It's no secret. The liquor license application is up on the door an everything, announcing to the world that Jason Stratton's new contemporary Spanish restaurant, Aragona, will be taking over the former Thoa's space across from the Four Seasons Hotel on First Avenue. But the part of this story that's not so well known is the personal attachment Stratton has to the space. He says:
Robert Rossellini's Other Place used to be there; that was the original build out for that space. The Rossellini's — they have a pretty incredible history here for creating fine dining in Seattle. [Robert] is a regular of Spinasse. My first job was at Le Gourmand; I was hired as a dishwasher by Bruce Naftaly. That was my first real taste of what fine dining was. Apparently, Robert Rossellini hired Bruce as a dishwasher at the Other Place, so there's this weird synergy.
Robert was in Spinasse the other night and I told him my new restaurant was going to be in his old space and he grabbed me by the shoulder and was like, "That's fantastic!" We're kind of playing off a little of what the space used to be.
Stratton has about 5,000 square feet to play with in the new space, compared to Spinasse/Artusi's roughly 3,600 square feet.
Parking hassles or not, Stratton loves the idea of being downtown:
There are so many places downtown that are and have been a destination forever: Zig Zag, Le Pichet, Matt's in the Market. I'm excited to kind of fit into some of those places and hopefully create a destination restaurant downtown. I think the idea of downtown has been on the wane. Seattle is so small that to have the central urban core be kind of desserted or populated only by a few is a bummer. Especially with Pioneer Square and the waterfront revitalization happening, to be a part of that downtown "thing" that's happening is exciting for me.
At Aragona, expect a big open kitchen and a big table where all the plating happens, much like Spinasse, so you'll be able to see right into the thick of things. And, there will be a private dining room, which means unlike Spinasse, Stratton won't have to turn large parties away. Also:
Kate Jessup who is a local mosaic artist is designing this sort of cool structural piece in the middle of the room. My interest in art is overlapping into what the space will look like. Hopefully, it will very much be a space nobody has seen before.
Stratton says the dining room and bar are similar size — about 45 seats in the bar and about 55 in the dining room. Really similar to the Spinasse/Artusi layout. As an extra special touch, the bar will have a spectacular view of the Great Wheel. Right now, Stratton's crew is working to level out the dining room to create a pretty dramatic ballroom feel.
We're planning on doing lunch only in the bar, which will probably roll out about a month after we open. The bar menu — there will be some cross-over with the dinner menu in the dining room but it will have it's own feel.
Carrie Mashaney, former sous chef at Spinasse, will be heading up Aragona. "She's been with me since the beginning. She'll be awesome." Newly minted Master Somm Chris Tanghe will also be joining the team.
Stratton spills some details on the menu:
It's really going to be an expression of the places I've spent the most time in, which are Catalonia, Valencia and Andalucia. I don't want to say it's going to be slavishly Spanish, but it's definitely finding inspiration from those regions. If I could describe my cooking it's kind of like refined grandma food in a way. We dig for the traditional recipes from the countryside and find a way to elevate them or refine them a little bit. Rice is going to be a huge feature, not necessarily paella, but looking at some of the rice traditions that exist in Valencia and Catalonia and Andalucia. I'm pretty excited about that. If Spinasse does pasta, Aragona will do rice.
Also, look for a strong seafood focus, much more than Spinasse, with Dungeness crab, oysters, and geoduck, which Stratton ensures will be a pretty huge deal at the new spot that will start off by serving dinner daily. Lunch and maybe brunch will follow.
Best case scenario, Aragona will open in mid-August.
And yes, Stratton is looking into valet parking.