Jason Stratton built a fervent following at Spinasse on Capitol Hill, followed it up with Italian aperitivo bar Artusi, and now the chef is striking out for a new neighborhood—and a new country. He’s planning to open a third restaurant, called Aragona, downtown.
Aragona is named for Spain’s Aragon region, center of a 14th- and 15th-century confederation that stretched from the Pyrenees and Barcelona across the Mediterranean to Italy, Sicily, and even Athens. The contemporary fare will hew mostly to Spain's eastern coast, but Stratton says the wine list will reflect this cultural composite, albeit with plenty of Spanish wines like garnacha, tempranillo, and monastrell.
Some of the menu items on his mind: chicken wings with Dungeness crab and walnut mayonnaise (okay, mayonesa), radishes stewed with jamon Iberico and snap peas, and a pork rib confit (Tails and Trotters) with pimenton and new potatoes. And migas—bread crumbs—with housemade chorizo and a broken fried egg, a dish that had me literally fanning my face in excitement like a Victorian maiden.
Just as Spinasse kills it with pasta, Aragona will "really dive into what rice culture in Valencia and transporting it to what we have here in terms of seasonal produce," says Stratton, with dishes like arroz caldoso (soupy rice) with oysters, fava beans, and saffron.
Spinasse is rooted in the food of Piedmonte, and Artusi in the roots and evolution of Italian cuisine in general. But Stratton has always been in love with Spain; he's traveled extensively through Catalonia and Valencia and Andalusia and has lived in the country for a few stretches. "There's more overlap than people might expect in how ingredients are treated," he says of the two countries' food cultures. "There's a lot of similarity in how things will appear on the plate."
He shied away from saying plates will be traditionally Spanish, "but definitely Iberian flavors." His lieutenant, the awesome Carrie Mashaney, will be playing a major role here.
Stratton has a specific space in play, but asked that the address not go public just yet since he's still in the midst of negotiations. But the address he has in mind is about as big as Spinasse and Artusi put together, with room for a dining room, a bar area (with its own bar menu), and some private dining. The wine program will be Spanish and the dessert menu will be intense—tentative plates include dark chocolate ice cream rolled in bread crumbs, sea salt, cocoa nibs, and thyme, with a bit of olive oil, a cava float with mint ice cream (yes), and a dish, torrija clasica, consisting of bread soaked overnight in sweet custard and caramelized on the plancha.
Stratton hopes to serve both lunch and dinner, a savvy move considering all the downtown officers in search of lunch destinations. Cross your fingers those lease negotiations go well, and we could be dining here by late summer or early fall.