Jason Stratton's Spanish restaurant Aragona was one of the most buzzed-about restaurant openings in recent memory—the bold space, the equally bold move of a downtown location, and the fact that Stratton was straying from the Italian fare that built him one hell of a following.
Now, eight months after opening its doors at First and Union, the restaurant is recasting itself, shedding its name and its Spanish identity. And it's doing so almost literally overnight. Stratton's team confirmed that Aragona's last night of service will be Saturday, September 6. On Monday, September 8, the restaurant will reopen for business as usual, but it will be an Italian restaurant, Vespolina. Details are still emerging, but the menu will involve pasta. Aragona/Vespolina's knockout dining room won't change.
This news begs many questions, and lots of feelings. Stratton isn't ready to say much about the new place yet, but presumably more will be revealed in the coming weeks. But after six years, Stratton is still killing it at Spinasse, and I like the idea of him bringing some of that magic downtown.
Part of the struggle with Aragona, says Stratton, was that diners aren't familiar with this type of Spanish food. "It was most apparent with the rice dishes," he said. "I just don't get this" was a common refrain for diners who ordered the arroz caldoso, expecting something in the neighborhood of paella rather than a brothy rice concoction.
Stratton says the menu at Vespolina won't adhere to a particular region of Italy, in a way harkening back to his early days cooking at Cafe Juanita. And you know what--he seems pretty positive for a guy coming to terms with a major change like this. "I'm in this to make people happy; that's my job," he told me, pointing out that Artusi began life as a cocktail bar with some small plates, then morphed into a full-on restaurant as customers kept coming in hoping for pasta.
Aragona is running a five-course, $65 menu of its greatest hits now until the restaurant closes. And Spanish wines that cost more than $100 a bottle will be 35 percent off.