The new tapas restaurant in North Hills will pair North Carolina seafood and pork and with authentic Spanish ingredients
by Addie Ladner | photography by Forrest Mason
Giorgios Bakatsias, the hospitality pro behind many Triangle restaurants including Vin Rouge in Durham, Rosewater Kitchen in Raleigh and Kipos in Chapel Hill, will open another European restaurant, Las Ramblas, this time focusing on old-world Spanish cuisine. At the helm of the venture are his partners Brian Jenzer (executive chef of Rosewater bistro) and Laszlo Lukacsi, partner and CEO of the Giorgios Hospitality Group.
While the idea of a tapas restaurant has been in development for a few years, the menu itself is largely influenced by a week-long trip that Jenzer and Lukacsi took to Spain in the fall. The two ate their way through the country, including the culinary destination Las Ramblas Boulevard in Barcelona, the restaurant’s namesake. “I had never been to Spain before and when we went we had an entirely new view on what tapas really is. I was so inspired that we came back and redid the entire menu,” says Jenzer.
Las Ramblas will celebrate authentic ingredients and dishes commonly served on the streets of Barcelona, like Spanish mackerel, octopus and patatas bravas. Serving fresh North Carolina seafood with Spanish influences is something Jenzer’s especially excited about.
“Barcelona is close to the water, so they have great seafood. They do such cool stuff with raw fish and I wanted to incorporate more raw fish items here at Las Ramblas,” he says. Jenzer has dedicated a quarter of the menu to a spread of raw North Carolina seafood. “We want to use Spanish mackerel and red mullet, which you can only get seasonally, so those will be making a rotation. We’re doing a tuna tartare served bite-sized on half a lime,” says Jenzer.
He predicts the octopus dish will be a customer favorite. “It’s steamed in red wine and then charred to order. We slice the tentacle so it’s easy to share with the table and serve it with a purée of Yukon potatoes with Spanish olive oil along with a purée of piquillo peppers for acidity and garnished with crispy chickpeas and fresh herbs.”
Another authentic component that Jenzer hopes will make Las Ramblas feel like an experiential meal is being able to order individual portions of tapas, à la carte style or by the pair. Oysters, the pan con tomate, croquettes and the hamachi crudo can all be ordered in twos rather than a typical four to six per order. Menu items like the beef carpaccio and the tuna tartare can be ordered piece by piece. “A lot of places you go to serve the items by the unit. Here, it doesn’t have to be a dozen or half a dozen. It helps to get your meal started and you can try a few things,” he says.
Though he wants the bulk of the ingredients to be fresh and local, Jenzer also wants the menu to be authentically Spanish. So Jenzer is having a handful of essential ingredients imported, like Spanish chorizo, tuna conserva and Jamón ibérico de bellota, the gold standard of Spanish cured ham, which is known for its rich nutty flavor. “We’re going to change the menu every week. We want some legroom to play around with these specialty Spanish items and what we’ll source locally here,” says Jenzer.
To wash all the vibrant flavors down, Las Ramblas will offer a huge sherry, vermouth, cava and craft cocktail menu, including the unusual-around-here pairing of Coca-Cola and red wine, which is popular in Spain.
The 3,000 square foot space is divided up into several different seating areas – reminiscent of the small, lively tapas bars throughout Spain. Folding windows open to the patio, connecting diners with the streetscape just as you would in Barcelona on Las Ramblas boulevard.
“We installed beautiful, dramatic Spanish tiles in a grand way, several colorful hand-painted murals of a bull and Flamenco dancers, and built a central open kitchen with a hearth oven to warm up the space and serve as a stage for Brian’s hot cazuelas and Iberico Jamon,” says Bakatsias.
At the end of the day, Jenzer wants to embody the casual, celebratory way of eating in Spain and share that with restaurant guests. At Las Ramblas, he expects folks to relax and enjoy themselves as they try an assortment of thoughtfully-prepared small plates in a lively atmosphere. “A lot of tapas restaurants have modern music on, people are talking loudly, the restaurants are open to the street and it’s just this laid back great vibe,” he says. “That’s what we’re going for at Las Ramblas.”
Las Ramblas will be open to the public on January 17 at 141 Park at North Hills.
This article originally appeared on waltermagazine.com on December 21, 2022