Ataula is about five minutes from my office. It’s a small, slightly hidden restaurant right off NW Thurman on NW 23rd Place across the street from the Food Front Co-op. I’ve heard rave reviews about this tapas spot- from both the press as well as my boss, who himself is a regular; yet for one reason or another it was not until last night that I made it in to experience the culinary prowess of Chef Jose Chesa myself.
Chris Angelus, of Portland Food Adventures informed me that this event still had space last week, and given that Ataula has been on my “To Eat” list for some time now, I decided to spring for the seat. Portland Food Adventures creates events at various restaurants 1-3 times per month where you can fully experience and immerse yourself into this city’s remarkable culinary landscape through private multi-course meal and drink pairings guided by the chef themselves. In addition, the chef selects three restaurants that they personally like to frequent in Portland that guests receive gift certificates to at the end of the meal. Sounds pretty awesome, huh? This is the third time I’ve had the honour to be invited to such a fantastic event- for posts on my other two times you can click the links below:
Anyhow, on to Ataula! I arrived last night at 6PM sharp, which was a remarkable feat given the slush-fest that Portland still is. While I knew Chris would be in attendance, I was also pleasantly surprised to run into (and be seated with) Heather Jones (of Heather Jones Consulting) and Lisa Hill (of Lisa Hill PR). I’ve attended several events in the past hosted by Heather’s and Lisa’s clients so as usual, it was fantastic to share a meal with them.
Upon arriving, I was greeted with a much much needed cocktail:
This cocktail was absolutely delicious; and even better that it was warmed- as big of a hot toddy fan I have become, I think I would choose one of these any day over it. And in case you’re wondering, it was created by the ever so talented mixologist, Angel Teta (who was formerly at Raven and Rose).
Prior to the first course, we were given an amuse bouche of a chorizo lollipop stuffed with goat cheese, some grilled bread with olive oil and sea salt, and an apertif- this one a vermouth soda mixed with some angosutra bitters and salt:
And voila, the first course:
The salad was a fantastic starter course- fresh and full of textures. I was particularly enthused about the candied walnut addition- reminded me a bit of the sunflower seed brittle that Imperial uses in their kale salad.
Prior to the second course, Chef Jose (who by the way was Eater’s 2013 Chef of the Year) came out to tell us a little bit about himself and the purpose of Ataula. Chef Jose was raised outside Barcelona and has worked and lived in several major cities around the world, but him and his wife recently decided to make Portland home. He describes the cuisine of Ataula as “Spanish Catalan cuisine with a modern twist.” As for the name of the restaurant, Ataula is loosely derived from the French term “A table,” meaning, “at the table,” meant to invite customers to come in and feel like they’re part of a family. The ambiance and service is definitely spot on to that mission and many of the dishes on the menu are indeed served family style to encourage a meal of sharing and social interaction.
And, onto course 2!
The toasted noodles was definitely a fascinating dish; I was definitely a fan of the melange of flavours and textures ranging from crunchy to chewy to meaty. The harissa aioli also gave it a touch of subtle heat.
Moving onto Course #3, one of the more well known traditionally Spanish dishes: Paella
The pairing with the Paella was a type of sherry; rather potent but a suitable matching for the dish. I personally am not a huge rice person, but I enjoyed the paella- it reminded me a lot of Cabsa, a traditional Saudi dish made from rice, vegetables and meat then served family style. Plus, I loved the abundance of seafood.
The fourth course was definitely a rich one- essentially a Catalan version of canneloni, pasta enveloping tender chicken in a rich bechamel-like sauce. While I did enjoy it, it was certainly a heavy dish especially considering the abundance of rice and noodles in the menu as was. If I were to change one course on Chef Jose’s itinerary I would perhaps substitute this one with something lighter and more veggie-abundant.
And for the final savoury course…
Despite being less photogenic than some of the other courses, this may have been my favourite course of the night. I would describe it best as “beautifully executed comfort food.” The creamy rice was essentially an al dente risotto mixed with a heaping serving of tenderly braised lamb and veggies- the best possible combination of textures and tastes for a snowy subzero type of evening. Somehow, I finished the whole thing and still had room for dessert…
When was the last time I had a pastry? Probably 2012; but I would come back for this any day- this fritter is essentially a Spanish rendition of a croissant; chewy buttery stretchy dough coated in cinnamon and sugar and perfect all by itself. And yes, ate all of that too so see you all at 24 in the Pearl later tonight.
And to conclude the night, each guest was awarded with gift certificates to Irving Street Kitchen (yay one of my favourites!), Besaws and Fifty Licks! Definitely a fantastic selection of spots that I will be hitting up soon! If you’re interested in purchasing tickets to one of the upcoming PFAs, tickets are still available for the two upcoming events at Cocotte and The American Local!
And finally, a huge thank you to Chef Jose for creating such an impeccable Monday night supper experience, and to Chris for hosting!
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