18 March 2010

Tapas at Jaleo, Arlington, VA

I've written before about how my wife and I have become fans of Jose Andres. He's a Spanish chef who have a series on public television called Made in Spain. He also has several restaurants in Washington, DC, and one in Los Angeles.

One of his DC restaurants is an experimental, food-as-art venue called minibar. It's considered one of the most desireable reservations in DC. I went there earlier this year and posted an item about my (fabulous) experience.

I was back in DC in early March, attending a meeting at a hotel in Arlington. At the end of the evening, I wanted to find a place to eat, but didn't want to eat too much. Tapas seemed like a great option. One of Jose's restaurants, Jaleo, was less than a mile away. It serves tapas. I decided to go.

Truth is, I have eaten at Jaleo before. It was very much a similar situation - meeting over, just need a place for a light meal. That time, I went with a small group of other people.

So here's the thing. I like 'small plates,' tapas, whatever you want to call them. And when you only want a light meal, they offer a great option. But I've decided that there's a social aspect to eating tapas, and that was missing with my recent, solo visit to Jaleo.

I posted my review of the food on Yelp. It all was very good. But from my experience, tapas are made to share. I missed being able to share a bite with someone else and then talk about it.

So I definitely recommend Jaleo. But I'd recommend going there with a friend.

Krik's Picks preview of coming attractions

I've decided that over the next several months, I'm going to make a point of visiting all of Jose Andres' DC restaurants. I've now reviewed minibar and Jaleo. Still to come are Cafe Atlantico, Zaytinya (Greek), and Oyamel (Mexican). I have eaten at Cafe Atlantico. It was several years ago, shortly after it had opened. I'm looking forward to a return visit.

07 March 2010

Finto Italiano: Il Gatto vs. Spasso

Last night, we went with friends to Spasso in Minnetonka. A week ago, we went with other friends to Il Gatto in Uptown Minneapolis. Here are my views and recommendations about both.

Click here for my review of the food at Spasso. One of the things I really like is the arrangement with the Wine Shop next door. You can buy a bottle at retail and they'll serve it to you at Spasso with no corkage fee. We purposely arrived early so that we'd have time to peruse for a bottle. The Wine Shop has a very varied selection. We found a malbec with a sticker that said "Staff recommendation." It was the last bottle, so we decided to try it. I asked about the staff recommendation when we paid for the wine. The clerk said that he was the one who made the recommendation. When I told him we got the last bottle, he said that it won't be available again until the next vintage is released in several months.

We took our wine into the restaurant and were taken to our table. We had a reservation, and it was waiting for us, despite the fact that the restaurant was quite busy. I like that. You have a reservation, no wait.

Like I said, it was busy. It also was noisy. We had a booth, and I think that helped with the noise level. The way the dining room is set up, there's a wall that separates the bar from the rest of the dining room. Our booth was on the side with the bar. But surprisingly, it seemed less noisy than the other part of the room.

Our server was very cheerful and accommodating. She inspected our wine selection and expressed her approval. When I told her it was the last bottle, her comment was, "Darn. Now what will I have to drink when I'm done working."

Now click here for my review of the food at Il Gatto. Despite having a reservation, we had a short wait for our table. But it wasn't bad, maybe 10 minutes. The crowd of people flowed out of the door and into the Calhoun Square mall. We chatted with a group of young people who also were waiting. We took their picture in front of the Il Gatto sign.

When we were seated, we got a table. Our friends thought a booth would be better, but there wasn't one available. Spasso was loud. Il Gatto was very loud. I'm not sure if a booth would have helped, but it was very difficult to make conversation. Linda and I have a fairly high tolerance level. But the noise sort of spoiled the evening for our friends.

I do like the new decor. But for me, since the food is mostly the same as Figlio, they didn't really have to go through the expense of redecorating. As we left, we looked into the section with the bar. There were a row of tables along the window facing onto Lake Street. I'm not sure, but it seemed like maybe the noise level was slightly less in the bar than in the dining room. Interesting.

So between the two, here's what I'd say. I liked the food better at Il Gatto. I liked the concept at Spasso of having the wine shop and being able to bring your wine to dinner without a corkage fee. (Maybe that's what Calhoun Square needs - a wine shop.) I like the decor better at Il Gatto and there's more nightlife in the Uptown neighborhood.

I'd go back to either place. But I'm more likely to be back at Il Gatto sooner than at Spasso.