Bravo to the Bravas - a foodie's take on Barlata Tapas
Ever since last November’s foodie vacation to Barcelona, I’ve been craving authentic tapas, specifically potatas bravas. I missed that perfect bite, where the creamy and garlic-infused aioli mixed with robust chipotle salsa on a potato that was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.
Thankfully, my wait for homestyle Spanish tapas was brief. Nestled on South Lamar, Barlata Tapas Bar took me right back to the Catalan coast. The husband and wife team Daniel Olivella and Vanessa Jerez have created an experience that is all about the atmosphere, food, and drinks. The moment I saw the menu my fate was decided - I had to pay Barlata a visit.
I know better than to show up at a trendy South Austin restaurant on a Friday night without a reservation. Rather than call the restaurant and listen to an answering machine or a frustrated hostess try to yell over crowd noise, I simply made three clicks on opentable and we were in for 8:00pm. I even left the app open and used the map to make my way downtown.
The atmosphere of Barlata was exactly what I’d expect from a Spanish tapas bar; bright colors, dim lighting, and active bar. Our table was quaint and close to our neighbors, but the European dining experience is all about community, and I can appreciate that.
We stared with delicious drinks, my choice was the Estrella Damm beer (a Barcelona import). With the golden color and fresh lemon taste, it is well worth a try. In Spain they would mix this beer with a thick lemonade that was by far the best drink I’ve ever had.
Our server was well versed in the menu, and we put in our paella order so it had time to cook. In the meantime, we feasted on Spanish olives, two shameless orders of the bravas, and the gambas…all fantastic with flavor profiles – tangy, sweet, tart, savory, fresh.
Two Estrellas in, the paella barlata arrived. Saffron rice stuffed with seafood, roasted vegetables, and chorizo, it was clearly the star of the show. Warm and comforting, the dish was a wonderful balance. Sometimes U.S. “paella” ends up being seafood flavored rice, but this was so filling and balanced, almost like a thanksgiving meal all in one dish. The rice was savory and salty, and the vegetables soaked up the chicken stock fabulously. Squid is also a tricky beast to conquer: undercooked and it becomes a gooey mess, and overcooked it tastes like eating a leather shoe. I’m happy to report that the squid was perfect, blended with the rice and veggies perfectly, and was a great way to end the savory portion of the meal.
I couldn’t leave without testing my favorite part of my Barcelona experience, Catalan cream. Barlata doesn’t disappoint. Served with a caramelized top, this crunchy, creamy, sweet custard offered honey notes of cinnamon and citrus. It certainly isn’t for anyone watching their waistline, but oh was it good.
For those who don’t have time or money to hop on a plane to Spain, Barlata is the next best thing.