Spanish Fusion: Oveja Negra blends traditional & modern appeal

A black sheep conjures up thoughts of unlikeness, uniqueness. For Oveja Negra, a Spanish-inspired restaurant at Hotel Valencia Santana Row in San Jose, CA, its name literally translates to “Black Sheep,” boasting a modern menu and unordinary design.

Designed by Houston-based Rottet Studio, the restaurant honors its Spanish roots with globally inspired decor.

“We were inspired by natural, earthy materials that are common in traditional Spanish architecture,” said Chris Evans, design director/associate principal, Rottet Studio.

The terracotta feature wall that defines the entire length of the restaurant is just one example of this, Evans said. Also on view is the restaurant’s warm wood paneling, Mediterranean-inspired furniture, traditional patterned plaster and steel details.

The idea was to marry traditional Spanish design while appealing to the tastes of the modern traveler: both in design and gastronomy.

“Historically, California was a Spanish colonial region, so the hotel design is highly influenced by the cultural background of California. We always want our projects to respect or acknowledge the areas in which they are located. People today travel the world to experience different places, and we want each space to be unique and, in some way, tell the story of the location of the restaurant,” Evans said.

Although the design speaks for itself, the name Oveja Negra was derived from the restaurant’s menu, helmed by Chef Paul Rohadfox, featuring “unruly tapas,” with modern takes on traditional sharable dishes.

“Like the tapas menu that Rohadfox created, we wanted this space to be different than the expected and to challenge conventions,” Evans said. “We didn’t want to simply recreate the past but to help redefine the expected, much like the proverbial black sheep.”

Connecting the restaurant space’s design to the menu presented an opportunity for Rottet Studio in its effort to transport guests in ways that transcend the senses.

“Hotel restaurants can be so much fun to design,” Evans said. “It is always interesting to design in conjunction with a menu. It’s like trying to define what your design would taste like. That being said, hotel restaurants are a challenge to design.”

The actual design execution, Evans said, presents challenges. “Restaurants, while a part of a hotel, can be designed as a stand-alone project but they often operate differently depending on the time of day. Breakfast might be a buffet, while dinner is full-service, and you need to design a space that can transition between multiple service types,” he said.

Dining spaces need to be flexible in this way, he said, being able to be utilized for open buffets and then seamlessly sectioned into a hosted meeting space or full-service dining experience.

For Oveja Negra, the original interior was dark and predominantly black, so the team needed to be creative in lightening and brightening the space using light and organic materials.

“The original restaurant was adjacent to a beautiful courtyard, but the restaurant had very limited visibility to that courtyard and the outdoor dining experience,” he said. “Our solution was the opening up of the restaurant to allow light and visibility into the restaurant. Once we opened that connection, we realized the breeze and the cool air required a canopy to shelter guests. We then created a beautiful glass canopy to let in the warmth of the sun but blocked the more inclement factors of wind and rain.”

Although designing for food and beverage spaces versus other areas of the hotel presents different considerations, Evans acknowledged that this space specifically honors both the studio’s creativity and the chef’s intentions.

“I think the part that makes the project uniquely Rottet Studio is the creative interpretation of Spanish architecture, not as an artificial recreation of the past but rather as a fusion of both traditional and modern ideas,” he said. “That is much like Chef’s approach to traditional tapas.” HB

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