Is it wrong that after dinner at Jaleo, all I can think of is the flan?
Aw, that's a rhetorical question; it doesn't really matter, because this was the best flan ($9) I've had in eons -- rich and eggy and very vanilla-y, with just a kiss of caramelized sugar, plus orange segments and some orange sorbet for a counterbalancing bit of astringency and clouds of Catalan cream because, you know, dessert can never be truly rich enough.
And probably the reason it's foremost in my mind is simply that it was the last thing we ate at Jaleo, because everything that went before it was equally excellent.
Jaleo is a tapas restaurant; in fact the man at the helm, Jose Andres, is widely credited with bringing the tapas tradition to America. Tapas had been in Las Vegas for a few years before Andre's arrival, and while each tapas spot puts its own stamp on things, there's enough commonality that I really wondered just what Andres did that was so different.
As an answer, I can only think of Joel Robuchon and mashed potatoes. While most restaurants in town serve mashed potatoes, nobody -- but nobody -- prepares them like Robuchon. So I guess that makes Jose Andres the Joel Robuchon of tapas.
The menu turned out to be varied and interesting, with just a few classics and much innovation. And so we found chorizo wrapped with potato ($9), which was slim links of Spanish chorizo, each wrapped with a thin slice of crisped potato.
And carne asada with poquillo pepper confit ($14), the rare marinated skirt steak impossibly tender, the mild but flavorful peppers preserved but not pickled, a garden-born counterpoint to the earthier beef.
Pan con tomate with Manchego ($10) was fairly traditional, the tomato-smeared crusty bread topped with thin slices of the cheese.
Dates ($9) are another tapas-spot standard, but in this case, they'd been carefully wrapped with bacon into very neat packages and fried gently.
A crisp cone of La Serena cheese and quince paste ($4) was tiny and as dainty as fairy food, its flavor appealingly piquant.
And grilled asparagus ($12) had a wonderfully smoky tinge and was served with Romesco sauce, garlic-spiked tomato that gained richness and texture from almonds.
Molecular gastronomy remains pretty scarce in these parts, so we were particularly interested in the olives stuffed with anchovy and piquillo with "Ferran Adria" liquid olives ($12), the latter the brainchild of the Andres countryman who's considered the father of the molecular movement. The plain old olives were anything but -- smallish, briny babies each impaled by a sliver of piquillo pepper and one of Spanish anchovy, which put all others to shame. But then there were the liquid black olives, lovely orbs whose surface tension contained concentrated black-olive flavor without texture. The name was very accurate.
Service throughout was provided by a team and was very good, with utensils and water refills and wiping and whatever else brought without our having to ask. The atmosphere was about what we'd expect for a tapas restaurant, which tend to be sort of on the noisy side, but with a lot of energy.
And a lot of choices and flexibility, which is what we like most about them. Because who's to say we couldn't construct a whole dinner out of numerous servings of flan?
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or email her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.