On Thursday, April 11, I was part of a media group that was invited to have lunch at Jaleo by José Andrés. I don’t really know much about Spanish cuisine, and I had heard incredible things about the new restaurant, so I was happy to accept.
Jaleo is a chain of restaurants, but it is not a typical chain. All of the restaurants are different. They all feature the vision of Chef José Andrés, but that is where the similarities end. The other locations are in Washington, D.C., Bethesda, Las Vegas, and Crystal City. The Disney Springs Jaleo is the largest. It is also the only one with a kids’ menu. Jaleo features tapas, or small plates. It is not the type of place where each member of your party orders their own entree. Instead, you’re expected to order several small dishes and share.
We were served what is called José’s Way on the menu. This is a 15 course meal! It features some of José Andrés’ favorites. Jaleo is not the type of place to dine if you are in a hurry. Instead, make sure you have plenty of time. It is recommended that you have at least an hour to dine if you plan to enjoy Jose’s Way, but 90 minutes is even better. This will allow you to truly enjoy each course. If you are in a hurry, tell your server, and he or she will help you to get out on time.
A decent variety of foods was served during our lunch. They brought out everything from Ostras Gin and Tonic (oysters), Gambas a la Zahara (head on shrimp in garlic sauce), and Croquetas de Pollo (chicken fritters). The Croquetas de Pollo were served on a “pillow” that is meant to look like the pillow that Prince Charming carried Cinderella’s slipper on. Another interesting item was Pan de Cristal con Tomate. This looked like crushed tomatoes on bread, but there was much more to it than that. The bread that is used is imported from Spain. They tried to make similar bread here in the United States by using the same recipe, but it did not come out to Chef Andrés’ satisfaction, so they import the bread instead. Another interesting menu item was Aceitunas Modernas y Clásicas. These are liquid olives. You put one in your mouth and slowly swallow. It will turn into liquid as you consume it.
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There were some signature cocktails served as well. The Salt Air Margarita is made so that the salt does not just stick to the glass. The intention is that you will have the perfect amount of salt and drink with each sip. The Signature Gin and Tonic is brought with the tonic on the side, and then it is poured in front of you. There was also Sangria. An interesting tidbit about nonalcoholic beverages at Jaleo. There are no fountain beverages. You can order Coke products, but it is Mexican Coke. The difference is that Mexican Coke is sweetened with cane sugar, which gives it a slightly different taste. It is served in bottles.
If you’re looking for wine instead of cocktails, there is a great selection at Jaleo. The restaurant features Spanish wines, in fact you’ll find one of the largest collections of Spanish wines in the area. There are also some wines available that are not from Spain. There are two sommeliers to answer your questions and help you to make the perfect selection. One of the sommeliers is a Master Sommelier. That makes two who hold the coveted title at Disney Springs, the other is George Miliotes at Wine Bar George.
One of the dishes that Jaleo is known for is paella. There are five different varieties, but two available each night. We were served the Arroz de Verduras y Setas de Temporada (vegetable), and it was incredible. Paella is cooked in the paella pit, and it takes 45 minutes for the creation. Some of the Paella selections at Jaleo are marked as “traditional”. The designation of traditional comes from Valencia, Spain, and the paella has to earn the honor.
When you stop by Jaleo, make sure that you save room for dessert. We were able to sample four different creations, and they were all delectable. Possibly the most unique was the Quesada Asturiana, which is a goat cheese cheesecake. My favorite of the desserts was Citricos con Helado de Acite de Oliva. This is olive oil ice cream, served with grapefruit. It was light and refreshing.
The building that houses Jaleo was designed by Spanish architects, and there are some bricks from Spain inside. If you think that the exterior looks like an upside down artichoke, that’s exactly what it is supposed to resemble. This is a signature restaurant, and it takes two credits on the Disney Dining Plan. Since Jaleo features tapas your server will talk you through what you can order for your credits. Later this year Jaleo Academy is expected to open, which will feature cooking classes and other fun.
Remember that Jaleo is a destination restaurant, so give yourself plenty of time. If you plan on ordering José’s Way, it costs $110 per person. If you are in a hurry, there is a quick service restaurant, Pepe, nearby. There you can order sandwiches that feature Chef José Andrés’ flavors, as well as some delicious frozen treats.