Vanessa Jerez came up with the playful name Barlata, which translates as the can bar. Integral to the tapas culture are latas, small tins of gourmet, ready-to-eat vegetables, meat and seafood, preserved in brine. In tapas bars, they are often sold alongside the food that’s been made in-house.
“In Spain, you can make a beautiful meal from canned food,” says Jerez. “They use only high quality ingredients, which is usually the opposite of what you find here. We always said how wonderful it would be to have a whole bar full of cans.”
Rather than serve canned food, Olivella cooks a number of traditional lata dishes, such as squid in its own ink, then serves them in fresh tins.
“This is my only career,” says Olivella, who brings with him thirty-five years of accolades and experience. “I’m secure with what I do, and I try to have fun with it.”
The original Barlata was still in its nascent stages when Olivella first visited Austin six years ago. Along with running B44, the upscale Spanish eatery he opened in San Francisco in 1999, and overseeing the new restaurant’s development, he was teaching Catalan cooking around the country. Central Market signed him on for a Texas tour that stopped in Austin. Two years later, he and Jerez moved to Austin from San Francisco with their two children, Lola, 8, and Talize, 13. (They now have a thirteen-month-old son, Gael).
“The beautiful part of this project is that this is the first restaurant Vanessa and I have been able to create together. She was the main driving force behind this,” says Olivella, praising her business acumen and faith in the location on the ground floor of a sleek new South Austin condominium. The duo shares an endearing tendency to credit their spouse for the restaurant’s success. However, they are both there – Olivella in the kitchen, Jerez on the floor – six to seven nights a week.
Barlata’s menu, which is similar to the restaurant’s Bay Area counterpart, offers more than 40 kinds of tapas. However, one thing you won’t find anywhere but here is the Roasted Angus Beef Brisket Canalones, Olivella and Jerez’ original tribute to Austin.