Dec 08, 2010 09:11PM, Published by Anonymous, Categories: Eat+Drink+Shop
Upon entering the restaurant you’ll immediately forget the standard outside environment (shopping center) and maybe even look for your passport. The decor and ambiance have the feel of Latin America and Spain—a soothing oasis. Gonzalo Fernandez, one of the owners, takes great pride in maintaining the Spanish flair: rough walls in warm ochre, beautiful stone-like floor tiles, all finely outlined with black rough iron railings and gorgeous red wood furniture. Gonzalo himself greeted us and made sure we were comfortably seated. Leslie, our server and a 7-year veteran of Jalapeños, took over from there and really did an impressive job.
My main focus was to enjoy an array of tapas to begin our little escape. On several occasions my companion and I have visited other restaurants and truly appreciated the tapas idea. Here is one explanation of its history: according to legend the tapas tradition began when King Alfonso X of Castile, or Alfonso the Wise, recovered from an illness by drinking wine served with small dishes between meals. After regaining his health the king ordered that taverns not serve wine to customers unless the beverage was accompanied by a small snack or tapa. The word became a kind of loophole in the law to allow drinkers to imbibe alcohol. Tapas evolved over Spain’s history through the incorporation of ingredients and influences from many different cultures and countries. Most of the Iberian Peninsula was invaded by the Romans, who introduced the olive and irrigation methods. The invasion of the North African Moors in the eighth century brought almonds, citrus fruits, and fragrant spices. The influence of their 700- year presence remains today, especially in Andalusia. The discovery of the New World brought the introduction of tomatoes, sweet and chili peppers, maize (corn), beans, and potatoes. These were readily accepted and easily grown in Spain’s microclimates.
So our time had come to taste tapas and put Chef Obed, who is from Mexico and a faithful member of Jalapeños’ staff since its opening 10 years ago, to the test.
In ordering our tapas we mixed flavors, textures, and origins. The tamales, a favorite, were rightly done. The croquetas, a Spanish classic made of seasoned chicken with béchamel, breaded and deep fried, were scrumptious. The gambas (large shrimp) were, for me, the most exciting: very rich in garlic and zesty. The Filete de Buey con Cabrales was succulent, with tender slices of strip loin steak with wine cream sauce. The Surdito de Vegetales, a mix of artichokes, mushrooms, hearts of palm, pimentos, and spinach in a sherrybutter sauce, was a great palate cleanser. Of course the traditional empanadas were up to par as well. The Ceviche Levantino (a raw seafood dish actually cooked over time by highly acidic brine) was a bit different from expected, with a blended citrus sauce with notes of garlic and cilantro; nevertheless, it was refreshing. And finally the calamares fritos (soft calamari fried and served with a picante sauce) proved to be one of our favorites, finishing our first course with just the right touch. What a treat that was.
Anyone in their right mind would have stopped there but we did not; we carefully selected two entrées to share. The Trucha Campesina (filet of trout) was delicious: gently sautéed with capers and Serrano ham laces, all in a light white wine and lemon sauce. When first looking over the menu I spotted a dish that I haven’t had in years: zarzuela. If I am not mistaken, this is as traditional to Spain as paella. A blend of seafood, predominantly mussels, is quickly braised in a sauce of olive oil, garlic, fresh tomatoes, a touch of brandy, and paprika, and then finished with saffron. It was excellent. I was looking to spice it up a little, so Gonzalo himself prepared us a wonderful pimento sauce to accompany the dish.
Although we were already satisfied, we always finish with dessert. We buzzed with delight as we enjoyed the banana cheesecake served with deep-fried plantains, a smooth citrus flan, and a buñuelo (fried tortilla with vanilla ice cream laced with caramel, whipped cream, and cinnamon).
As for the wines, Jalapeños offers a mostly imported list of wines from Latin America and Spain, but has a wonderful list of classic domestics as well. Whether you hop in for a few tapas during their daily happy hour or enjoy a multicourse lunch or dinner, you will be well taken care of with great food; great service; and, of course, Gonzalo’s wonderful hospitality.
Gilles Syglowski is a certified executive chef, a certified culinary instructor, and a food service consultant. He is a graduate of the Lycee d’Enseignement Professionel Hotelier in Metz, France. He is currently the assistant general manager of the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. Mr. Syglowski has more than 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry.