Monday, April 4, 2011

Jaleo From Las Vegas

How does a restaurant succeed when the chef isn't looking over every cook's shoulder? We all like to think that in NYC a famous executive chef spends every day in the kitchen, but as most people realize, wrestling is fake and Emeril is not cooking your dinner. Nowhere is this hard truth more apparent than in Las Vegas, where world famous chefs, enticed by piles of cash, have sought to expand their brand for the last few decades.

José Andrés may have hardly set foot in his new tapas restaurant Jaleo, located in the ultra-shiny, ultramodern Cosmopolitan hotel, but that doesn't mean the food suffers for it. The restaurant has a hyper, bustling energy, much like our dinner companions for the evening, who couldn't seem to sit still or focus on one thing for too long (so maybe tapas was good for them). This format also helped the two people in our group who don't eat pork (and a few more picky eaters), since we could all pick and choose.

We started with a pitcher of sangria while taking in the scene and listening to our waitress rattle off specials and recommendations. I wouldn't want to put up with us, as at least four different people simultaneously shouted dishes at her, but somehow it worked, and our waitress managed to steer us to some of the more obscure dishes on the massive menu while also ordering a whole bunch of crowd pleasers.

Our first dish, mussels marinated in Sherry vinegar woke up my taste buds. A simple, fresh dish with so much flavor was a good omen of things to come. Even better, everyone except for my Dad and I was too picky to try it. More for us, I thought, as we fought over the last few mussels.

Our cheese plate was served with Marcona almonds, raisins and slices of bread topped with fresh tomato. Not a fan of doing this to bread, since the mild tomato taste it adds more contributes to soggy bread and gets in the way of the cheese, which was great. Smoked Idiazabal, La Peral (a blue cheese), Garrotxa, a soft goat's milk cheese, Manchego and another cheese that I'd be lying if I said I could identify (you wouldn't want that right?), made up our plate.

"Aceitunas rellenas y aceitunas 'Ferran Adria'" was Chef Andrés' version of a classic Ferran Adria technique. Olive juice is put in an alginate, forming a shell which bursts on contact. Watch Mark Bittman describe the technique better than I could in this video (which conveniently features both Jose Andres and Ferran Adria, synergy!). I was barely able to swipe one and get this picture before they were eaten. It's probably apparent by now that I had a difficult time taking pictures at this meal (I think I only have photos of about half of our dishes).

Croquetas de pollo and croquetas de jamón Ibérico were served in mini fryers and an athletic shoe. (Now I've seen everything!) These were some of the best croquetas I've ever had. Cheese exploded out of each perfectly fried croqueta as soon as I took a bite. I feel compelled to say the jamon Ibérico croquetas were better, but the chicken croquetas, studded with bits of dark meat, were almost as good.

There's some fried dates wrapped in bacon in one of those baskets (concisely listed on the menu as: Datiles con tocino 'como hace todo el mundo').

Piquillo relleno de 'txangurro' were piquillo peppers stuffed with Dungeness crab. The piquillo peppers, which would show up in a couple of dishes we ate that night, were perfectly roasted, but the delicate crab was somewhat lost.

Carne asada con piquillos Julian de Lodosa was the best dish of the night. Deceptively simple and seemingly safe, it exhibited such a perfect balance of flavors that we ended up ordering a second round. The sweetness of the piquillo pepper complemented the perfectly medium rare slices of skirt steak, with a yolk colored oil flavored with pimento harmonizing the two components.

Papas arrugas were baked potatoes from the Canary Islands. I had no idea potatoes were grown there, but they were excellent. Not pictured are the bright mojos, verde and rojo. The classic gambas al ajillo-- shrimp with tons of garlic-- were likewise eaten too quickly to be photographed. Our patatas bravas met the same sad fate. We may have also gotten the seared scallops with romesco sauce, but dishes were flying by me at this point, and I got a sliver of a scallop at most.

And for some reason I didn't get a picture of our seafood paella. The paella was fantastic, each grain of rice had sucked up so much of the seafood broth while still retaining its integrity. A halved lobster, not at all overcooked (well, maybe a tiny bit) sat on top of the rice, which was also dotted with little bits of ham (please don't tell my non pork-eating friends, they loved the dish). "Fricando de carilleras de ternera y pure de patatas al aceite de olive," or veal cheeks with morels and olive oil potato puree was likely the heaviest dish of the evening-- feeling like winter in the middle of the dessert (except I guess the morels are kind of Spring-y). Still, such a filling dish was the perfect way to end our savory courses, especially since the word "cheek" scared off the pickier eaters within our group.

"Flan al estilo tradicional de mama Marisa con espuma de crema Catalana" was likely the creamiest, thickest flan I've ever eaten. I'm not sure how much the whipped cream added, since the flan was plenty creamy as is, but I did like the texture from the crunchy orange candy pieces on top of it. Meanwhile, the orange sherbet tasted a bit like an Orange Julius.

I'm convinced. Since Jaleo has already been successfully franchised (there are now four locations across the country), it seems that Chef Andrés has uncovered a successful business model requiring minimal day-to-day involvement on his part. So come on José-- open one in New York City-- we won't mind if you never show up.

3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 
(702) 698-7000
Jaleo by José Andres (Cosmopolitan) on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. food served in a show? wtf? a little too whimsy for my tastes, but i would still want to eat at one of the Chef's restaurants