With so many dining options to choose from when visiting Walt Disney World, it’s hard to narrow down exactly where when the times comes to make your ADR (Advanced Dining Reservations). I always make it a goal to try at least one new place each visit, and on our most recent visit, we actually tried four new places and I was really happy with the choices I made. One, however, stood out and is quite possibly the best meal I’ve ever had. It is the best meal I’ve ever eaten at Walt Disney World without a doubt.
Late last year the announcement was made that Jaleo by Jose Andres was opening in Disney Springs. From that moment on, I stalked their website (literally checked every day) to see when reservations would open. Jaleo is a Spanish restaurant that has traditional Spanish cuisine including tapas and paella. What intrigued me the most was the Iberico ham, or Jamon iberico. I’ll get more into that later, but for those that don’t know, it’s a cured ham produced in Spain and Portugal that is made from black Iberian pigs that are fed olives, chestnuts, or acorns for the best quality and taste, and was illegal in the USA until December 2007. Needless to say, I was over-the-moon excited to score a reservation for dinner during our visit.
Lucky for me, it was during Magical Dining, a time when Orlando restaurants offer a prix-fixe menu for just $35 per person. That allowed us to try double the dishes for a fraction of the cost, so it was a win-win. The menu consisted of five courses, each tapas-style small plates, that ranged from appetizer to dessert and everything in between.
As I said earlier, I knew the menu from my website stalking, so I knew I had to start with the Iberico ham. This was an additional cost and let me tell you, it was totally worth it. At Jaleo, they serve Jamon iberico de bellota cortado a mano, which is the finest of them all, from free-range pigs that roam the oak forests along the border between Spain and Portugal and only eat acorns. It is then cured for 36 months. This particular offering of ham is carved tableside by a server that has trained for over three months on the art of iberico carving. It is meticulously done with such skill and precision I was blown away.
The ham is served beautifully with little breadsticks. We opted to add a traditional pairing of sherry to ours. Now, I am not a sherry drinker, but at the recommendation of the sommelier, we went with the Manzanilla Pastrana, which is what it is served with in Spain. He gave us instruction to place the ham in our mouth, let the fat coat our mouth, and then take a sip of the sherry. In all honestly, it was so good I got tears in my eyes. The fat melted leaving behind such intense flavor. I savored every bite of that ham and almost skipped the rest of the meal in favor of another order! There was still so much I still wanted to try that I had to move on.
We opted to start with the Croquetas de pollo (chicken fritters) and the Gazpacho estilo Algeciras (gazpacho – chilled tomato soup of sorts). The fritters were presented ‘princess style’ on a platter designed to look like the pillow that held Cinderella’s glass slipper. They were crunchy on the outside and deliciously gooey on the inside. The perfect bite.
The gazpacho was our second favorite dish of the evening. The combination of tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers was delightful and made my taste buds dance with joy! I could seriously have that every day of my life.
For our second course, we chose Espinacas a la Cantalana (sautéed spinach, pine nuts, raisins, and apples) and Datiles con tocino ‘como hace todo el mundo’, or bacon wrapped dates. The dates were interesting to me. While everything is better with bacon, dates definitely are! The apple-mustard sauce was almost as delicious as the dates themselves!
The salad was light and perfectly dressed. It was a nice break to have something green after the fried fritters and fried bacon wrapped dates.
While eating those, we were surprised with an order of Endivias con queso de cabra y naranjas, which are endives with goat cheese, oranges, and almonds. While we didn’t order it, we didn’t turn it down either. The goat cheese, probably the best I’ve ever tasted, was creamy and complimented the oranges and almonds for the perfect flavor and mouth feel. Just delicious!
So much food already and I still have three courses to go! Next up is the Patatas Bravas, tomatoes with spicy tomato sauce and aioli, along with Cebolla Asada, which is roasted sweet onions topped with pine nuts and La Peral blue cheese. For the potatoes, they recommend mixing the tomato sauce and aioli together with the fried potatoes for the best bite, and they weren’t wrong. The sauces mixed together along with the creaminess of the potato was just yummy.
The onions were another interesting dish. The sweet onion paired with a strong but tasty blue cheese was pleasing. It was a flavor I hadn’t had before. We accidently got two orders of the onions, so we gifted one to the couple next to us. Sharing is caring!
Fourth was what I would consider our main dish. We ordered Gambas al ajillo, sautéed shrimp with garlic, and we couldn’t come to Jaleo and not order paella, so we got the Paella Tapa, or the paella of the day. The shrimp was wonderful in taste and aroma with the garlic. I was served with a breadstick to soak up the extra oil in the bowl.
The paella, which was chicken and mushroom, was, well, divine. It was cooked perfectly, seasoned to perfection, and just all around perfect. But wait! There’s more!
We will end this on a sweet note. With dessert! By this time, I wasn’t sure if I could eat another thing, but I ordered the Pan con chocolate and my husband ordered the Flan al estilo tradicional de mamá Marisa con espuma de crema catalana, or the flan. My Pan con chocolate was served with olive oil and brioche ice cream, which is what intrigued me to begin with, and I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it was. It was a unique flavor that is hard to describe so you just need to go try it!
Now the flan, a dish I’m not typically a fan of, really surprised me. I seriously wanted to lick the plate clean. It was heavenly in texture and flavor and I wanted more.
Along with all this food we also enjoyed sangria, cocktails, and Spanish beer (don’t worry, we weren’t driving). We had a fantastic server that took great care of us all night during our marathon meal. And by marathon meal, we were there for over two hours, so if you go, plan accordingly. The restaurant is festive and fun (although a little on the loud side) and don’t be surprised to hear a cowbell with shouts of ‘Paella’ from the kitchen when a new pan is ready. Who doesn’t need a cowbell in their life? I say more cowbell!
To wrap it up, there aren’t enough words to describe the deliciousness that Jaleo is. I left there dreaming of the food and if we didn’t have other dining reservations for our trip, I would have gone back again. I highly recommend you give it a try. I also recommend a reservation as there was a two hour wait for walk-ins. So, go order the Iberico ham and live your best life! Las aclamaciones, Jaleo!