Now, I know why most reviewers go back to a restaurant at least three times before writing it off. The food is just one of the many metrics by which professionals judge a fine dining experience. Then there is the ambience and the service, all of which cannot be judged the first time around. For non professionals like us, I would like to suggest another metric - the group at your table. The folks you are dining with can totally ruin a good dinner at a great restaurant. We usually restrict our urge to try out various cuisines and explore new restaurants when in the company of people who are not so open to ...for the want of a better word...diversity. Case in point: going to a non Indian restaurant with picky* Indian vegetarians has always posed problems for us and now we usually prefer taking the boring road to korma-ville instead. At the least every one will get something that they like and much happiness will emanate from the table.
Our first visit to Jaleo further reinforced this notion. The group included quite a few picky vegetarians and the original plan was to eat at Delhi Dhaba (Indian food from hell). Being a weekday, most people arrived late. So late in fact that Delhi Dhaba was closed, as were most other places. Jaleo was open but they were only serving tapas and everyone seemed okay with the initial idea of trying Spanish cuisine. But once we were comfortably seated a sudden change of heart happened. The vegetarians eyed the unfamiliar vegetables like mushrooms and asparagus with suspicion. It did not help that eggs were a no-no for some, as was garlic and even olives. I don't remember what those poor guys ate (probably just bread) but I do remember that all of us were miserable afterwards. We could not enjoy our meal and ever since had viewed Jaleo with a fair degree of skepticism.
Yesterday after ages we drummed up the courage to walk in and Boy! Were we pleased? We were promptly seated; close by a cover band was belting out Gypsy King numbers and they were good. Our waiter left us with the menus for a long time...not a bad thing, if you plan to order from the extensive tapas menu. He did come back to take our drink orders and set down the bread basket and olive bowl (yum-yum). We decided to get three tapas each and limited ourselves to hot (Calientes) and seasonal (Temporada) tapas, given the brisk walk we had just taken in the nippy 30 F night outside. I ordered the monkfish with eggplant puree and black olive oil, the Moorish stew of chickpeas and spinach and the traditional béchamel chicken and Spanish ham fritters. The monkfish was not overcooked and the baba ghanoush like eggplant puree added just a hint of flavor (not more!) to the exceptionally fresh fish. The generous portion of the Moorish stew was the stuff of wintry dreams....I am still craving it. On the other hand, the chicken and ham fritters were like a Spanish version of chicken cordon bleu. Good, but the five little nuggets were more like finger food which is always better shared. The Boy on the other hand ordered the grilled lamb chops with rosemary sauce (a favourite from our previous visit), the Spanish omelet with potato and onions and a rice dish with mushrooms and Murcia cheese. The rice dish was a life saver because like every full blooded Bengali male the Boy cannot live without his daily dose of rice, even if it is enveloped in all kinds of goat cheesy goodness. The omelet was substantial but nothing to write home about.
I had a glass of the Hildalgo -La Gitana Manzanilla sherry with my food. It was exceptionally dry. I liked the Boy's Lustau – Amontillado del Puerto with its caramel-ly after taste better. After all this, we still had space for some dessert so we shared a chocolate and hazelnut mousse torte. The chocolate mousse was slightly sweetened and layered between rounds of home made bread (according to the waiter) and sprinkled with candied hazelnuts. The bread layer could greatly benefit from a royal dunk in some liquor (Frangelica maybe!)...it felt a little too dry in between mouthfuls of fluffy mousse. The price tab for two with tips etc. came to 70 dollars. Not cheap by any figment of imagination but it was also an impromptu celebration of sorts*wink, wink*
* picky being the operative word