one continues to develop this dining style better than Andrés does in his three Jaleo restaurants in the Washington D.C. area and now in Las Vegas. His dishes frequently transport diners to Spain, recreating classics like paella, adding, of course, his own special touch.
We visited Jaleo in Las Vegas, set in the new and trendy Cosmopolitan Hotel. There is a youthful vibe surrounding the Cosmopolitan (“Just the right amount of wrong!” the ads exclaim), and Jaleo fits right in. The restaurant is colorful, with a red, orange, and yellow ceiling creating a warm glow. Cushioned booths, providing comfortable seating for groups of four, adjoin one of the food preparation areas, allowing diners to watch the chefs at work. Other tables are scattered throughout the restaurant, and long, high tables in the front of the restaurant provide for more causal dining and people watching. By 8 p.m., the restaurant is overflowing with an exuberant, well-dressed Vegas crowd, everyone anticipating a wonderful meal.
Our server gives us a warm welcome, taking our drink orders and leaving us with colorful, and, yes, extensive menus. While we sip our cocktails, including a sangre y fuego (Mezcal, house-made sangrita, cherry liqueur, and sweet vermouth), we enjoy pan con tomate, toasted slices of rustic bread brushed with fresh tomato, a popular snack in Spain, paired with thick slices of jamon Serrano. A nice combination. We also nibble on datiles con tocino ‘como hace todo el mundo,’ fried dates wrapped in bacon and La Serena con membrillo, cones of quince paste and La Serena cheese, a sheep milk cheese from La Serena in southwestern Spain. These bite-sized appetizers whet our appetite for what is yet to come.
The advantage of small plates is that you can decide you have had enough, or keep the dishes coming. We opt for more plates.
We have to try one of Jaleo’s paellas, and we vote for the evening’s special, arroz a banda con bogavante, literally meaning, ‘rice apart from lobster.’ Even though this dish is listed as an entrée, it is a small, and we are tempted to order another. Not only is the lobster tender and succulent, but the rice is infused with a smoky taste that lingers on the tongue. We notice that Jaleo’s paellas are prepared in the traditional manner, the large metal pans over an open wood fire. The menu declares this preparation “the best show in town,” and we have to agree. (And the shows in Vegas provide lots of competition).
Now that we’ve sampled Jaleo’s fish dishes, we move onto meat, choosing carne asada con piquillos Julian de Lodosa, grilled hanger steak with piquillo pepper confit, and fricando de carilleras de ternera y pure de patatas al aceite de oliva, veal cheeks and morels with olive oil potato puree. The pepper steak has just the right amount of spice and is perfectly cooked, medium rare.
We can’t pass up one of Jaleo’s salads and make a delicious choice with manzana con hinojo y queso Manchego, sliced apple and fennel salad with Manchego cheese, walnuts and sherry dressing. The fennel is shaved paper thin, providing just the right crunchiness alongside the apples and cheese. Our table declares this salad the best ever.
Along with our meal, we enjoy a Viñas de Gain Rioja from Spain’s northern region, a red wine with a subtle oak flavor along with aromas of blackberry and cloves.
We move on from main dishes, knowing we want to save room for dessert. Flan, of course, is ubiquitous on Spanish menus, but Jaleo’s version is in a class by itself, served with ‘espuma,’ a foam, of Catalan cream and oranges.
We have to have chocolate and decide on chocolate hazelnut cake with praline ice cream and salted caramel sauce. The flavor combination manages to join opposites perfectly—sweet with salty, smooth with crunchy. Very satisfying. A dessert wine, Malvasía dulce, Los Bermejos, with hints of peach, dried apricots and honey spice completes the meal.
We linger over cups of espresso, then finally make our way out of Jaleo. We now understand the buzz that follows José Andrés. Vegas has become is a mecca for food lovers, and Jaleo will only serve to add to this image. And we are grateful that we still have three Jaleos to try in the D.C. area. We look forward to continuing our research.
The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas
3708 Las Vegas Blvd. South
480 7th Street, N.W.
Jaleo Crystal City
2250 A Crystal Drive
7271 Woodmont Avenue