Jaleo: José Andrés' Las Vegas Temple To Tapas

José Andrés is quite possibly the best — and definitely the best-known — Spanish chef cooking in America right now, and he currently has four restaurants in Las Vegas: Bazaar Meat, E by José Andrés, China Poblano, and Jaleo. We had an opportunity to dine at Jaleo, his homage to traditional Spanish tapas, while on a recent visit to Vegas, and it puts all those newfangled "small plates" places to shame.

There are four Jaleo locations in America; the other three are in the Washington, D.C., area, and a fifth is in the works at Disney Springs in Florida (a sixth is already open in Mexico City). This location, however, is the only one to boast a massive open-fire wood paella grill, which is constantly manned and turns out a steady stream of each day's paella special — chicken and mushrooms on the day we visited. The paella was astounding, as expected, a mélange of perfectly cooked rice, tender chicken thigh, a variety of mushrooms, and a whiff of saffron. To have a roaring fire like this smack dab in the middle of a high-rise Las Vegas resort casino (the swanky Cosmopolitan) requires some serious engineering know-how; the ventilation system doesn't just need to suck up all the smoke, it also needs to carry it through the structure and out the side of the building. The total price tag? One million dollars. That's quite an investment in paella.

We definitely ordered too much food, but with so many eye-catching dishes on the menu it's easy to go overboard.

No visit to Jaleo is complete without sampling one of the most legendary "molecular gastronomy" dishes of all time, aceitunas rellenas y aceitunas 'Ferran Adrià.' The stuffed olives are delicious, of course, but the stars of the dish are the aceitunas 'Ferran Adrià,' modeled after the "liquid olives" that Adrià invented at ElBulli. They're little orbs that explode with olive flavor in your mouth, and are a ton of fun to eat.

The selección de embutidos is a platter of high-end Spanish cured meats: a selection of jamón ibérico Fermín, jamón serrano, lomo, salchichon, and chorizo ibérico de bellota Fermín.

I strongly suggest you splurge and supplement it with jamón ibérico de bellota, a rich and nutty cured ham that's quite possibly the most delicious on earth. It's hand-sliced to order, and is a revelation.

Croquetas de pollo are fried croquettes of shredded chicken mixed with a creamy béchamel sauce, delivered steaming hot out of the fryer in... a sneaker? We were assured that the shoe had been sanitized, so it wasn't too weird, just wacky.

One of the most popular tapas dishes, gambas al ajillo, was addictively good. Perfectly-cooked prawns were served in a garlicky oil infused with plenty of paprika and other herbs, and it had just the right amount of spicy kick to it.

Most versions of patatas bravas are simply slices of fried potato with streaks of mayo and spicy ketchup on them, but Jaleo's is far more visually arresting: Thick slices of fingerlings are fried and arranged on a bed of house-made spicy ketchup, dotted with individual dollops of mayo, and dusted with paprika. Each one is the perfect bite.

No visit to a proper tapería is complete without a porron, a special pitcher that lets you deposit wine or any other beverage directly into your mouth. We ordered one filled with one of the four varieties of gin and tonic on offer (with Hendrick's gin, Fever-Tree tonic water, lemon, juniper, and makrut lime), and passing it back and forth, trying to not get too much on your clothes, is a whole lot of fun.

The tapas experience is supposed to be just that — a whole lot of fun — and José Andrés clearly recognizes that at Jaleo. The space is lively and vibrant, the platings unique and whimsical, the dishes faithful but given that Andrés touch. If you're wondering why tapas is one of the most beloved cuisines in Spain, look no further than Jaleo.