First Look: Chef Jason Stratton's Aragona
The much-loved chef's new downtown restaurant is a knockout, thanks to hand-crafted light fixtures, intricate mosaic work, and a restrained pop of hot pink.
It’s taken just one week to dramatically change the dining-scape of downtown.
First Loulay opened, then Miller’s Guild premiered. And now, after months spent anxiously waiting, it’s time to unveil Aragona, the exquisite new Spanish-influenced restaurant from chef Jason Stratton of Spinasse and Artusi fame. Three of the city’s most applauded chefs open three high-profile eateries—within blocks of one another in the city’s downtown corridor—mere days apart. Has Christmas come early?
Those familiar with Stratton’s other restaurants know that he’s got an eye for design nearly as reputable as his hand in the kitchen, and Aragona is no disappointment. The space, occupying the corner lot above Post Alley and directly across from the Four Seasons, has been gutted from its previous incarnation as a Vietnamese restaurant and turned into a dreamland of light, texture, and color. The fact that Aragona pulls off hot pink and gold glitter with such refinement is a testament to the talent at play here.
The design team was helmed by Stratton, but also included local designer Erich Ginder, mosaic artist Kate Jessup, contractors Dolan Built, and Zeroplus architects. Together, they took Stratton’s vision and turned it into a reality—one that reads as both traditional and contemporary, with no shortage of avant-garde details. “I love restaurants—and spaces in general—that are curated, where you find these little details everywhere, and where the experience is different from different places,” Stratton says. “Here, there’s nine different ways of telling the same story.”
A perfect example of this duality is the wallpaper, a Ginder design called Warez Rose, that, from across the room, looks like the sort of floral damask print you’d find in Grandma’s living room. Up close, however, you notice that the roses are made up of ASCII symbols—a series of punctuation marks, letters, and numbers Ginder says was a popular art form in personal computing’s early years. The paper wraps the wall behind the bar and into a private dining nook on the opposite side.
Another example is the flooring. Glance once and you hardly notice the white oak hardwoods are patterned into the same angular herringbone reflected throughout the restaurant, from cupboard details to kitchen tiles to a glorious mosaicked art piece that Jessup created on the column in the main dining room. She actually drew the pattern onto the floor before the boards were laid down.
This concept of “what can we do that’s different?” is carried over into Stratton’s menu, which will be executed by chef (and Top Chef contender) Carrie Mashaney. Dishes are Spanish—specifically the ancient Aragon region that extended from Barcelona across the Mediterranean—in influence but contemporary in execution; wines (and there will be plenty, thanks to wine director, and master sommelier, Chris Tanghe) will focus on garnacha and monastrell, grapes that followed the same geographical pattern.
But lest you think dining in this arresting restaurant—I didn’t even mention the sweeping bay and Great Wheel views!—may be overly stuffy or pretentious, keep in mind that Stratton’s first priority is always comfort and approachability. “This is a place where all our staff is basically living here,” he says, saying that they, too, need a space that offers both beauty and relaxation. “It’s our home.” I have a feeling it may be mine, too.
Aragona opens today for dinner, and Stratton plans to add lunch service after the new year.