José Andrés is a well-known innovator, but with the revamped Jaleo, his 19-year-old Penn Quarter tapas restaurant, the chef-restaurateur has truly outdone himself. It's safe to say this is the only place in Washington where you can down chicken croquettes from a resin sneaker designed by Salma Hayek's brother. And that's just the start.
Here's what to expect at the new Jaleo, a jazzed-up version of the old, ready for your enjoyment this weekend after a three-week renovation.
1) New food!
The beloved Spanish workhorses--gazpacho, gambas al ajillo--still have their place on the menu, but head chef Ramon Martinez estimates that roughly a quarter of the dishes are new, and many are more playful takes on traditional items. Honey-drizzled "empanadas" are filled with a liquid salt cod filling, and warm flauta bread is topped with butter and sea urchin. There's paella, but there are also other larger dishes, all involving the famous Ibérico de bellota, the acorn-fed pig most often used in cured jamón. Here the meat is served fresh in preparations such as grilled pork ribs and pork skirt steak with tomato bread and mojo verde.
2) More gin.
Gin and tonic, Spain's national cocktail, isn't just the house drink: It's a whole section of the cocktail menu. Head bartender Owen Thomson mixes six different versions, ranging from the floral New Western made with Silvertip gin, tarragon, borage, and Fever Tree tonic to the bold Barrel Aged, with Old Tom gin (aged in whiskey barrels) and pickled ginger. Need more? Freshly shucked oysters on the half-shell arrive with a sheen of citrusy "gin and tonic" mignonette.
3) Interactive dining.
If you've ever watched the show Made in Spain, you know Andrés isn't a lackadaisical character. Two foosball dining tables surrounded by six seats made from Vespa scooters feature brides and Kiss characters standing in for some players--feel free to start a match while you wait for your meal. Unfortunately only 12 lucky patrons can occupy them at once, so those elsewhere can amuse themselves with pitchers of sangria prepared table-side with top-shelf red wine, gin, and aromatics.
4) Inclusive art.
The space is equipped with large art installations intended to make you feel like you're in the middle of the action. Spanish artist Daniel Canogar is behind what looks like a floor shot of an eclectic dance party behind the bar. Red and yellow chairs, ceiling panels, and floor accents keep the vibe upbeat.
5) Your fan club waiting in the bathroom.
Restroom floors depict photos of a smiling crowd cheering you on as you. . . go?