"Welcome to Barcelona," the server says as downtempo club lounge music thumps across the modern-minimalist, open restaurant. Located at the edge of Slabtown, Jose Chesa's Ataula is a transportive take on Portland Spanish, and a major node in our newfound status as a North American tapas town.
Dinner here might start with a small Estrella Damm lager from Barcelona, paired with a goat cheese-stuffed chorizo "xupa-xup" lollipop, or a tiny "bikini" brioche ham sandwich with tomato jam, Mahon cheese and savory truffle butter. From there a house gin and tonic is in order—it's one of the city's best, a rotating dealer's choice of flavors and influences from around the world, built bespoke each night by Ataula's capable bar staff.
Jose Chesa's much-loved sous-vide patatas bravas sadly failed on our recent visit, but do definitely snack your way through the chef's take on a classic Spanish tortilla de patatas, a dish that is all execution from humble ingredients, layered with unctuous jamon de bellota for a modest upcharge (worth it).
Add an order of croquetas—salt cod fritters—that are an exercise in duality, with crystalline crunch on the outside meeting creamy-smooth salt-cod umami on the inside. Order more Damm lager or explore the bar's well-curated sherry selection, including a couple of oloroso options that pair beautifully with the house-special xuixo dessert, which is something like a custard-filled sugar-breaded croissant.
Pro tip: Here's your baseline for an ideal meal at Ataula. Get the bikini brioche ($8), a tiny symphony of Spanish flavors that's required. Then try the subtly excellent tortilla de patatas ($19) and split the arros negre ($39) with the table—Barcelona's squid-ink-tinted "black paella" served with Spanish octopus, calamari and charred alioli. Pair with the house gin and tonic ($12) and finish with some sherry.