Chef Jose Chesa has restaurants in his blood: His father, also a chef, still owns and operates a now-45-year-old restaurant in Barcelona, where Jose started cooking at age 15. Now, the younger Chesa and his wife, Cristina, are ready to open the doors at their first restaurant, the tapas-inspired Ataula (pronounced ah-tau-la), which takes over the NW 23rd Place spot long home to Patanegra.
"We were inspired by the gastrobar scene [in Barcelona], keeping it modern and original," Cristina Chesa says of the concept, which the couple have been planning for more than three years. The Chesas have brightened up the once-dark Patanegra space, adding a "touch of personality and a familial feel," Cristina says. The new layout takes advantage of overhead skylights to shine down on a custom-made concrete bar (with recycled glass in blue and brown to evoke the Mediterranean) and original artwork by created from recycled windows and crystal. The window-art's frames and dark-wood paneling behind the bar are also all recycled from discarded wood; the restaurant's communal tables were repurposed from their days at Patanegra.
As promised, Chesa's menu will embrace tapas-style eating, "keeping it as casual as possible — nothing too intimidating," Cristina says. On the 20-item tapas list, Chesa shakes up familiar dishes with unexpected touches (a ricotta granita tops an anchovy gazpacho; calamari arrives battered in a deep black squid-ink tempura; octopus carpaccio is served with a sundried tomato confit and parmesan). For larger plates, Chesa offers three paellas and fiduea; the house paella features prawns, cuttle?sh, mussels, calamari, clams, saffron picada, and a lobster fumet. At the bar, the Chesas hope to introduce Portland to cañitas, diminutive beer or cocktail pours perfect for happy-hour drinking. In the near future, Chesa plans to launch a Sunday Spanish brunch that "respects traditions," offering shareable brunch dishes like Serrano ham tortillas.
Ataula opens tomorrow, August 20. Hours of operation: Tuesday and Wednesday, 4:30p.m. to 10p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 4:30p.m. to midnight.
· Ataula [Official site]
· All Previous Ataula Coverage [Eater PDX]