Jalapeños Restaurant: An Hispanic Surprise in Parole
There's something just a little off-putting about going to a restaurant in a strip shopping center. I know it's more commonplace in some areas than others, it's just not something I'm familiar with. Who would expect to find a fine dining establishment nestled between a Dominos Pizza and Christian bookstore?
That's exactly what you'll find in the Forest Drive Shopping Plaza in the name of Jalapeños. I had my doubts, but I couldn't ignore the positive buzz surrounding this Spanish/Mexican eatery.
Since May, local culinary stars Gonzalo Fernandez and partner Alberto Serrano (both formerly of Michelangelo's) have merged talents and ethnic flare to produce a warm and flavorful surprise in the midst of the hustle of Parole.
Not knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised by the attractive appointments and tasteful decor in Jalapeños. From the tile floors and saucy music to the chandeliers and hand-painted murals, Fernandez and Serrano have maximized a minimalist space. With no lobby, people waiting for tables tend to drool over the shoulders of diners at one or two tables. Otherwise, the restaurant comfortably seats 70+ at tables adorned with tablecloths except for two tall glass-topped cafe tables.
With warm greetings - Fernandez himself was hosting - we were led to our table and offered menus and a small dish of complimentary marinated olives. Agreeing that margaritas were in order, we still had to face an impressive list of house specialties. I settled on the K.A.M. margarita ($5.75), a perfect blend of Cuervo 1800 tequila, Cointreau, lime juice and Grand Marnier, while my companion experimented with a Patron Blanca margarita ($7) made with Patron tequila for a rich, smoky flavor. Both were excellent specimens, uniquely different in flavor and a nice change from the traditional sour mixtures we so often find.
For snacking before your meal or as your meal, there's lots to choose from at Jalapeños. Appetizers and tapas (Spanish appetizers) are abundantly represented. Consider Ceviche Levantino ($7.50), fresh seafood, scallops, shrimp, and calamari poached and chilled. then marinated in lemon, lime, olive oil, garlic and cilantro vinaigrette; Portabella Champiñones ($7.50), a grilled portabello mushroom topped with cabrales cheese, pine nuts and balsamic sauce; and Empanadas de Marisco ($6.50) seafood sautéed with jalapeños, cilantro and sherry wrapped in puff pastry and served with chipotle sauce. Strategically placed first on the menu is a dish I knew I had to order, Gambas al Ajillo ($7.95), shrimp sautéed in olive oil with garlic, tomatoes and sherry. With a basket of warm rolls, this dish of five shrimp swimming in a sinful sauce could easily suffice as a meal, but I was sharing. On to the next course.
While no specials were available on our recent visit, we were advised that everything on the menu is special. There were, however, some changes. The New York strip steak was no longer being offered, and more changes were forthcoming. Such winter items as stews would soon be added, Fernandez said. Additions will also include quesadillas and vegetarian chili relleno.
In the meantime, my choices were ample and varied. Entrees include Salmon a la Navarra ($15), a filet of salmon sautéed with serrano ham, capers and white wine; Chile Relleno ($12) pablano chiles stuffed with chicken, tomatoes and onion served with tomatillo sauce; Lubina a la Plancha ($17) slow-cooked whole rockfish seasoned with herbs and olive oil; and the more familiar chicken or beef fajitas ($10.95).
I am a big fan of mole sauce (chocolate, peppers and nuts) and am always curious about the many interpretations, so I ordered the Pechuga Oaxaquena ($12), a whole chicken breast covered in the mole sauce and sided with refried (black) beans and Spanish rice. The platter was large and very colorful. The chicken was moist and generously coated with the rich, mildly hot sauce. Very tasty.
My companion ordered the very popular Paella Valenciana ($17), a large bowl of shrimp, mussels, clams, chicken and chorizo sausage and saffron rice. This traditional dish is a melting pot of flavors, each ingredient holding its own with the rice bringing it all together.
Service at Jalapeños is professional and well-versed on the menu and ingredients. Our server helped educate and assist us in navigating the international menu.
Definitely not what I expected from a strip mall, but that's a good thing.
Of special note: Jalapeños has a younger (two-month-old) sibling, Taqueria Serrano. Located next to the Sears in the nearly abandoned Parole Shopping Center, this venture offers take-out in a more informal setting. A permanent residence is on the horizon.
85 Forest Drive Parole 410/266-7580
Proprietors: Gonzalo Fernandez & Alberto Serrano
Reason to go: Mexican and Spanish treats on many levels.
Something to think about: Overcome
your preconceptions; it's all a facade.
| Issue 47 |
Volume VII Number 47
November 24-December 1, 1999
New Bay Times
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