Dining and Dating District Style: Jaleo
A friend recently asked about what the dating scene in DC is like and what he should expect upon moving here. Some have said that DC is home to some of the “happiest” single women or the biggest lushes in America. The ratio for women to men are much higher in DC than in other places. Also, there have been a multitude of studies that have consistently shown that the nation’s capital has a far superior dating scene compared to other cities (you’ll never yearn for Yuma). While meeting someone (datable) in DC can be somewhat difficult, it can be even more challenging to decide where to go. Like restaurants, everyone is different and what would be a great date place for one, may not be a great choice for someone else. So how do you pick? From the litany of questions I’m asked and the many horror stories that I have heard, it would seem that many people are often clueless about where to dine out on a date. Not to fear, Dining in DC is here!
Dining and Dating District Style is a new series focusing on dating from the viewpoint of the plate. Expect restaurant reviews with recommendations for a First, Second, or Third Date, tips on what to order and how to find happiness at the end of the fork (but I can’t and won’t make promises about happiness with your date). While I will occasionally have some gender specific posts, most will be gender neutral. Please let me know if you have a restaurant you would like to hear about or a question you would like addressed (Mom, please do not leave a question about why I won’t bring a nice girl home). For this series’ inaugural restaurant review, I visited the restaurant that introduced the Spanish tapas concept to DC: Jaleo.
Jaleo by one of DC’s celebrity chefs, Jose Andres, first opened in 1993, and has been tantalizing taste buds ever since. During my recent visit, I evaluated Jaleo (pronounced ‘Ha-lay-oh’) on various criteria which I feel is often important when selecting a restaurant for a date:
Ambiance: Jaleo recently underwent a huge renovation in March to reveal a modern, daring redesign, which completely revamped the main dining room and lounge. Bright orange hues, hand painted floor tiles that look like petals, murals and more dot a dining room meant to invoke a 21st century Spain. The room has a lively feel, and the ambient noise will not drown out the get-to-know you conversations (the sound reducing tiles over the bar help with that). Your fellow diners will run the gamut from young professionals through tourists and families. When combined with large windows running along the street, Jaleo gets a plus for people watching.
Food: While the tapas or small plates phenomenon is not to everyone’s liking, I think it is the perfect concept for a date. Food is one of the easiest conversation starters, and selecting multiple dishes just gives you even more to talk about (not to mention the value added from sharing your small plates). Since Jaleo’s menu is so vast (not including nightly specials), have you and your date pick 2 plates independently and collaborate on a 5th plate. I highly recommend the Dátiles con Tocino (lightly fried bacon wrapped dates). Each sweet yet savory bite is an explosion of flavor. Jaleo is also very well known for its use of Iberico ham (they have a very rich flavor due to their diet in the South of Spain), so you can never go wrong with any of the dishes featuring this succulent pork.
Drinks: Jaleo differentiates itself from the pack when it comes to selecting a drink. Soon after you are seated, your server visits you with an iPad in hand that allows you to browse Jaleo’s cocktail, beer, wine, and spirits menus. If nothing else, this is a great way to interact with your date. The iPad is an instant conversation piece and a great way to select a drink together.
While I often prefer to stick to drinking red wine on a date (I’ll save wine selection for a future post), I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Jaleo places great importance on Gin. The Jaleo bar features 16 different Gins and 6 variations of the tried and true Gin and Tonic. If your date orders one, feel free to let them know they just ordered Jose Andres’ favorite drink.
Neighborhood: Jaleo’s DC location is prime and just a short walk from the Verizon Center. This area is bustling and there is no shortage of competition, but Jaleo is always busy. There are a number of fun bars (shuffleboard at Iron Horse anyone?), museums and shops nearby for your pre- or post- dinner activities. Jaleo also wins big for accessibility by car and metro (Gallery Place-Chinatown).
Recommendation: First Date restaurant: While there are a number of fantastic features about Jaleo that would be suitable for a second or third date, I think it is well-matched for the nerve racking experience known as the first date. From sharing small plates to a lively and open atmosphere, Jaleo helps to fuel your conversations while also allowing you to easily impress your date.
Jaleo has has three metro locations (DC, Bethesda, and Crystal City). Their flagship DC restaurant is located at 480 7th Street, NW Washington, DC 20004.
A new series by the newest Dining in DC Contributor, Sean O’Brien