Thursday, June 9, 2011

Off the Map: Vodka Conquers Jose Andres's DC

Arroz a Banda con Gambas Paella – Jaleo, Washington, DC

Disclaimer: The true extent of Vodka's lunacy may or may not be revealed in this post.

As previously stated, Vodka only travels to our nation's capital to see musicals starring Bernadette Peters or Roger Bart.

What Vodka did not admit previously is that she has a tendency to see shows starring said personalities a number of times.  An excessive number of times.

Some would say a maniacal number of times.

Anyway, due to this personality flaw, Vodka carts herself back down to DC to see Bernadette Peters in Follies at the Kennedy Center.  Again.

(It goes without saying that Bernadette was stupendous).
Also I May or May Not Now Own Half of This Paraphernalia
While in DC, Vodka also immerses herself in the culinary renderings of an actual DC icon: Jose Andres. An OCD-like trip through the Food Network website the week before had revealed that a dish from Andres's Jaleo was going to be featured on Best Thing I Ever Ate.  The problem? The episode hadn't aired yet, and the name of the dish was not revealed.

Vodka, forever the manipulator, decides that she is going to try to coax the name of the dish out of the Jaleo waitstaff, figuring that they are under strict orders from the Food Network not to release any privileged information before the show airs.

Spoiler Alert!
For the record, Best Thing I Ever Ate dish picks are not worthy of CIA-level protection.  Everyone and their mother at Jaleo is more than happy to tell me that Marc Murphy had chosen the arroz a banda con gambas paella on the BETTER THAN MINE episode.

So much for my stealth interrogation skills.

Saddling up to the bar, I am not put off when no less than four people tell me that the paella is meant to for at least three diners.  These folks have clearly never witnessed Ginger and me eating non-stop for 8 hours in a row.  “Portion control” is not a term in our vocabularies.
Time for a "I Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thing" Reference
Never one to turn down a cocktail opportunity, I order the Pomelo or Pummelo (which, after six years of Spanish instruction, I still can’t pronounce, let alone translate).  It allegedly has tequila and grapefruit in it, though it tastes more like a Manhattan than a Skinnygirl Margarita, so consider yourself warned.
Tequila in a Martini Glass? One of These Things Is Not Like the Others
The paella arrives, and it is fairly large.  (So large that the weird man three barstools down asks if he can try it.  Toto, I don’t think we’re in New York anymore…).  Large shrimp, heads intact, rest atop a bed of browned rice, with pieces cuttlefish sprinkled throughout.
"I Am Not a Shrimp, I Am a King Prawn." - Pepe the King Prawn
The bartender, sensing my idiocy towards Spanish food consumption, instructs me as to how to consume it (suck out the juices of the shrimp heads and spread dabs of the garlic aioli throughout).

The paella is delectable.
I Love Me Some Mayonnaise
Now, I am a pretty big fan of rice, particularly when it’s slightly sticky and coated in some sort of goop.  Jaleo’s rice is second to none, and it perfectly illustrates why the paella takes 30 minutes to cook (and thus get the most bang for your buck in the flavoring).  The shrimp has an ideal texture that melds wonderfully with the rice, giving it a slight under-the-sea tang.

(No word on what my paella-grabbing neighbor thought of it.  Dear Weirdo, keep your fork to yourself from now on).
And Keep Your Paws Off My Shrimp Heads
I take the remaining paella to go (and never finish it – it does not keep particularly well, due more to the smell than the food itself).  However, not satisfied to have only gone to one Jose Andres restaurant, I head to Zaytinya the next day.  Tragic backstory concerning Zaytinya: two and a half years ago, my friend and I had dinner reservations there (Roger Bart was in Young Frankenstein at the Kennedy Center at the time.  Duh).  Unfortunately, a snowpocalypse hit DC that night, everything shut down, and we were left stranded in our hotel room feasting on EZ Mac and Diet Coke.
And Worst of All, No Cocktails
Needless to say, I’ve never recovered.

In any case, I’ve been dying to try Zaytinya ever since, and it did not disappoint.  The Hitpiti spread (made with red peppers, feta, and thyme) is bowl-licking scrumptious.
Feta Makes Everything Betta
And the lamb bahar (some sort of kebab-like thing) is melt-in-your-mouth-and-make-you-moan phenomenal.
Thank You For Not Being on a Stick
As much as I liked Jaleo’s paella, I’d venture to say that I preferred Zaytinya.  Some Food Network star needs to feature it on Best Thing I Ever Ate pronto (as the bread alone would get my vote).
It's Not So Much "Bread" as "Clouds of Heaven"
And with that, I am out of Washington, DC Best Thing I Ever Ate locales (since Minibar’s six-seat reservation policy is too much for me to handle).  But am I out of Follies tickets yet?  I plead the fifth.

Jaleo’s Arroz a Banda con Gambas Paella – 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

No comments:

Post a Comment