I recently took a day trip down to DC (the purpose of which will be explained later for those that don’t follow my Twitter or aren’t my Facebook friend), but before doing so, solicited recommendations on Facebook for where to have lunch. One place’s name popped up repeatedly such that I finally decided that meant I should go there…
Jaleo, a tapas place that was pretty close to my bus stop (or it looked like it on Google Maps anyway!).
As soon as I sat down, the waiter came over with a dish that contained a sprig of rosemary along with a whole clove of garlic – complete with skin intact. He then poured a very fruity olive oil over the top – which was nice, but honestly, the flavor of both the rosemary (a very strong herb!) and the garlic was completely lost… at least if it’d been bruised a bit, smashed a teensy bit? then it might have actually flavored the oil. Just as well – I’m not a fan of rosemary, so I suppose I could have taken care of these issues myself had I chosen to.
Amusingly, the waiter was almost friendly initially, until something switched in his face – I literally saw something switch itself in his expression, though I’m not sure what triggered it – from that point on, he was cold, borderline rude, just not friendly or nice. His service was passable – I was ignored a little bit but nothing that was so blatant I would say “Hey, what the f*?” but it wasn’t good. I really did not like his service (nor did he seem to enjoy my being his customer, either; he consistently sent other people to deliver my dishes, despite the restaurant not being very busy); he didn’t tell me the specials (and I only knew there were specials because a few minutes later, I heard him describing them to another table nearby), and – though it’s true, I was wearing a slightly more low-cut shirt than I normally do – he totally looked straight down my shirt, which I found uncalled for and rude (at least maybe you could wait until I’m not looking directly at you and can SEE you do this…). And there was an incident during which he huffed at me – which I expect during that situation, but – well, you’ll see.
The thing is, I was in DC specifically to have a good time, relax, enjoy some quality food, so I had no interest in raising a fuss or getting upset over this moron. I ignored his blank stare when, after he told me most people order 2-4 (small) dishes for lunch, I ordered five without flinching. (Which should have been a good thing for him – hello, bigger check means a bigger tip, right?)
My first dish arrived fairly quickly – a lovely beet salad that appeared in two different places on the menu. I pointed to the one I’d wanted – the cheaper one, assuming it was smaller, knowing I was ordering 4 more dishes. In any case, I really loved this dish – very fresh flavors and a lot of fun textures. Crispy rounds of chorizo, sweet and juicy beets with orange segments, tangy blue cheese crumbles, crunchy bits of lettuce. I REALLY liked this salad and was pleased with what I thought was a fantastic start to what I hoped would be an amazing meal.
The next dish to come out was the pulpo or octopus. The description had mentioned that it was boiled, but I hadn’t expected to… Well, I’ve had raw octopus and grilled octopus, and I’m pretty sure I’ve had it in some other forms as well. This – dusted with spices and mixed with potatoes – why wouldn’t it be good? Well, somehow, when Jaleo says ‘boiled octopus’ what they mean is ‘boiled to a mush’. I hate wasting. I ordered these things fully intending to stuff myself silly before walking around DC to ease what I imagined would be an aching belly. I ate a piece of pulpo and thought “Maybe that was a bad piece.” I ate another one. And another one. No, they were all disgustingly mushy. Remember me, the girl who really dislikes calling food vile, revolting, disgusting, gross? Well, this dish was, to me, unequivocally revolting. Absolutely disgusting. I don’t think it’s just me – it isn’t like I only like crunchy food, there are mushy foods I enjoy, things that are meant to be mushy! – it just was cooked wrong, or maybe the octopus went bad. All I know is… I couldn’t eat it if I tried.
In fact, that’s what the dish looked like when I pushed it away. (The potatoes were fine, a touch hard even!, but I didn’t want to fill up on them since they weren’t phenomenal.)
Next up were the bacalao fritters – fried balls containing salt cod within, served with a honey aioli. I like bacalao (salt cod) enough, though the fritters were a little soft for me – would have preferred them crispier – but uh, that honey aioli? My notes on this meal explicitly explain my feelings: “I could bathe in it and die happy.” Wow. I mean, I like aioli in general, but the addition of honey just brought this to a whole new level. I mean, my goodness!
I wound up dipping the bread in it and gobbling up all of it. I cleaned that dish. Mmm, so good, need to make my own! I left a fritter and a half because as they are fried, they got a lil heavy for me… plus the honey in the honey aioli does a good job of countering the saltiness of the bacalao, but I preferred the bread which just let the honey aioli shine freely 😉 Hahaha.
Ironically? Coincidentally? Jenn of Not Exactly Bento had been one of the people to tell me to go to Jaleo. Considering her extreme geographic distance from me (no, not California, but Louisiana), and how our lives are about as opposite (and yet… similar at time!) as possible, well, let’s just say her suggestion had weighed heavily with me. It would be nice to take her suggestion! She’d said she enjoyed it greatly when she went a few years back, but didn’t mention any dishes in particular. After I’d made up my mind to go to Jaleo, however, she happened to post this… causing me to almost reach out virtually and hit her upside the head, “Why didn’t you tell me to get that dish? You’re lucky I haven’t gone yet so now I KNOW to get it, or I’d have been PISSED!”
In any case, I did indeed order the chorizo with potato puree… of course, if you clicked on the above link, they look nothing alike, so I was pretty surprised. HOWEVER… looks don’t matter as much as taste to me, and oh my gosh, this was pretty mind bogglingly delicious. I would like to make this myself! Except house-made chorizo isn’t in my future… I’m not dabbling in charcuterie, sorry! But damn, the crisp fried chorizo’s ‘skin’/casing against the smooth puree of potato, a blank canvas that the chorizo, bursting with flavor, painted into completely new territory… ahhh, this is what food memories are made of! This is what food dreams can come true! Oh damn that was good. I was extremely happy already.
But if you’ve been counting, that’s only 4 dishes. Yup, to round it all off, I added a vegetable dish: grilled asparagus with romesco sauce, which was described as a pepper/tomato/onion sauce. Okay, sounds good… and it was. Good. Tasty. A little on the oily side, but it was properly cooked and tasty. Mind boggling or new? Nope. But that’s not a bad thing.
At this point, I smilingly asked to see a dessert menu just to look. I probably could have pounded back a dessert (I was actually thinking of getting ice cream for my walk afterwards, anyway), but the waiter frowned at me as he silently gave me the menu. Nothing. Come on, wouldn’t you just smile at this girl sitting there, smiling, who just ate FIVE dishes alone, who clearly was still thinking about eating dessert? I’m not obese, and even if I were, the waiter’s job isn’t to cast judgement! I wasn’t going to let him spoil my mood. I did, however, let his mood decide for me about dessert – at least one dish looked semi-interesting but not “I HAVE to have it,” so I opted out. Still no smile, no “I thought you might be too full,” which waiters and waitresses have said to me before with a smile and it’s not offensive! It’s just making conversation. But oh well, he lost out on some extra tip.
Then he brought me the check…
Bear in mind, I was alone. I was sitting at a two-top (table for two), back to the window. The waiter chose to put the check on the table as far away from me as possible. Uhhh? No smile, either. I just didn’t understand. I actually had to lean over all the way, then stand up a little to reach the check. (Was this an excuse to look down my shirt some more? No, because he’d already walked away, and seriously – though this isn’t really a comment for a food blog – there isn’t anything to look at, honest!) I was forcing myself not to get annoyed because, despite some major MEHHH parts of my meal (the octopus! augh!), I was having a good time and intended to continue my good mood for the rest of the trip.
As a matter of habit, I always check the bill before I pay. Sure enough, there was an error. A minor error of only $2.50, but it’s a matter of principle. I took out my credit card and waited for him to return.
It was past 2 at this point, and the restaurant had emptied significantly (though it’d never filled up to begin with). There were maybe 2-3 other tables in my immediate vicinity that had anyone at them, including a table that had just been seated. The waiter was nowhere to be seen. Finally, after more than 5 minutes of waiting (but less than 10), he reappeared and tried to take the book with the tab and my credit card in it from me.
“Oh,” I said, flustered for a second as he pulled the book from my hand, but before he walked away, “actually, I had a question…”
“Yes?” he said, impatiently.
My patience was wearing thin already, and I didn’t need incentive. I wasn’t wrong. I knew I was right.
“The price of the beet salad is wrong.”
He looked put out. “Are you sure? There are two beet salads on the menu,” he exhaled loudly.
“Yes,” I said firmly. “I pointed at the less expensive one because I wanted a smaller portion.” I looked him straight in the eyes, daring him to say something back. He was staring at me, not quite glaring, but staring. He seemed to be calculating something.
After a moment, “Fine,” he said. “I’ll fix it.” He huffed loudly and walked away.
I was sufficently annoyed at this point that I have to sincerely weigh the pros and cons of recommending this place. Poor service can be a one-off, but it can also destroy your entire meal, despite wonderful food. It is a serious matter – if you are going to pay to go out and eat, you do not want to pay to be treated like shit. Especially in the current economy! Especially at a restaurant that you wouldn’t consider inexpensive! Especially at a place like this!
While it’s true, he did fix the bill without further comment, (and no, he didn’t reissue a check, he just charged my credit card minus $2.50, but at that point, I was just like, I want to get out of here, I don’t need the headache of demanding to see a new itemized bill) I just felt the whole incident was unnecessary. Uncalled for. I know I pointed to the cheaper dish, because I knew I was going to order four more dishes and I wanted a small-ish salad to start. Because I’ve waited on people before, I still tipped him a normal amount (16% or so – I almost doubled the tax blindly, but turns out, DC tax is 10% and that would have given him 20%… which he did NOT deserve!)… but I was incredibly disgusted with his behavior.
Yvo says: To be honest, I had some really good dishes at this place, as you can see above with my enthusiastic descriptions. I also had a really bad flop, and a mediocre dish or two. There were many other items on the menu that piqued my interest. However, as you can also see above, I really didn’t like my waiter. Are all the waiters there like him? I have no idea, and I doubt it, because other people seemed happy to be there, and the restaurant has been open for quite a while – restaurants don’t succeed if they have that terrible service. (Except maybe in certain cities that seem into the abuse.) So, if you’re the gambling type, your odds are pretty good to not have the same shitty waiter I had… and the food seems like certain dishes are worth it! My entire meal (everything you see above; I didn’t order alcohol or a beverage) came to $50 including a normal tip.
food mostly recommended… I hope that waiter gets an attitude adjustment