Posts Tagged ‘Tapas’

Jaleo ~ Alexandria, VA is Latin Flavor

Posted 03 Oct 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Full Service

My first trip to Jaleo was four years ago. I was staying at the Mayflower Hotel with some hospitality industry friends and on short notice, was put in charge of finding a restaurant where three of us could dine without a reservation. Talking with the hotel concierge, I was reminded of Jaleo as an option and quickly recalled the press Jose Andres was generating at the time. Jose’s connection with Ferran Adria and his ongoing role as translator for this uberchef had garnered tremendous attention from the press, trade publications and the professional culinary community.  The concierge’s suggestion of dining at Jaleo intrigued me and, after sharing the idea with my fellow diners, we decided to make the trip.

Andres, chef owner of Think Food Group (TFG) along with partner Rob Wilder, is widely accredited as the source of the Tapas (small plates) movement in America, most notably at Jaleo. According to Andres’ TFG web site, Jaleo means “revelry” or “uproar” in Spanish. The site credits the John Singer Sargent painting “El Jaleo” as the inspiration for the concept. Andres’ inspired small plates, most between $8-$10, came while the U.S. economy dissolved. Customers seeking value without compromising quality or flavor intensity instantly embraced Jaleo. Within months the notion of “restrained fine dining” was born. Knowing these things, we departed for Jaleo curious about the food and attracted by the hype like a moth to a flame. All I can remember from that meal was how simple, affordable, and delicious the food was. I had a perfect Serrano ham with béchamel gratinée that still makes my mouth water when I think of it.   Jaleo was the real deal: simple, well executed, affordable with no pretense. It was entry-level fine dining, the prices were restrained, and I left sated without an ounce of guilt. The next time in Washington, I vowed, Jaleo would be on my list for a drink and quick meal.

This past summer, I was in Washington again and bumped into Jose Andres at the “Chefs Move Schools” event at the White House. It was a busy visit and time didn’t permit eating at Jaleo. However, I did meet the one of Andres’ Jaleo chefs on the lawn of the White house. I shared my fond memory of the Serrano ham with her and she went on about where it was sourced, her technique for making béchamel (onion clouté and all) and thanked me for the compliment. She asked it I had visited any of the other Jaleoo’s and described how thoughtfully designed the newer outlets in Bethesda, Maryland and Crystal City, Virginia are.  This got me thinking about how perfect Jaleo is for expansion as an upscale, full-service, multi-unit restaurant. It would compete in the same bracket as Legal Seafood, Ted’s Montana Grill, and Cheesecake Factory, with lower prices on a plate cost basis, and better food. She agreed but didn’t confirm whether Andres had plans for expansion. As we parted, the thought of visiting one of the newer outlets of Jaleo suck with me.

You can imagine my delight when I wound up in Crystal City, VA recently and had the chance to visit the Jaleo there. One thing is obvious at the Crystal City location; it’s new and thoughtfully designed compared to the original. Being new, this store doesn’t have the obvious wear as the original D.C. outlet and is more modern and bright in its design. The color palette is spot on contemporary, and the facility has high ceilings, clerestory windows, custom light fixtures and a huge mural just above the long curved bar. The interior colors are burgundy, gold, green, and natural wood giving the restaurant a contemporary feel with a slight undertone of Moorish/Iberian influence. It’s gorgeous.

After the hostess seats me, I relax for a couple moments taking in the room and making a mental note of my first impression. Within a couple of minutes my server arrives smiling and offers to take my beverage order. I stick with water. She asks the usual “tap or bottled”: tap for me thanks. Nice kid. She’s authentically warm, smiling and unconcerned by the camera on the table. I usually place my compact camera on the table in plain view of my server when first seated to give subtle notice that I am likely to take pictures. Off she goes as I open the menu and contemplate my order.

The menu at Jaleo is daunting with over 80 items listed. Andres divided the menu into 12 categories including meats, cheeses, vegetables, fried foods, fish, and salads while reserving a full page for a listing of made-to-order paellas that take 25 minutes to prepare and serve 2-4 people. Although drawn to the paella, time is short so I skip to the tapas menu. My server arrives with water and I ask her what the three most popular items on the menu are. Her response is delightful. She knows the menu well and immediately describes three items that she likes that are popular with customers. I also ask if she has octopus on the menu and she confirms stating that it was just added back to the menu. Noticing my hesitation, she takes off for a couple minutes while I contemplate a final decision. She’s back and I order four items; three that she recommended plus the octopus.

Gambas al ajillo

Shrimp Sauteed with Garlic $9

Manzanas con hinojo y queso Manchego

Sliced apple and fennel salad with Manchego cheese, walnuts and Sherry dressing $8.50

Patatas Bravas

Fried fingerling potatoes with spicy tomato sauce and alioli $6.50

Pulpo a la Gallega “Maestro Alfonso”

Boiled octopus with fingerling potatoes, pimenton and olive oil $8

Today, TFG operates seven restaurant concepts with plans for opening a large scale Jaleo and new Chinese Mexican fusion restaurant called ChinaPoblano at the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas this December. The Las Vegas outlet will mark the first Jaleo outside of the Washington, D.C. metro region. Perhaps Andres is planning for a wider expansion of the concept. Such an expansion is a great idea and one I hope he pursues. Jaleo is a great concept that has held up over time and is suitable to any major metropolitan area in the country.


2250 A Crystal Drive

Arlington, VA 22202


Tini ~ Providence, RI: An American Food Bar

Posted 23 Aug 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Food Alert Trends

Tini is a terrific little restaurant located in Providence, Rhode Island. It’s the brainchild of Johanne Killeen and George Germon, owners of Al Forno in Providence and located in a space that at best is nine hundred gross square feet. When you deduct space for the kitchen, unisex bathroom, and back hallway, there’s roughly five hundred square feet left for the bar and seating. The place is tiny. Imagine a fine full-service restaurant with a great bar where you can sit comfortably and eat an entire meal with a friend. Now imagine that restaurant with everything else removed but the bar itself and you have an idea of what Tini is like. It’s a food bar; a restaurant bar without the rest of the restaurant.

My first trip to Tini occurred back in March with a group of restaurant industry friends. Since that visit I have watched the crew that runs Tini iron out the wrinkles that come with opening a new restaurant while consistently putting up great food. They added additional cool details including a back-lit sign outside and a fantastic custom lit stainless steel door handle with the restaurant name laser cut vertically into it. At night, the door handle glows neon blue from the light hidden in its hollow core. More recently, the crew placed four small tables for two and a couple large umbrellas on a custom platform on the sidewalk outside. The platform keeps the tables level on the gently sloping sidewalk and the additional tables add much needed seating to such a small restaurant (don’t worry, even with the additional seating the place is miniscule).


Due to its size, all nineteen of the indoor seats at Tini are located around a horse shoe shaped bar centered just inside the glass entryway. There are no printed menus at Tini. Instead, the menu scrolls on a large LCD screen located on the north facing interior wall. The menu usually features fifteen to twenty items along with one or two specials. Most items are less than ten bucks with many between six and eight dollars. Portion sizes are just right for snacking or for a light lunch. Two plates will easily make a meal. My two favorite items are the open faced smoked salmon and egg salad sandwich and the delicious house made French fries with garlic mayo and spicy sauce. The fries pair well with a cold glass of Gavi. Alicia, one of the servers at Tini consistently provides good food and beverage recommendations adeptly matching one of the nine wines sold by the glass to any food item you choose.


During my most recent visits, Alicia and I were chatting when I noticed George and Johanne sitting at the corner of the bar next to the kitchen door. Catching George’s eye, I waved, walked over and said hello. We spoke for a while and George and I shared a couple fish stories as he relayed his quest to catch a “keeper” striped bass this summer. I spoke of the scup a small group of us caught on Martha’s Vineyard earlier in the summer and we all agreed that this species is one of the tastiest (although bony) underutilized fish in local waters. Our conversation ebbed into a discussion of Tini, the food, and interior design. Johanne smiled as I told her that Tini now holds a top five spot on my all time “favorite restaurant bathrooms” list and shared how much thought George put into designing the restaurant (including the bathroom). Breaking away, I congratulated them for such a cool little place and both beamed with joy. It was a nice conversation.


Tini, in calling itself a food bar, has established yet another restaurant genre similar to the gastro-pub but on a much smaller scale. It occupies a space somewhere between a diner and the bar at a fine restaurant (without the restaurant). I am not sure how Johanne and George make their numbers with nineteen seats and eight dollar plates but I hope it all works out and will do my part when in seeking a meal in Providence. A food bar…now that’s cool! 


200 Washington St.

Providence, RI 02903


Sra. Martinez: In Miami The Food is Hot!

Posted 08 Aug 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

It seems strange to have dinner in Miami with the sun still shining. Even though its 8:30PM, it seems so early that I feel like I am here for the early-bird special before heading home to soak my false teeth (joking here, I dont have false teeth!) It’s just too bright out to have dinner. I usually don’t even head out for dinner in this town until its dark, regardless of the time of year. However Sra. Martinez is starting to get busy and I think we may have beat the rush. We take a table on the outside patio, order a couple glasses of wine and settle in.

We selected Sra. Martinez because I am a huge Michelle Bernstein and David Martinez fan and I am curious to find out how things are going. Sitting outside allows me to fully absorb the beauty of the 1920’s era Post Office that David Martinez and Michelle Bernstein, aka Señora (Sra.) Martinez, converted into a hip tapas style bistro. The exterior of the building retains many of its original features including a majestic carved stone eagle perched above the main entry.  As I sip my wine, I notice my water glass coated in condensation. Taking a closer look I find the wonderful logo that Bernstein and Martinez created for the restaurant printed on the side of the glass. It’s a black outlined ellipse with “Martinez” in bold lettering and a small bright red pig in profile in the center. The umbrellas above each of the outdoor tables are adorned with this logo as well.


Memories of my first introduction to David flash through my mind. It was March 2005 and I was two courses into a twelve course dinner at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago when he and his delightful fiancé (now wife) Michelle Bernstein came in and sat at the table right next to us. Michelle and I had crossed paths over the years and I was delighted to see her but didn’t recognize the person she was with, David and I had never met before. She waved just before being seated and I reciprocated. At that moment Charlie Trotter came up the back stairs and over to our table to say hello to us. After a brief conversation I pointed Michelle out to Charlie (he recognized her right away) and walked over to her table with him. She jumped up to give Charlie a hug, introduced me to David and she and Charlie had a polite chat while I engaged in conversation with David. The main thing I remember about this first introduction to David was how gracious and kind he seemed and how much taller he was than Michelle. I also recall Charlie asking Michelle what she was planning to do now that she was on her own and Michelle relaying a vision of opening a restaurant of her own in the near future.

Five years later and Michelle and David have opened more than a couple restaurants, consulted, participated in multiple television shows and launched Sra. Martinez as their latest venture. One of the beautiful things about Michelle, other than her ballerina like grace and wonderful culinary skill, is the energy she gives off. She never sits still. She’s always on the go, there’s no holding her back. I already know, from talking with friends in town who know her better than I do, that she’s not at Sra. Martinez tonight. She’s cooking dinner for a small group of patrons who won the bidding for her services during a charity event a few months earlier. As busy as she is, she still has time to give back. David is probably here though and I decide that after dinner I will head inside to see if he’s around.

We decide to share four dishes and ask our server to pick them. Descriptions of two of the four dishes follow. The first is the Egg Yolk Carpaccio with Sweet Shrimp and Crispy Potatoes. This dish has received some publicity and I am curious to try it. When it arrives I am stunned. The dish is exactly what it claims to be, a “Carpaccio” of egg yolks. That is, a plate full of whipped raw egg yolks topped with sweet shrimp, crispy shoe string potatoes, and a drizzle of olive oil. My first thought is a knee-jerk fear of the raw egg yolks. Knowing Bernstein, there has to be more to this dish. I wonder if she cooks the eggs sous vide prior to whipping and plating them. My fear fades away after thinking about who’s in charge of the kitchen. I trust Michelle and she probably knows the exact farm from where these eggs were sourced and the names of each of the chickens who gave birth to them. Fear aside, I dig in and am not disappointed. The egg yolk flavor is intense, fatty and smooth. Each shrimp is just cooked and seasoned perfectly. Their buttery sweet flavor and texture offer an appropriate and complimentary contrast to the yolks. The crispy potatoes provide the final touch and make the dish complete. It takes a bold chef to offer this type of item and an even bolder one to pull it off so well. What a great item! 


We also tried the Butifarra; a dish consisting of giant white beans, Foie Gras duck sausage, and Port Wine. Bernstein serves this item on a large, narrow, white oval platter. The white beans are huge and the duck sausage rich with Foie Gras. After a quick flash in a sauté pan the sausages are deglazed with port wine, reduced with duck stock and topped with the white beans. As I eat this dish I sop up the sauce with a thick piece of bread, enjoying the light coating of duck fat that has collected on the surface of the sauce. This is another bold flavored dish and one that I assumed would be better in the fall than in summer. Again, Bernstein proves me wrong with this dish. Although bold in flavor and rich with Foie Gras and white beans, the dish works well in the heat of Miami.


After sharing two more dishes and a few more glasses of wine, we cash out our check and move inside. The restaurant is full now and David Martinez is at the bar. He has just finished visiting each of the tables in the dining room and smiles as he sees us. We let him know that we have already had dinner and just stopped in to say hello. He shares a couple anecdotes and tells us that the restaurant is doing great. Sra. Martinez is close enough to Michy’s (their other restaurant) for the two to easily travel between them. David was over at Michy’s for part of the night and will remain here at Sra. Martinez for an hour before returning back. He still has that same gracious and kind vibe that I remember from our first meeting and, after such a good meal, I think he has much to celebrate.

 Sra Martinez

4000 NE 2nd Avenue

Miami, FL 33137