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Craft Cocktails

Ataula’s Sangria May Be Portland’s Most Signature Drink

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Just a few months in, Jose Chesa and Cristina Báez’s Ataula is impressively well-oiled. But to compare it to a machine would be to ignore the very personal touches that make the whole thing here work.

The staff’s professional and knowledgable, but casual, too—instead of being buttoned-up and vested, they wear matching T-shirts—and because Chesa’s line is so efficient, it frees him up to leave the kitchen to stop by your table to check on things.

In sum, Ataula’s family feels like a family, and when you come in, you feel like a very distant cousin they’ve never met but are nonetheless eager to feed.

Of course, you’re coming for the food—the dishes here are based on traditional Spanish recipes Chesa picked up from his father and grandmother made with modern cooking techniques he honed whilst working in kitchens across Barcelona.

But then again, Catalonians come to drink, then stay for the food.

It’s not necessarily how Portlanders do it (we are working on it), but there is one Ataulan drink that’s worth the trip all by itself.

Ataula’s wine and brandy-based Sangria follows a recipe Chesa’s borrowed from his father, but he trumps it by vacuum-sealing and giving a slow, low cook to its medley of its dozen ingredients.

By sous viding the brandy with apples, pears and a variety of spices—Chesa’s cagey about naming them all, and why shouldn’t he be?—every batch is carefully controlled.

But just because it’s consistent doesn’t mean that this Sangria’s not playful—it is: the notes of one ingredient pop out like stray electrons before they’re quickly swallowed up by the flavors of another.

And each glass is finished with freshly pressed citrus, giving that glass a bright fresh pop. And if you’re dine with your sweetheart, it comes in litre bottles, too.

Lots of spots have signature drinks, but this one very well—and maybe very well soon—could become one of Portland’s most signature.

Ataula, 1818 NW 23rd Place, 503.894.8904

Imperial's Tap Vieux Carré

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I've written about barman Brandon Wise's tap Vieux Carré plenty of times—twice for MIX Magazine (RIP MIX!), and once for Neighborhood Notes. As I've written in the past, it's Wise's favorite classic cocktail—he's used Vieux Carré shots to boilermake pints of beer and he's even used shots to flavor snow cones)—and because of him (he's the one who finally hipped me to it), it's mine too.

In fact, I try to turn as many people on to it as I can—not just because of the way it tastes, or because of how easy it is to drink (think: candied whiskey)—but because it's easily one of the best deals in town.

While a standard mixer or a draft pint of craft beer can easily run you $6 (to say nothing of craft cocktails that can often run north of $10), Wise's Vieux Carré will cost you just $7—and, because it's mixed in large batches and argon-gassed from a korny keg (which keeps prep time down), it costs just $5 during Imperial's two daily happy hours.

If you head out for one (or two)—and trust me, you should—keep in mind that this is a drink that'll sneak up on you.

Besides the lemon twist and the large hand-carved ice cube, the Vieux Carré’s all spirits (rye, cognac, Benedictine, Italian vermouth and splashes of Angostura and Peychaud's bitters).

But that ice plays its part—about five minutes after your cocktail's been poured, it melts, glacially, providing your Vieux Carré with what Wise calls a "sweet spot" in which each spirit's many notes harmoniously blend themselves together into the same proper key.

Imperial, 400 SW Broadway St., 503.228.7222