Most likely in an effort to reflect Andres' culinary combination of gastronomic science and old-world cuisine, a recurring theme in Jaleo's decor is warm color tones used to offset crisp lines and geometric shapes. Vivid reds, yellows, and oranges adorn polygonal accents in each room. Jaleo has ample space for seating (although the upstairs area was closed to guests for the night), and even large parties will be able to find some intimacy for conversing over their cuisine. For smaller parties less concerned about the process of an extended formal dining experience, tapas bar seating is also an option. Outdoor seating stretches around the back with a beautiful view of the lake — this was where we sat, and the fact that it was an uncharacteristically cool Florida night did not hurt our enjoyment of the occasion.
Once the sun set was when Jaleo's ambiance truly began to take hold, as calculated back-lighting managed turn the restaurants already-striking colors and shapes into a spectacular artistic display. Our humble-yet-knowledgeable server Gustavo was well trained and educated on the benefits of each dish. With his help, we managed to pick out some impressive and satisfying plates. Here is a rundown of what we experienced:
Pan de Cristal con Tamate — $12
While it isn't necessary to start every meal with bread, we were very glad we did. The bottom of this unique and satisfying dish had a signature crispness to it, yet the top was moist and absolutely intense with fresh tomato flavor. It may seem simple, and the idea is, but this is one of those cases of a basic design so well executed that it becomes something else entirely. For some, $12 for bread service — even if it tastes like the bruschetta they serve on Mt. Olympus — is a little too pricey. As we'll quickly find out, though, Jaleo is not the place to go if $12 bread seems like a scary prospect to you.
Jamon Ibérico de Bellota cortado a mano — $36If $36 for that small plate of ham doesn't make any sense to you, that is understandable. This is where Jaleo sets itself apart from others in the area and its mission becomes clear. Not every dish is about making sure you don't leave hungry — the beauty is in the experience. You can get a similar plate of 36+ month cured ham, a product of the world-renown ibérico pigs of Spain, but choosing the "cortado a mano" version gets your meat hand carved tableside.
The taste of this ham is deep and strong, so it is really ideal to consume in razor-thin slices to savor as much flavor from each ounce of pig as possible. Watching a master do it directly in front of you is worth the extra $6; I mean, you're already spending $30 for a few mouthfuls of ham.