Bravo Spotlight

Power couple behind Austin tapas hot spot tackles Tom Colicchio's challenges on Best New Restaurant

Barlata power couple tackles Colicchio's challenges on new Bravo show

Barlata Tapas Bar mushroom lata
Barlata Tapas Bar will be competing in an episode of Bravo's Best New Restaurant, which airs on Wednesday, February 11. Courtesy of Barlata Tapas Bar

In a town saturated by Mexican culinary influences, Barlata brings Spanish-inspired cuisine with traditional tapas dishes, paella and a personal twist to South Austin.

When husband-and-wife duo Chef Daniel Olivella and Manager Vanessa Jerez opened Barlata, they were fresh to Austin, but not to the restaurant business. Olivella fell in love with the Capital City and took on the challenge of putting his brand of Spanish food on the local map. Since opening in July 2013, the couple has translated the success of their two Bay Area eateries, B44 Catalan Bistro and the original Barlata, for an audience that is more familiar with enchiladas than tapas.

The latest test for Olivella and Jerez comes with the couple's participation in Bravo's Best New Restaurant. On the reality show, host Tom Colicchio of Top Chef fame pits 16 restaurants from Austin, New York, Los Angeles and Miami against one another in a series of unique challenges. We've seen Swift's Attic and Restaurant Jezebel edged out by the competition in previous episodes, but this week, Barlata finds the spotlight. 

"Personally, what we hope to gain is putting ourselves out there to see if we can fulfill a goal — to compete and win," Jerez tells CultureMap.

Jerez says that the most challenging — yet rewarding — part of the Best New Restaurant process was working with the rest of the Barlata team under the pressure of a camera-laden environment. "Everybody has their own fears or their own demons," says Jerez, whether it be the complicated task at hand or knowing a national audience will eventually see the footage.

The typical Barlata dining experience is relaxed, reflective of the actual experience of enjoying tapas. In an open, modern space designed by Michael Hsu (whose work you might recognize from such mainstays as Sway, Uchi and Olivia), customers are encouraged to be daring in their choices, but enjoy a leisurely meal of shared plates. "It's very free-flowing," says Jerez. "The servers are the ones who start that, but it's felt in the kitchen, too." 

That mixture of comfort and flexibility is what Jerez believes will set Barlata apart from the competition. "We know our vision of Barlata. It's something we've done for a very long time. It's our dream," says Jerez.

On Wednesday's episode, Barlata goes kitchen-to-kitchen with Miami's R House, another globally inspired restaurant operated by a couple. The local power couple hopes to prove to Colicchio — and a national audience — just how much they've accomplished since landing in Austin. "We just wanted to prove ourselves as a new team in Austin," says Jerez. "We are really good at what we're doing."

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Best New Restaurant airs Wednesday, February 11 at 9 pm on Bravo.