Dining With Miss Lil At Jalao NYC

June 23, 2023

By Lil Nickelson

Jalao NYC is the first dining Dominican cuisine restaurant in Washington Heights located at 2420 Amsterdam Avenue on the northwest corner of 180th Street.

The name is derived from the Dominican traditional dessert of coconut and honey that is served warm with a scoop of Dominican rum ice cream. Located in the lobby of the new Radio Hotel, once you step inside Jalao NYC is dazzling with rich colors and island accents everywhere including Carnival masks, a palm motif, rattan and cozy upholstered booths, beautifully painted tables, pineapple sconces, and glass wall with a brilliant, leafy flamboyant tree painted on it, and a brightly lit bar where there is a huge space for cocktails, dining, and Caribbean music playing softly in the background. Join Jalao on Wednesday nights for live Latin Bohemian and tropical music (merengue, salsa, and bachata) by Luis Vagabundo in their indoor dining room.

Happy hour is on weekdays from 5 pm to 7 pm, happy hour on the patio starts from 3 pm, and late-night happy hour is Monday through Thursday from 10 pm to 12 midnight with select bites to eat. Weekly live music is back from 9 pm until they close. On Saturday night there is live tropical music (merengue, salsa, and bachata) by AfroDominicano in our outdoor courtyard from 9 PM – 11:45 PM. On Sunday afternoon live tropical music by KY3 in our outdoor courtyard from 2:30 PM – 4:30 PM.

Now that it looks like the last two months of spring-like weather one-day winter-like weather for a few days we were experiencing is over, only rain can disturb letting the good times continuously roll in the outdoor dining area for Jalao NYC. Peruvian-born Executive Chef Wilmer Chaquillanqui trained for months at the popular Santo Domingo restaurant of the same name under consulting chef Richard Sandoval and his culinary staff there before heading up to NYC to take the helm here. Chef Wilmer, along with the front-of-the-house staff at Jalao NYC can now serve their guests with the best food and beverages Jalao NYC has in fine dining Dominican cuisine in the warmth of their enclosed in the middle of the hotel’s courtyard.

For our starters we chose two appetizers: Fresh made Guacamole with pico de gallo, on a bed of pureed plantains sprinkled with pomegranates which add a bright pop of red color to the dish with long, freshly made Caribbean chips on the side to scoop everything up into was so delicious. The Bombones de Yuca was simply divine, they were round light and crispy balls of yuca croquettes served on a bed of black stones that you should dip into the pineapple criolla sauce served with it before you take your first bite. When you bite into the dipped croquette a smooth and creamy cheddar cheese oozes into your mouth and you realize the croquette is crispy, but not greasy at all.

For drinks they have a signature cocktail list—the standout beverage to me was the margarita with passion fruit juice and hibiscus-rosemary foam, it’s delicious and worth trying; their collection of spirits is impressive.

Executive Chef Wilmer Chaquillanqui came over to our table to introduce himself to us, and asked if we didn’t object he would select our entrees. Chef Wilmer’s first selection was crispy pork belly boiled down and then heat turned up to make the skin crunch, with sweet, caramelized plantains and a savory, lime-tinged green sauce called wasakaka.

Next up was a Coconut Fish Fillet that was sauteed and laid on top of a roasted red pepper and coconut sauce with tostones strategically placed around the plate with a side order of “moro de granules” or Dominican rice and beans where the rice is cooked with red onions, bell peppers, garlic, tomato paste, celery, thyme, orégano, and green pigeon peas.

Our gastric appetite went on tilt when he next served up a wonderful hearty soup that had the power of a stew called sancocho. A serving size is enough for two people and contains chunks of chicken, beef, pork, and root vegetables including nibbler size pieces cut in half of corn on the cob with white rice and avocado.

By the time we sampled the soup we were so full we went home with leftovers, and we failed to save room for any dessert. On my next trip to Jalao NYC, I plan on taking in the tropical music and my meal in the outdoor courtyard, and I’m going to start my meal with dessert because they have five dessert dishes that sound scrumptious. The desserts include two vegetarian dishes – Jalao Cheesecake with coconut, dulce de leche ice cream, chocolate mousse and more coconut anglaise sauce, and Classico Majarete which is corn custard with ice cream /and a cinnamon crumble. The infamous 5 Leches Dominicana – soaked sponge cake with strawberry coulis, topped with mixed berries and Chantilly cream or Dime a Ver which is an empanada filled with cheese and guava with coconut sauce. Those four desserts each cost $13.00. The mega dessert is called La Bomba Chocolate Bowl for $45.00 which is a chocolate bowl filled with Caribbean ice cream, jalao bites, brownies, merengue, fresh fruit, coconut cream and strawberry sauce with a sparkler added. Had we had room to eat more I would have treated Shirley to the chocolate bowl since her birthday was the very next week after we dined. I would like to thank my tasting team member Shirley Garner, owner of Spa Boutique & Wellness Lounge located in Central Harlem for joining me on this tasting.

Before we left the restaurant I went to the restroom downstairs, and I took the stairs and boy am I glad that I did. They had the most fantastic graffiti artwork up on the walls leading you down. I felt like I was in a museum somewhere in Harlem or the South Bronx; remarkable.

Photo credits: 1-7) Source.

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