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Tapas and Spanish dishes at Ostras!

With its lofty ceiling and cozy brick walls, Ostras! Tapas and Bottle Shop has the snappy feel of an upscale Portland bistro.

Stepping into the restaurant on the Ashland Plaza, visitors can grab a bite at the swanky bar or settle into the intimate tables that put you in the mood for fine dining and great cocktails.

Keeping with the tapas tradition, the restaurant stresses small bites rather than big portions. The menu is an invitation to taste rather than devour. For those searching for a late-night dining spot, the restaurant is open until 11 p.m. weekends.

The menu includes typical Spanish offerings from empanadas to patatas bravas, as well as prawns or octopus a la plancha. Savory meatballs, or albondigas, are drowned in a tangy tomato sauce punctuated with manchego cheese.

Oysters are a must at Ostras!, and we’ll leave it to our clever readers to guess what ostras means.

As we settled into our seats at the bar, our eyes darted back and forth between the cocktail list and the food offerings.

After a quick consultation with the friendly bartender, my dinner companion settled on a watermelon mojito and I decided on a glass of cabernet sauvignon from Spain.

The bartender explained that the watermelon was infused with rum. As we sampled the refreshing drink on a warm summer night, chunks of watermelon gushed apart emptying their reservoirs of alcohol into our mouths. Fresh mint and lime provided the right mojo for the mojito.

The wine was fairly smooth and drinkable, requiring the ordering of a second round to wash down the food.

It was difficult for my dining companion to stray from the mojito, but for her second round she ordered the Oregon Gold Rush, a blend of Oregon bourbon, fresh lemon, honey and cardamom bitters. The more masculine flavored Gold Rush showed off the bartender’s prowess at concocting great mixed drinks.

As with all the workers we encountered, the bartender was more than helpful, even using us as guinea pigs when he mixed ingredients to test new drinks that he was composing. As I was nabbing a photo of fresh meatballs from the kitchen, a cook playfully tried to "photobomb" the shot.

Since it was a tapas bar, we started out slowly, ordering mushroom-filled empanadas with crunchy crust and creamy, paprika accented, crème fraiche innards. Later we tried the other empanadas with chunks of beef, which was tasty enough but had a flatter note after the more flavorful mushrooms.

The delicate, perfectly prepared pan-seared sea scallops paired well with the romesco sauce. Like many of the menu items, don’t expect a lot of food with each dish. We had three scallops for $13, which required a knife and fork fight to settle who could devour the last scallop.

The prawns a la plancha, also with romesco and fennel salad, were fresh and cooked perfectly. Again, the amount of food was small and could disappoint a more ravenous appetite.

To make sure we had something with vegetables to offset the tapas, we settled on an escalavida, a roasted vegetable dish that was possibly the least inspired of the meal. The sherry vinegar dressing veered too far to the acidic side for our tastes, but it was definitely a palate cleanser, and none of it went to waste.

Don’t expect to eat cheaply at Ostras! A meal for two could easily cost $60 or more, depending on how many tapas you choose to eat and how many drinks you order. Many of the dishes come in larger and smaller sizes, and larger and smaller prices, as well. For instance, a larger portion of the scallops will cost you $20.

If you want a sophisticated night out on the town and have an appetite for tapas and great cocktails, Ostras! offers you a taste of Spain on the Plaza.

Ostras!, at 47 N. Main St., is open from 4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Meatballs covered with tomatoe sauce and Manchego cheese are among the tapas selections at Ostras! [ostrasashland.com]