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Panama's Dining Scene Expands With Jaleo

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Written by Matt   
Wednesday, 07 January 2009 11:12
Jaleo Panama Winebar and BistroIn the semi-mundane world of Panama's dining scene, capsule one in which the same small handful of restaurants tend to dominate nights on the town in a recycled, "which will it be tonight" sort of spinning prize wheel basis, there is formally a new option to add to the mix. Jaleo Winebar and Bistro, which sits next to Eurasia in Bella Vista is officially open for business. Previously, the space of Jaleo Winebar & Bistro was occupied by a wannabe-hip restaurant that rarely saw any customers called Boga. I know because I was the only one there on four different occasions (don't ask). While the physical layout of the property, save some nice aesthetic touchups, hasn't changed much, the vibe is entirely new: fresh, forward-thinking, and apparently already popular amongst the small sliver of Panama's elite few.

I ate there on a Tuesday around 8:30 at night, the valet parking outside promising that this was not just going to be another imposter fine meal. When I started taking advice from valet parking men I have no idea, but something about Jaleo said try me, oh critical restaurant reviewer one. The partially covered outdoor patio was lined with simple yet elegant furniture, little of which was occupied when I first arrived. A small team of waiters stood huddled in the corner etching the specials of the night onto a chalkboard and filling water pitchers. At 8:30? I mulled. What restaurant in Panama does their basic nightly preparations at 8:30?

The menu is refreshingly simple and limited, a proven trait many of Panama's restaurants have failed to acknowledge in favor of long, bible-like books listing everything from mint moussaka to melon mousse. Overwhelming a restaurant guest is so 1980's American diner, don't you think? The items on the one-page menu looked decidedly Spanish, although some of the obvious like gazpacho had been omitted.

My appetizers arrived: ensalada de champinones (mushroom salad) and ceviche (ceviche). Truthfully, both were quite mediocre and set the meal off on a pedestrian tone, but the waiter service was quick and knowledgeable if that counts for anything these days. Then the entrees arrived.
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Paella (big enough for two), Jumbo Shrimp (giant langostinos), and Mero (grouper with garlic).

The entrees were among the best I've had in Panama in about three months. There was nothing terribly out of the blue about these dishes - no mystery spice or outrageous flavor combination - but everything was backyard fresh and seasoned really well. Squirting some bright limejuice on the paella and sipping a glass of Rioja transported me back to Spain for a few moments when we used to take paella/beer breaks on the beach in Valencia. The ambiance at Jaleo is categorically Panama hip, the same aspiring sleek lines and fake exposed rock that you see at places of similar caliber (Viso 52, Astrid y Gaston, Ten Bistro...etc) however there was a certain relaxed feel here that I appreciated wholeheartedly.

Apparently, I wasn't the only one who found it enticing. By the time I finished my meal, nearly the entire restaurant was full of young, modish Panamanians smoking cigarettes, drinking wine and being loud. On a late Tuesday night! I appeared to have accidentally stumbled upon a hotspot, seeing as though I'm clearly never capable of doing these things on purpose. The owner passed by the table, a young member of the same à la mode crowd that occupied his terrace, and confirmed that everything was to our liking. This near-desperate level of customer service is generally common in new restaurants: the overly-enthusiastic owner making stops at every table to "connect with his guests" and "be the face of the business." But to answer his question, I had to be fair and compliment just about everything about the experience that night. "Jaleo must still be hammering out some kinks behind the curtains as new places always do," I told him, "but from what we saw from the audience, it was a great show." I don't know where I adopted this drama-bug style of speaking, but he was eating it up.

Before trying new restaurants in Panama, I always pray urgently for them to be a hit. I want to have great service, great food and I usually give small hiccups the benefit of the doubt. Jaleo needed no helping hand though: it was like a rookie in, say the Japanese Baseball League, hitting a walk-off triple. This isn't the big leagues, nor was the effort particularly earth shattering. However in Panama, you have to readjust your standards, and Jaleo, at first sight, has officially made its way into my rotation.


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cool!
written by S. Davies , January 07, 2009
any idea about their hours/schedules? sounds like a great new option to (as you correctly put it) the humdrum food scene here.
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yumm
written by Cristina , January 08, 2009
the baccalao here was great. also had the same ceviche (kinda boring). smilies/angry.gif
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JUST: EXCELENT !
written by Ramon , November 17, 2009
Just EXCELENT food, special attention, exquisite ambience and very nice people in place. I enjoy the food, the ambiental music, not loud. Just PERFECT ! I will be there every weekend.
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CLIENTE INSATISFECHA!!!
written by Sylvia , December 03, 2010
Por donde empezar... Hace cerca de un mes fui con unas amistades (eramos un grupo de 9 personas) a cenar al restaurante. La verdad es que el ambiente es muy bueno en la terraza. Muy comodo para tomar los tragos. Para empezar, mi esposo y yo pedimos un pulpo a la brasa que de brasa poco o nada. Era un vulgar pulpo a la plancha con una salsa muy similar a la salsa bbq. De plato fuerte comí un risotto de mariscos que estaba bastante bueno, aunque no el mejor que he probado.
El problema fue llegar a mi casa con una pesadez en el estomago barbara!! Estuve con problemas estomacalas serios durante 2 dias. En buen plan llamé al restaurante para informarles que habia tenido un contratiempo con su comida. Cabe mencionar que un chico muy amable me atendió la llamada y me dijo que pasaría el reporte al chef. Igualmente me pidió mi numero de telefono pq según el me llamarían al dia siguiente. Le reiteré al chico que no era mi intención recibir algo a cambio y solo quería que supieran pq la verdad estaba molesta. Me dijo que no me preocupara, que me llamaban. Vamos para un mes y todavía estoy esperandolos. ja!! Y lo peor del asunto es que por fuentes cercanas al dueño del local y a su subchef me entero de que segun ellos ya han hablado conmigo. Vamos, que si hubiesemos hablado no me hubiese quejado y todo queda en un par de libras menos, aun cuando lo considero el laxante mas caro que me haya tomado (pq con los tragos, la cuenta sube bastante!) En fin, el restaurante no lo recomiendo ni lo recomendaré, ya no tanto por el mal rato que pasé, sino por la poca seriedad de sus cabezas (llamense dueño, chef, sub chef...) con respecto a esta cliente insatisfecha.
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Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 January 2009 16:00
 
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