Restaurant Review: Show Us Your Tapas!
We go weak at the knees for Barlata
Reviewed by Claudia Alarcón, Fri., Oct. 4, 2013
Barlata Tapas Bar
Dinner: Sun.-Wed., 5pm-10:30pm; Thu.-Sat., 5-11pm; Brunch: Sun., 11am - 2:30pm
Barlata1500 S. Lamar #150, 512/473-2211
Sun.-Wed., 5-10:30pm; Thu.-Sat., 5-11pm www.barlataaustin.com
First, a disclaimer: I have never traveled to Spain. But having grown up in Mexico City, I've had my share of Spanish regional food and culture since childhood. Hitting a local tasca and perusing the aisles of import stores for Spanish canned goods and embutidos are always on the agenda when I visit home. Now, thanks to the arrival of chef Daniel Olivella in Austin, all I have to do is hit South Lamar for these authentic tastes – and then some. After only three months in business, Barlata Tapas Bar has become one of my favorite spots.
I first had the privilege of encountering Olivella's food at a cooking class during Central Market's Pasaporte España 2011. Right away, I knew we were in for something extraordinary when he opened a restaurant here. Aside from being an excellent and knowledgeable chef, Olivella is humble and personable, willing to answer any and all questions with a smile. His sense of humor shines in the name of his flagship restaurant in Oakland and now his Austin outpost, an homage to the staple canned seafood that is so esteemed in Spain (and Mexico!) and much maligned in the U.S. Barlata is basically a word mashup meaning "tin can bar."
Our visit to Barlata started with a couple refreshing cocktails, the befitting Writer's Block ($11) and the SoLa ($12), paired with a plate of Spanish olives ($6) to nibble on. It was a pleasant way to open up our appetite while we struggled to make a decision on what to choose from a menu on which everything sounds appetizing. The bartenders were knowledgeable and friendly, offering tastes from the excellent wine list to find the perfect pairing for our food selections.
Alluding to the aforementioned tinned seafood, the first section on the menu is simply titled Latas, a variety of tapas served in seafood tins, yet made in house from extremely fresh ingredients. We chose the octopus ($10), a delectable version of the popular Spanish dish pulpo a la Gallega, cooked to tender perfection and simply accompanied with fingerling potatoes and Spanish paprika (pimentón) adobo. Other latas include mussels en escabeche and piquillo peppers filled with Dungeness crab. It would be easy to make a substantial meal out of just these whimsical tins and a couple glasses of that sublime Txakoli.
From the Comida Fria (cold food) section, we could not pass up the chorizo plate ($11) which, although not house-made, offers diners the opportunity to sample a variety of chorizos not easily available in Texas. We followed with the outstanding soup trio sampler ($8) featuring a classic tomato-based gazpacho, a creamy ajoblanco made with bread, almonds, and white grapes, and salmorejo, a creamier, richer tomato soup made with smoked olive oil and bread. Another classic Catalan snack, the pa amb tomàquet (or, simply, tomato bread) is a satisfying favorite, made with excellent quality bread, lightly toasted and topped with fresh tomato paste, jamón serrano, and a drizzle of flavorful, piquant olive oil.
Moving on to the Comida Caliente (hot food) selections, we tried the perdiz al ajillo ($10), a locally sourced boneless quail lathered in garlic butter sauce, and the brandada ($9), a Spanish version of the French salted cod brandade, served hot in a cazuela with olive oil, potatoes, milk, and other ingredients yielding a creamy, spreadable delight.
It seemed incredible that we could eat anything else, but how could we pass up the Paellas/Arroces/Fideos portion of the menu? By a friend's recommendation, we had to try the arros negre ($16 small, $20 large), a specialty not found anywhere else in town and one that is dear to my heart (and palate). The perfectly cooked rice is completely tinted black with pungent squid ink, fortified with fish stock, studded with squid, clams, and sepia, and served with a side of mortar allioli. For us, dessert was an afterthought, yet the pan con chocolate ($8), dark chocolate brioche cake with saffron ice cream, orange confit, and chocolate crumble, was a fitting end to a fantastic meal.
Happy hour (Sunday-Thursday, 5-7pm) offers an excellent opportunity to sample the menu more inexpensively, and a weekend brunch starts this weekend – just in time for my birthday. I look forward to many more visits, so I can try everything on the menu. Literally.