Critic's Notebook

What Does Vespolina Have that Aragona Didn’t?

And why high-end restaurants changing up names and formats has become the hottest move in town.

By Kathryn Robinson February 9, 2015

Vespolina’s pork ribs over tonnato.

The short answer is: A bottle of Jack. The long answer is...a little longer.

Many will remember that Jason Stratton’s downtown Spanish restaurant, Aragona, closed its doors for a minute last September to reopen as Vespolina, an Italian pasta house similar in menu to his fanatically beloved Cascina Spinasse on Capitol Hill.

They might also remember that Stratton was very personally invested in his Catalan vision for Aragona, having dreamt of that restaurant’s concept, even menu, before Spinasse was a glimmer in his eye.

So why the switch-up? 

“I didn’t really realize moving in there how much of a presence tourists would be,” Stratton told me by phone about the restaurant located in the Benaroya Hall/Four Seasons Hotel/Seattle Art Museum district. “Looking back, I guess that was kind of silly.”

Simply put, Stratton says, his Spanish food was not accessible enough for that crowd. “It was really odd for me, especially coming off Spinasse and Artusi, to have people come in, look at the menu, then stand up and walk out. The ones who knew about Spinasse often asked when we’d be putting pasta on the menu. So I realized the value of dishes that are understandable to people. It’s been an eye-opener for sure. In terms of cocktails, I keep a bottle of Jack Daniels on the shelf, for the people who want to order a Jack and Coke.”

Far cry from Artusi, Stratton’s Italian aperitif bar, and its subtly herbal array of Amari.

But it’s emblematic of the turn toward increased accessibility that is by no means limited to Stratton. The same is true, in different ways, of Book Bindery’s transformation to Hommage on the Queen Anne side of the Ship Canal.

Read my review of both right here, in Seattle Met’s February issue.



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