On Thursday night, March 21, DisneyDining was invited to a Media Event hosted by Disney for the newest Disney Springs restaurant, Jaleo! Check out our full review and photos below. This is one restaurant you don’t want to miss!
I arrive early, afraid to mistake the location or do something wrong. But there’s no mistaking it. The queue to get inside is massive, forming underneath the giant, red letters spelling out: Jaleo.
Jaleo, pronounced ha-LAY-O, is Spanish for revelry, party, cheering. Basically, if you hear “jaleo,” you know you’re in for a good time. That’s what awaited me in Jaleo by Chef José Andrés’ Grand Opening Celebration in Disney Springs.
We are greeted by the entire staff – checking in, serving, smiling, and ready for the evening. I am not even over the threshold before a drink is offered to me. I choose a Sangria Roja, a crimsony purple fruity concoction. This chilled wine is delightful – light and sweet, the perfect drink for the evening.
Walking into the main dining room, an open and large space, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed at the grandeur and liveliness. The music is thumping, the spirits are pouring, and the hosts are buzzing. I’m immediately drawn to the mirror chandelier that hangs from the second story, highlighting the grand staircase. The interior of the restaurant is all about modern-chic. The goal was Spanish-influence, but it mostly feels just modern to me, except for the huge matador mural and bull’s head above the wine fridge…
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I decide that the best place to camp out for the night is directly next to the jamón, ham, carving station. A member of the staff stands at this station for the entire event, carefully carving wafer thin slices of a full leg. I cannot imagine we will go through the whole thing but sure enough, by the end of the party only the bone is left.
There is no grand announcement to signify the start of the party, only the beginning of food. In this first hour, there is not a moment when I do not have something to eat. The staff at Jaleo is out of this world. They are incredibly attentive and helpful. These wonderful servers walk around the dining room for the whole evening, constantly handing out new tapas and cleaning up the old.
Speaking of the food…wow! We are presented tapas, or small plates. A wonderful sampling of Chef José’s full menu. The aged jamón that I mentioned above is an absolute crowd favorite. Imported directly from Spain, it is lean and flavorful – no matter how close to bursting you are, you have more room for a slice of ham. My favorite dish of the evening, however, is “Endivias con queso de cabra y naranjas:” endives with goat cheese, oranges, and almonds. Oh my goodness. Salty and sweet, crisp and rich. Amazing. Other highlights include the sliders: juicy meat patties with roasted red peppers, bacon, and a garlic aioli. But the evening could not be complete without at least two plates of paella! We are presented with two varieties (that I try): chicken and shrimp. Both are spectacular. Rich and piping hot. As good as the rice is, the process is even more interesting. The paella kitchen is open to the restaurant. The skilled chefs prepare the dish in massive, shallow pans over a stove that takes up the majority of the space. While they are focused, they’re also clearly having a good time. When a paella dish is ready, all of the chefs bang on their pots and pans and everyone in the restaurant shouts: “Jaleo!” It’s ridiculously fun. Chef Andrés offers five different varieties of the Spanish comfort dish and rotates them all – guests can also call 24 hours in advance to special order.
Throughout the course of the evening, I am introduced to Chef José Andrés’ company ThinkFoodGroup. At ThinkFoodGroup, Andrés and his team are dedicated to thinking about food in new ways, ways that can generously benefit the world around him. With this organization, Andrés has taken his love of food and doing what is good and become one of the most sought after chefs in the country. He was on Time’s 100 Most Influential People list in 2012 and 2018, and is currently up for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work with TFG and his action in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. There, he “Fed An Island,” which is also the name of his memoir. I didn’t get the chance to meet the remarkable chef, but I was introduced to Kimberly Grant, CEO of Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup. Grant runs the business side of Andrés’ dreams. She was incredibly gracious, genuinely pleased to meet everyone. The whole team seemed so relieved and excited about the evening, which made the guests just the same.
Near the end of the night, just as I am eying some flan, Chef José Andrés comes out to give a speech on the grand staircase. He speaks of his time in the Spanish Navy, his journey to America, and the dreams he had along the way. He is jovial and humble, like someone you’d just like to share some paella with. The crowd adores him. When he finishes, we all clap and eat some lime sorbet with cinnamon, and strawberry sorbet with a Spanish wine reduction. And flan.
The best word I can think of to describe my experience at Jaleo is: feast. It is a feast – for the eyes, the ears, and the taste buds. A combination like Chef José Andrés and Disney is hard to go wrong. I am confident Jaleo will do fantastically well in Disney Springs. I’m excited to see how it grows and evolves in the future.
With my evening at a close, I give the towering restaurant a once over, swig the end of my sangria, and grab one last piece of jamón for the road.
Thank you Disney for hosting such a great event! We can’t wait to dine at Jaleo again.