Las Ramblas Tapas Bar (141 Park at North Hills St. #100, Raleigh) is the middle of a trio of spots that prolific restaurateur Giorgios Bakatsias is opening in the City of Oaks this year. The high-energy, 120-seat restaurant with soaring ceilings adds a compelling nightlife option to the edge of Midtown Park in North Hills.
In an era where small plates are everywhere, Las Ramblas manages to stand out with updates on Spanish classics. From the deceptively simple pan con tomate on airy and pliable Barcelona-style cristal bread to the acorn-raised Iberico shaved ham that tastes of cheese and red wine, the key here is first-rate ingredients anchoring plates that catapult the diner directly to one of the world’s greatest cities.
It would be at home along the original Las Ramblas, the main tourist drag through Barcelona. But it also bears the telltale atmospheric touches of Bakatsias, the force behind Giorgio Hospitality Group and its stalwart restaurants like Kipos in Chapel Hill and Parizade in Durham (among many others). With a hulking bull painted over the bar and intricately patterned tiles in the entryway, Las Ramblas doesn’t skimp on decor or vibe, abetted by pulsing music in the background that is more birthday party than intimate date night.
Bakatsias tapped Brian Jenzer as executive chef, who’s doing double duty for the restaurant group’s nearby Rosewater Kitchen & Bar. Jenzer trained at the Culinary Institute of America before joining David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar and several other iconic restaurants around the world, so it’s no surprise he’s already off to a strong start. Jenzer is nailing the fundamentals including a burrata appetizer but also swinging for the fences with his vibrant, charred Spanish octopus and oysters presented on a rocky seaweed bed, two dishes that evoke a mix between fine dining and photorealist paintings. It’s worth sopping up every last drop of the layered flavors of the spicy mini Spanish chorizo and the garlicky gambas al ajillo.
Las Ramblas is now the group’s third restaurant in the sprawling North Hills, coming quickly on the heels of Giorgio Pizza Bar, another Bakatsias venture within spitting distance of Las Ramblas. Opened earlier this month, the name really sells it short; the casual name disguises the fact that the pizzeria also serves up glitzy entrees such as osso bucco, chicken saltimbocca, crab risotto, and red wine brisket lasagna. And while some of the pizza is straightforward — a Margherita, a pepperoni, a cheese — there’s also a Brussels sprouts pie with kale, anchovies, and hazelnut and another drowning in ingredients including soppressata, shrimp, prosciutto, red onion, arugula, and half a dozen others. Trust executive chef Jefe Lubiano, though; he used to run his own pizzeria and came up under Andrea Reusing at the Durham Hotel.
Bakatsias is also working on East End Bistrot in the new East End Market, as well as other restaurants outside the capital city. For now though, Las Ramblas is his latest addition to the Raleigh culinary scene.