Ataula is one of my favorite new restaurants in Portland. Previously I dined there with my “Dining Divas” posse soon after it opened (recap of Ataula evening), and I’ve stopped in for their delicious brunch as well. I was excited when Chris Angelus scheduled a Portland Food Adventures event at Ataula.
It was the first melt-out day of Snowmageddon Portland 2014, and getting to the event was a little too much to tackle for some who had to no-show. I’m very glad I was able to make it and had a ride to/from so I could enjoy the cocktails prepared by Angel. The first cocktail was a surprise — a warm red cup infused with fruit. It was a perfect start on a slushy evening. Chris introduced Angel to the 40+ diners and lauded her competion-proven cocktail talents.
Each time I’ve dined at Ataula, Chef Jose Chesa came out of the open kitchen to check how everyone was enjoying their meals. For this adventure, he explained how he came to Portland and gave us insight into the different dishes he prepared for us. He earned Eater PDX’s Chef of the Year 2013. He is from the Barcelona area and his food takes me back to the pintxos, tapas and paella I enjoyed in San Sebastian, Santiago de Compostela and Madrid.
The meal started with the Xupa Xup stuffed-chorizo lollipop and plates of their bread. The salad course of Remolach with queso fresco was accompanied by a cocktail of Vichy Catalan and Spanish Vermut.
Then we got to enjoy individual dishes of their Rossejat Negre – vermicelli with calamari, squid ink, and harissa alioli. I hadn’t tried that previously and now I see why it gets rave reviews. It was served with a nice cava. Then came a big pan of their signature Paella Ataula with prawns, mussels, calamari, clams, lobster, and bomba rice. It’s a luscious dish, but we found the Valdespino Fino wine to be a different taste, one that grew on us.
Chef Jose explained the Canelons course, served with a very nice red Bodegas Arzuaga Navarro wine. But the star for me was the Meloso Cremoso lamb shoulder risotto with butternut squach and smoked bacon. We finished with a Xuixos de Crema fritter stuffed with cream.
It was a very enjoyable evening. We were seated at tables of 10 and I was surrounded by two younger couples. I always find it interesting to learn how people came to Portland, and how those raised here find it to be evolving. That’s part of the joy of Portland Food Adventures when I don’t have my fellow Dining Divas friends along.
Ataula is set up for tapas dining, so don’t worry about a reservation. Just drop in and order a drink and graze your way through their small plates. Or splurge on a rossejat or paella, which can feed one hungry person or be a shared course for two or more. Ataula is a call-back to Spain, with some modernist touches.
What makes a Portland Food Adventures event unique is that in addition to the group dining experience with the set menu and drink pairings, you get certificates to use at some of the chef’s favorite places. From this adventure, I got a certificate to use at Irving Street Kitchen, so I’ll be able to again compare my fried chicken experiments with her expert chicken. Also a certificate to breakfast favorite Besaw’s. I haven’t dined there for maybe 10 years, there is always a line! And then 50 Licks for ice cream. I’ve enjoyed that previously and it will be refreshing once the thaw is complete!
Next up for Portland Food Adventures is a return to Cocotte on Feb. 25, followed by her In the Kitchen demo dinner on March 6. If you haven’t dined there yet, what are you waiting for? If my husband could eat French bistro food, I’d be making him take me there for Valentine’s Day.