Like any great entertainer or con artist, Ataula chef Jose Chesa never lets you see how hard he's working. While most modernist Spanish cuisine is showy about its tricks—building temples to vacuum bag, nitrogen and emulsion—Chesa uses slow-cooking sous vide to work subtle transformations on classic tapas, in a bustling white-walled space that still recalls the more traditional Spanish spot that came before it.
The bonbon-sized pieces of Ataula's justly famous patatas bravas sport razor-thin crisp edges that give way to surprising softness beneath. The texture of a decadent salmon and truffle montadito—which should accompany every meal here—approximates cloud more than anything found on land or at sea, with a honeyed sweetness that lingers long after the quick three bites it takes to eat it.
Still, it's the simple touches that show up Ataula as extraordinary. Full sprigs of dill balance a salad making full use of Oregon's tomato bounty. And Ataula may top an otherwise standard tortilla Española with a few flashy curls of jamón ibérico de bellota.
Get the ciudad vieja cocktail from Angel Teta: Bourbon, cognac, vermouth and Benedictine combine in a swirl of disparate liquors that, like the restaurant, has familiar ingredients elevated to something that feels wholly new.
Pro tip: Get the salmon to start, and then order it again for dessert. It'll change your love life, if only for one night.
1818 NW 23rd Place, 894-8904, ataulapdx.com. 4:30-10 pm Tuesday-Saturday. $$-$$$.