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  • 27 Nov 2014

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Bread & Brew: Social, but solo? Try these two spots

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - At Ataula in Northwest Portland, traditional Spanish food and drink, such as salt cod croquettes, are served alongside playful variations like a cocktail made with Basque cider. First of all, Emily, I’m sorry that I wasn’t completely honest with you.

I enjoyed our talk about the ups and downs of dining alone. And I probably would drive across town by myself to check out a new restaurant like Ataula, just for my own curiosity. It’s just that I had more of a reason than I let on — not to mention a secret reason for eating alone in restaurants as often as I do.

When I’m researching a restaurant review, I often start with a snack at the bar and a drink, just to get a sense of the place. This was my first visit to Ataula, where Emily is a bartender, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I found a disarmingly friendly spot, in cheerful blue and white, with a nice long bar that is perfect for dining alone, with room for a book, a rough draft, or a notebook on the counter.

It’s a Spanish restaurant on the site of an earlier Spanish restaurant, Patanegra, in Northwest Portland, in what I think of as the Food Front neighborhood. The menu consists mostly of Spanish tapas and other small plates with original touches, such as kale chips on a pickled beet salad, a ham and cheese sandwich with truffle butter, and canelons (Catalan stuffed pasta) topped with Serrano ham powder.

I started with a cocktail made with Basque cider, a very dry cider with a puckery, funky taste that isn’t for everyone. I like it, but not so much that I was offended to see it tamed and cocktail-ized with brown sugar, bitters and lemon peel for a sparkling, complex, yet accessible drink.

Salt cod croquettes are the first test of any Spanish restaurant, and Ataula’s are textbook: delicately crisp on the outside, creamy with potato on the inside, unapologetically fishy without being too salty or chewy. They’re arranged in a dish that looks like an egg carton, with a mild romesco sauce.

The tortilla de patatas strays from the traditional Spanish tortilla. Sometimes it’s a lofty, layered dish, served in slices like a pie. Here the egg-and-potato mixture is cooked in individual portions, and was a little flatter and greasier than my ideal.

Speaking of ideals, Portland is pretty far from Spain, and the real point of comparison here has to be with Toro Bravo.

Ataula is more restrained, less likely to blow your mind, more likely to have parking nearby. There’s no barroom clamor, more space, more light, more families.

I’ll definitely come back with a group to try the paella, but for this week, I decided instead to find another place where it’s OK to be alone.

Remedy Wine Bar is indeed a remedy for certain ails: harsh industrial decors, remote industrial locations, and stressful crowds.

On a Friday evening, there was plenty of leeway to grab a nook equipped with easy chairs, or a spot at the wraparound bar, with its comfortable barstools. Huge windows look out on the green and leafy yellow of the North Park Blocks.

Inside, the color theme is black, white and green. Wine is solidly the focus here, with an emphasis on French pours. There’s no booze, although I almost didn’t notice, sipping an Everett Spritz, made with Cocchi Americano and Aperol (both low-alcohol aperifs) and a splash of sparkling wine.

There’s no real kitchen, and snacks like blistered pardon peppers and a salad of bitter greens are assembled behind the bar. A Spanish-style sandwich of Serrano ham and manchego was toasted in an oven tucked under the counter. It was crispy, salty and melty, an ideal bar snack, but not cheap at $10. That price included a side of potato salad, but the potatoes were so dull and dry that I couldn’t eat it.

Other than that, this is a very civilized place and ideal for conversation — or to have a quiet drink solo.

Ataula, 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 4:30 p.m. to midnight Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, 1818 N.W. 23rd Place, 503-894-8904, www.ataulapdx.com

Remedy Wine Bar, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, 733 N.W. Everett St., 503-222-1449, www.remedywinebar.com

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