We set out for Jaleo, the newest restaurant at Disney Springs, which you’ll find on the West Side across from Splitsville and in between House of Blues and Bongos Cuban Cafe. While I spend a lot of time at Disney Springs, I rarely intend to write a review based on any specific experience. Nobody really cares about Disney Springs. But Jaleo is interesting enough that I think it demands your attention. We also spent over a thousand dollars across two visits and more than 40 items purchased, so I’m also trying to recoup $5-$8 of that from the twelve of you that aren’t currently running AdBlock. I suppose that you could say the following is an example of me being selfish.
With so much food to cover, I’ll focus on the atmosphere of the 22,000 square foot restaurant in a subsequent review. But the interior is an interesting juxtaposition of darker, contemporary woods and metals, with the bright red and yellow colors of the Spanish flag. There’s also a large variety of things dangling from here and there. For a moment, I was wondering when I was going to descend into the conversation pit and be served a Brandy Alexander by someone wearing a tomato-hued tweed suit.
The mustardy yellow that makes up the majority of the upholstery is not exactly to my tastes, particularly in such a dimly-lit restaurant, but I haven’t heard any other complaints about it. White linen tablecloths would have been a nice touch, since this is technically a signature restaurant that costs two credits on the Disney Dining Plan, but at least the quick service next door offers branded Pepe napkins and cups. One of three downstairs bars, as pictured above, is located just inside the entrance on the left with about eight high-top chairs. A large mural of the back of a matador is elevated high above the area and ESPN is about to show some Washington highlights on the television to the left.
Speaking of Pepe, the counter from which you’d place an order is located through this doorless entryway. About 80% of the quick service’s chairs and tables actually sit inside what is otherwise Jaleo. It’s an interesting decision as you wouldn’t expect to see Contempo Cafe seating to be located within ten feet of the tables for California Grill.
You’ll find a second bar, overlooking a portion of the kitchen, further inside on the right as you explore the restaurant.
A Paella Pit is located on the opposite side of the restaurant, with a third bar situated even further back, also on the left. Outdoor seating lines the exterior of the restaurant with pleasant lakeside views. This is the first of five Jaleo restaurants that is not only freestanding, but also arrives with a second floor.
Two working Foosball tables are available on a first-come, first-served basis. I’m not sure that I would request one unless you want the kids/dads to be fiddling with the handles, which also tend to gouge stomachs. On the other hand, with the high prices and small portions, you might want to jam one of rods into your belly to help fill a little more space. There are six Golden Corrals within ten miles of Jaleo. I’m just saying.
Moving on to food, Jaleo’s menu is vast, to the point where it’s probably a bit overwhelming to narrow down your choices to just a few from the more than 60 listed. That’s before even making it to a cocktail or wine menu. It didn’t help that the online menu that the restaurant put up a day or two before the opening was almost completely inaccurate with virtually none of the items available at the prices posted.
Here’s the first page of what you should actually find:
Potentially worse than the sheer number of offerings is the fact that it’s often cumbersome to understand what exactly each of the 67 different menu items entail. The very first dish is “Pan de Cristal con Tomate.” Pan de Cristal refers to the Spanish-style ciabatta that Jaleo imports from the only baker in Spain that they trust to deliver bread with the appropriate texture required to pull off the recipe to the high standards of the Chef. The menu doesn’t say any of that, instead describing it as “ethereal.” You’d have to read the Spanish description to learn that it’s Pan de Cristal and the English description to find out that it’s toasted and brushed with fresh tomato. Even if you only spend 20 seconds reading the name and description of each item on the menu, it will take you 22 minutes just to get through it.
Confusing things further, some items appear more than once, but are described and priced differently, depending on the header. For $16, a “Plato de queso Manchego” appears under the “Buen Provecho” header. Obviously, Plato means plate, but you’d have to read that and actively translate it since the English description doesn’t mention said plate or give any other indication of the size of the portion. The same Manchego cheese also appears under the Quesos header, this time for as much as $10 less, and without a description of the flavor, as part of what is apparently a cheese tray. Those Quesos are served alongside “picos” with no explanation of what those might be. You might assume that the word means “accompaniments,” since our plate of cheese makes no mention of any sides. But it doesn’t.
Embutidos is probably referring to dry sausages, but in the Philippines, it’s meatloaf surrounded by layers of egg. There’s no translation there or any indication about serving size or flavor of anything that follows. A lot of people visiting Disney Springs probably couldn’t tell you the difference between acorn-fed sausage and acorn-fed chorizo, let alone unearth the subtleties of 36-month cured ham shoulder versus 36-month cured ham leg.
But discovering these things may be part of the fun, at least if you don’t mind blindly spending an inordinate amount of money or asking your server a lot of questions.
We get right into it with the $45 “Selección de ibéricos – A selection of ibérico cured meats served with pan feo.” What is the selection? What is “pan feo?” Well…
First up, we have the “Salchichón ibérico de bellota – Cured acorn-fed pork sausage.” The flavor is peppercorn-heavy and a bit heartier than the other meats with a little bit of an earthy, nutty quality. The “Chorizo ibérico de bellota – Cured acorn-fed pork chorizo” is much smokier, with the flavor of paprika showing through before the pork has an opportunity to “literally” melt in your mouth. Of the three hams up front, the “Paletilla ibérica de bellota” is the star of the show; the impossibly-delicate, paper-thin slices maintain a strong firmness and carry a nutty flavor that’s equal-parts salty and sweet.
In the back left, we have a bit of the “Sobrassada ibérica,” or “Spreadable cured sausage made with ibérico pork and Spanish pimentón.” A side of honeycomb is served alongside it. The texture is similar to a soft pâté with a flavor similar to the paprika-forward Chorizo. The $14 price for it alone is a good way to get all of that rich iberico flavor without the hefty price tag.
For $45, you come away with about eight very thin slices of each, which means four people could enjoy two pieces of each variety, along with some of the Sobrassada, For two, it might be a little much, though I don’t think we’re looking at more than two ounces of meat here, if that. Certainly, if you’d like to try a variety of flavors and really taste the differences, then this is your best bet. Note that it doesn’t include any of the high-end ham that’s $36 and carved tableside.
I tried the $12 “Pan de cristal con tomate – Toasted slices of uniquely crispy and ethereal bread brushed with fresh tomato” on two separate nights and wasn’t wowed by either. While the bread itself may be light in a way that’s “too perfect for this world,” it’s topped with a thin layer of ice cold tomato paste. I thought they may have not gotten the toasty-ness quite right on night one, but the second try ended up being the same. Nearly everyone raves about this thing and your server will likely talk you into an order alongside the cheese, but I didn’t find the whole thing appealing. Certainly, the airy, crispy bread has some promise.
Of course, we are not done on the meat front quite yet, here with the $14 “Jamón serrano – 24-month cured serrano ham.” The ham enjoys a deep, rich flavor and a surprisingly-mild saltiness. The Picos that we were interested in before are those little breadsticks on the left. They’re deliciously crispy and taste almost exactly like a little crunchy baguette.
That makes them pretty precious. I’m not sure how they differentiate themselves from the Pan Feo, or “ugly breadsticks,” other than the Pan Feo may be longer in length.
The cheese selections were a surprising high point. Typically, most of the offerings on Disney’s own cheese plates aren’t anything that you can’t find at the local Publix for $10-$12 a pound. Here, we’ve got the “La Peral – (D.O. Asturias) – An intensely flavored blue cheese of cow and sheep milk paired with raisins and Pedro Ximénez compressed pears.” In the middle is the “Caña de cabra – a soft, semi-sweet goat’s milk cheese paired with rosemary cracker and fig jam.” And on the right, it’s the “Queso Manchego – A traditional raw Manchego cheese paired with moscatel compressed apples.”
Here’s another set of three.
And rounding out the selections with a look at $28 worth, this time adding the “Rey Silo Blanco – (D.O. Asturias) An intensely-flavored cow’s milk cheese paired with honey, rosemary and almond shortbread and PX reduction” and “Rey Silo Rojo – (D.O. Asturias) A bold and spicy raw cow’s milk cheese with pimentón, paired with almonds and bitter orange jam.”
Considering the quality of the cheese and the thoughtful pairings, I’d recommend starting with at least three, along with however much ham as your wallet allows. Certainly, the $45 Selección de ibéricos and $28 Queso Platter would be a tasty way to get the show on the road. That’s $18.25 per person with a group of four. The fact that the dishes are all intended to be cold will also let you return to them as the hot plates begin to arrive.
The next page brings 20 more options:
Here we have some Chef Andrés Favorites, along with some Salads and Vegetarian options.
The $28 “Gambas a la Zahara – Head-on shrimp, with garlic and extra virgin olive oil prepared as José does in summer” was one of my favorite dishes of either meal and also one of the larger portions. The dish is presented tableside inside a sizzling pot with plenty of large, juicy, head-on shrimp sitting in a thick bath of oil, garlic, and butter. The Shrimp retain a delicious snap and the flavor is as rich and satisfying as any shrimp dish I can remember. Add these to the short list.
Next up is the $13 “Ensalada de remolacha con cítricos – Salad of red beets, citrus, Le Peral blue cheese and pistachios with sherry dressing.” We ordered this on the recommendation of our server and he was absolutely right. It was incredibly fresh with sweet, tangy, nutty, and acidic flavors coming together into a surprisingly-shareable salad with an incredible variety of textures. Get this even if you’re not big on beets. Maybe the best salad on property.
A meager 17 items listed on the next page:
Featuring Fried, Sandwiches, Fish, Seafood, and Meats.
At other Jaleo restaurants, Chef Andrés is known for serving croquetas in shoes. Originally, they were actually Camper shoes. More recently, the Chef moved to resin Converse-esque sneakers. You know, the whole health department and all that. Here at Disney, the $12.50 “Croquetas de pollo – Traditional chicken fritters” are served on custom ceramic pillows said to resemble the one that held Cinderella’s glass slipper. As it stands, your $12.50 buys you five small chicken fritters, each of which is satisfyingly-crispy and holds a delicious, piping-hot mixture of creamy shredded chicken and smooth bechamel sauce with just a touch of nutmeg. At $2.50 a pop, or $1.25 a bite, they’re definitely on the expensive side. But the Chef is known to serve the best Croquetas in the world and there is a reason for that. They’re that good.
Next up is another fried item in the $11 “Dátiles con tocino ‘como hace todo el mundo’ – Fried bacon-wrapped dates served with an apple-mustard sauce.”
These were another highlight. The dates are sweet and fruity, encased in the same crispy batter as the famous Croquetas and made all the more irresistible by the thin, high-quality bacon. The apple-mustard sauce is genius, combining a crisp apple-y sweetness with the usual mustard tang. At $11 for five, they’re another expensive proposition, but the execution is impeccable. Jaleo has Frituras figured out.
The $10 “Patatas bravas – A Jaleo favorite: fried potatoes with spicy tomato sauce and alioli” are up next. If I was going to recommend anything on the menu as a “must buy,” then this is it. The potatoes are boiled and then fried, creating a soft, luscious potato that’s ever-so-slightly crispy. The spice in the tomato sauce is brought out by the pimentón, or Spanish paprika, and enhanced slightly with a little bit of pepper. The creamy garlic aioli is finished with a bit of sherry vinegar, adding complexity and a bit of acidity to the dish, bringing out the flavors even more. These are a 10/10 and something that just about everyone should enjoy.
Rounding out our fried selections, we’ve got the $10 “Chistorra envuelta en patata frita – Slightly spicy chorizo wrapped in crispy potato with membrillo aioli.” What may be best described as Spanish Pigs in a Blank arrives as a thin, crispy potato covering a salty Basque-sausage. The real star of the show is the quince paste in the aioli, which adds a floral aroma to the sweet sauce that contrasts wonderfully against the very mild spiciness of the sausage. Price may come into play here again as each sausage is at best, two dainty bites.
Even the Patatas Bravas, one of the better bangs-for-your-buck and pictured here on my second visit, only translates to three small cubes served to each person of a party of five. One issue we had with service may be considered a “benefit” of tapas. Food comes out of the kitchen as soon as it’s ready. So if you order ten items, chances are that one or two will appear every five or so minutes. The problem is when you’re served five dates, split five ways, and six small sausages, split five ways, that each person is eating just four or five bites before the 5-minute wait for the next round begins anew. That might be just fine while enjoying a breezy evening at Bar Jai-Ca in Barcelona, where the house wine is two euro and Catalan bread is the equivalent of 80 cents American. But when the bread is $12, you’re out of water, and the cheapest glass of sparkly is $12, it’s a little less fun.
Particularly with kids, I could see the duration of the meal end up on the trying side. Despite our $441 tab on our second night, split between five people, I don’t think we ever had more food than when the cheese arrived solo at the table to start things out. Even with the shrimp being a reasonable portion, it still amounts to just two each. And that was that for $28. Prices here are about 20% higher than the Washington DC restaurant, but about 10% lower than Las Vegas.
Back to business, we’ve got the $18 “Bikini de jamon con queso Manchego – Pressed sandwich of Spanish hams and Manchego cheese.” This greasy, buttery, rich ham sandwich doesn’t necessarily “feel” like it fits in with the context of a signature restaurant or alongside most of the dishes that we’ve seen, perhaps in part due to presentation. It looks like the sort of thing that you’d receive from a food truck for $8. The good news is that it takes some of the most delicious pieces that we’ve seen so far and puts them all together. You’ve got the tangy, nutty Manchego that now carries a little bit of a crispiness to it as it sits atop several layers of salty Spanish ham. Then you’ve got the light, airy, crispy bread holding everything together. It was delightfully decadent, but still containing all of the light flavors and nuance that we’ve enjoyed so far.
The $18 “Gambas al ajillo – The very, very famous tapa of shrimp sautéed with garlic” didn’t hit any high notes for me. It’s a ton of oil and even more garlic inside of a bowl with just a small handful of undersized shrimp. The Gambas a la Zahara, the other shrimp dish that we saw before served in the ceramic bowl, is ten dollars more. But comes in much more flavorful and in a much larger portion presented in a much more fun way. Above is what we received on day two.
Here’s day one. That is not a particularly large pepper, which should give you an idea about the portion size. If black-footed iberico pigs that eat ten pounds of acorns a day somehow came into play with the shrimp, then maybe the price would be justified. But I don’t see it, personally.
On the plus side, we only received one breadstick on day one. But two breadsticks were served on day two. So there’s that.
The $15 “Carne asada con piquillos – Grilled flat iron steak with confit piquillo peppers” is an excellent dish with six slices of flat iron steak grilled to a perfect medium rare. Underneath the steak is a bed of soft, smoky, sweet fire-roasted peppers. It was one of my three favorite dishes of the first night.
This is what the same peppers look like when served with the $75 Ribeye. I’d actually recommend the $15 version plated above – the beef isn’t quite as tender, but it may be even more flavorful and the portion is much more substantial than a fifth of the $75 steak.
This is not a very good picture of the $13 “Pollo a la brasa – Grilled chicken served with garlic sauce,” but it’s a relatively-plentiful portion of juicy chicken served over a robust, garlic-heavy sauce with notes of soy, cumin, and aji amarillo pepper. We preferred this to the “very very famous Gambas al ajillo” and you come away with more food for five fewer dollars.
Here’s a look at the next menu page with Large Plates and Paella:
With this review already clocking in over 3,500 words, I’ll save reviews of some of these more substantial dishes for round two, along with dessert, cocktails, and some different tapas.
One key point is that only two of the five paellas are available each night, which is something we learned the hard way when I tried to order one of the two seafood paellas on consecutive nights. Since they have several dishes with shrimp, you wouldn’t think that it would be difficult to have squid on hand as well, but Jaleo takes their rice very seriously. And if they say they can’t do it, then they can’t do it.
So far, these are the dishes I recommend the most so far, in order:
- $10 “Patatas bravas” – the delicious fried potato dish
- $15 “Carne asada con piquillos” – the steak on top of the peppers
- $28 “Gambas a la Zahara” – the head-on shrimp in the ceramic dish with the garlic
- $13 “Ensalada de remolacha con cítricos” – the beet salad
- $11 Dátiles con tocino ‘como hace todo el mundo – the dates
- $28 “Queso” – the cheese
With two people, each of the smaller plates that hover between $10 and $15 are probably adequate to share. If you have four or more people sharing, you’re looking at three or four bites per plate with the possibility that it will be closer to one or two. The joy of tapas is that you can always order more, even if that yields just two more bites per person. Beginning around the $18 price point, you typically come away with more food, but the portions are still going to be around half the size of comparable appetizers at other restaurants.
For example, this is $16 worth of Firecracker Shrimp from The Boathouse. It’s easily more than four times the very, very famous shrimp tapas that Jaleo is serving for $18. “But Josh, it’s fried shrimp.” Very observant, but I’m not sure there’s that much more effort going into sautéing eight small shrimp with garlic than frying three dozen shrimp and preparing this sauce made with sriracha mayo, serrano chilis, and sweet peppers.
At Jaleo, it’s $10 for six tiny fried sausages. At Raglan Road, it’s $14 for twelve large hand-battered, perfectly-crispy sausages served alongside a delicious tangy mustard dipping sauce. This is easily four times the food for four more dollars.
And you can eat as much of the Soda Bread alongside the Guinness Reduction “for free.”
At Morimoto Asia, this huge tray of “Beef Bulgogi Nachos – wonton chips, thinly sliced soy marinated beef short ribs, gochujang sauce, jalapeños, cheese, scallions” runs $8 (during happy hour).
At Paddlefish, this heaping pile of Hand-cut Fries topped with Lump Crab and Louie Sauce costs four dollars more than the vegetarian potato dish at Jaleo. This is easily eight times as much food and lobster is a much more expensive ingredient than the garlic, mayonnaise, and tomato that we see in the Jaleo version.
I could go on, but that’s what you’re paying for at Jaleo – food that’s just as good as, or a little better than, most of the other restaurant’s top-line appetizers, typically in portions about a quarter of the size for potentially more money. That may or may not make it the place for you.
We’ll return for at least one more look.