Classic Spanish Flavors at Ataula

Barcelona-born chef Jose Chesa brings the cuisine of Iberia to Northwest Portland

By Benjamin Tepler December 2, 2013 Published in the December 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

Paella Ataula, with prawns, cuttlefish, mussels, calamari, and clams

Sure, Portland has Spanish food: places like Toro Bravo and Ración, where foreign inklings and journeys blossom into creative takes on the traditional cuisine. But few true natives of the Iberian Peninsula are blending playful seafood, inspired cocktails, Michelin-star experience, and traditional hometown recipes. Spanish chef Jose Chesa, a veteran of such worldly kitchens as L’Arpège in Paris and Can Fabes near Barcelona, is doing just that with Ataula, a tapas joint channeling classic flavors with modern finesse and modest prices.   

Inside the former Patanegra space, Ataula shines with seafoam blues, clean whites, and stained glass frames with a Catalonian aesthetic. Begin your night at the room-length bar of colorful crushed glass and white cement, with a dangerously drinkable sangria or a Basque cider cocktail, poured with a bright lemon hit and a heady, fermented finish.  

Beyond the bar, the menu divides into three categories: Tapas, Per Picar (tiny bites), and Paellas and Rossejats (toasted noodles). While the flavors—serrano ham, salt-cod fritters, and padron peppers—are as traditional as flamenco, presentations often surprise. On the shellfish-heavy list, you’ll find dishes ranging from a Spanish “mac,” with mussels, sofrito (fried tomato and onion), and Parmesan cheese, to a three-bite snack of vinegar-poached mussels served in a tin—a nod to the high-quality canned cuisine of Northern Spain. 

The paella is Ataula’s masterpiece. Dark, intensely savory rice is slowly simmered in unctuous lobster stock until crispy and caramelized around the edges. Juicy mussels, plump prawns, and grilled cuttlefish beckon from atop the wide, chorizo-flecked platter—easily enough to satisfy two. At Ataula’s brunch, Portland’s newest forenoon treasure, the paella is transformed with chicken, chorizo, bacon, and an egg cracked over the top. Gather your friends—it’s time for some serious Spanish feasting.

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