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Pop-up events at shuttered restaurant offer mix of food, fun, including tableside cooking by Jose Chesa

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JENNIFER ANDERSON - Ataula chef/owners Jose Chesa and Cristina Baez, his wife, entertain guests at their Paella Sundays pop-up event at their former restaurant, Chesa, on Northeast Broadway.Portland is known as brunch-landia, but those brunches often come with a steep price: the long, long lines.

If you're looking to kick back with food, music and sangria on a patio without the lines, Paella Sundays might be for you.

Hosted by two of Portland's most iconic chefs — Jose Chesa and Cristina Baez — Paella Sundays started in late July in the former Chesa restaurant space.

The couple closed the restaurant in early July after a year in business; they'd opened it just after their authentic Spanish xurro (churro) spot, 180 PDX, in the cheery adjoining space.

They also are most famous for their Spanish tapas restaurant in Northwest Portland, Ataula, which turns 10 this year.

"It's a large space, and it was a large winter," Baez says of Chesa, their namesake restaurant, which focused on authentic and creative paella preparations inspired by Chesa's hometown of Catalan, Spain.

"You never know what will happen," she says of the Chesa space, where the furniture and decor still remains. "For now, we'll just have fun."

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JENNIFER ANDERSON - Paella Sundays will be held three more times this year — Aug. 27, Sept. 10 and Sept. 24, at 2218 N.E. Broadway.In addition to booking the space for private parties, they're using Chesa's kitchen space and patio for Paella Sundays, which occupies the sunny patio (think bistro tables and red umbrellas).

Chef Chesa himself mans the large stainless steel Josper grill, which can fit six paella pans at once.

You can watch him cook tableside as he layers ingredients and expertly adjusts the coals and ventilation.

"It has a charcoal smoker and smoker at the same time," Chesa says as he demonstrates how he adds chunks of oak charcoal and orange wood to the same shelf as the paella, so it will absorb its flavor as it releases.

To a pan of chicken that he's lightly sauteed in garlic, he adds a generous helping of pepper sofritas and black sofritas, made from onions cooked down for eight hours, a custom in Barcelona. The umami adds sweetness and depth.

Chesa pops the pans back into the oven and closes the grill's upper and lower vents, to keep all the smokiness in the dish for concentrated flavor.

A few minutes later he pops the grill open again to add a few scoops of Spanish bomba rice, then some chicken stock.

In all, it takes 17 to 18 minutes start to finish, more vents opening and closing, more layers added — including a sprinkling of sausage that comes from his father's recipe, handmade by Chef Greg Higgins, a friend.

He garnishes the finished dish with padron peppers, for more smokiness and sweetness, and parsley oil, and serves up the glistening rice to hungry guests.

Paella Sundays will be held three more times this year — from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Aug. 27, Sept. 10 and Sept. 24, at 2218 N.E. Broadway St. Each event is kid- and pet-friendly.

Tickets are $50 per person, which includes four courses of a meat and veggie paella, salad and a glass of sangria, with gin and tonic and wine also available for purchase.

In addition, check out the couple's Barrio Block Party, a passion project for Baez, a native of Puerto Rico.

Reminiscent of her parties with neighbors in New York in her 20s, the celebration will be filled with Puerto Rican food, old-school salsa music on a turntable and a domino tournament (the top prize is a $100 gift card to Ataula).

Pop-up events in Portland have largely become "too structured," Baez says, often with guests seated at long tables with formal courses and chef presentations.

This will be the opposite of that. They'll serve up pina coladas with rum and cerveza to accompany the bean stew, oven-roasted pork shoulder, roasted chicken, fried ripe plantains and avocados.

Patria Presents: Barrio Block Party is set for 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 3, at 2218 N.E. Broadway St.

Tickets to all events available at www.chesapdx.com/shop.

@jenmomanderson

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