With the enduring love for Spinasse, I am a bit surprised no dedicated Aragona post has yet emerged. Paging Dr. Tom Armitage... Maybe others are waiting for it to ripen or settle.
At any rate, my bride and I visited about 2 weeks ago. It had a good crowd for 9 on a Monday. Nice view of the port terminal and ferris wheel from the bar, not so much from the dining room. Serious investment in the lights and furnishings. Breakdown:
Tortilla de topinambur con erizo de mar : super nice Spanish-style sunchoke omelette topped with uni. Radical. I could only wish they doubled the portion of uni.
Coliflor con ajo tostado y vinaigre de moscatel : we can't deny romanesco in any form (sauce or veg). The fried garlic here was an adept textural play and the vegetable was expertly cooked. Substantial portion too. Will try this at home (, kids).
Fricandó estilo de la casa (Braised beef cheeks with boletus mushrooms and puff pastry): this was most reminiscent off what makes Spiansse so special. Superlative meat perhaps echoing Beouf bourguignon, but with more interesting shrooms and an added gelatinous quality one would expect of cheeks. I must say the oyster-cracker sized nuggets of pastry seemed superfluous here.
The best dish we had is not on the current site to be pasted here. It was a soupy rice dish with outstandingly prepared geoduck (never had a better non-raw version), turnips and their greens, bathed in a shellfish broth with a Proustian depth of flavor that I will never forget.
The dessert was a miss for us, described as follows: "‘Todos los santos’
“All Saints” Steamed almond and sweet-potato cake with chestnut, honey and moscatel". What arrived was a deconstructed collective of jels, steamed dough and cookie. I gather they were seeking an outlet for expressing some modernist Spanish techniques and whimsy, but it was not expected and made for an awkward jump from the other courses.
Will be back. Will go to bar. Will eat very well. Will try different dessert item(s).
We also went soon after they opened since we really like Spinasse and Artusi, but sat in the lounge. It was early and pretty empty. Loved the food. The smoked tongue escabeche was wonderful, probably one of the best dishes I've had locally in awhile. Also had the quail eggs, the tortilla which was a really nice surprise since it was done with sunchokes instead of potatoes, the spanish sardines with housemade breads (Not sure how that would have been if we hadn't ordered the bread to go with it) and the fritters. We did two different desserts and really liked the contrast of flavors. The ones we had weren't too "modernist" , just the aerated, frozen chocolate mousse that came with the ice cream dish. Loved the "Xuxos" Crispy fried pastry stuffed with vanilla cream and sprinkled with sugar and truffle salt.
Already have a reservation to go back for dinner. Can't say I like the decor, but the food is a really nice addition to the Seattle dining scene.
Thanks @eqinoise for starting this thread! We went for dinner on NYE and I've been hoping to get something up but the details are "fuzzy"...
Our res was 8:45pm but folks just didn't want to leave so we hung out at the bar for 15 minutes or so. Sad that the best views are from the bar; the dining area is quite something. Service was a little slow but they were slammed.
We did not get the geoduck (big regret there) but thoroughly enjoyed the Salpicón de ostras y pera
(Cool salad of Shigoku oysters, Asian pear and endive), Remojón de rábanos y naranja (Autumn remojón: salt cod with radish, orange, mint and egg), the octopus & the above-mentioned Coliflor and beef cheeks.
Each dish was the perfect amount of bites between 4 people. We skipped dessert in lieu of a large coffee carafe and got out just in time for fireworks.
We stuck largely to the wine list, so I'm ready to go back and sample their G&Ts (apparently the unofficial Spanish cocktail?).
Carrie of Top Chef was expediting in full view and obliged us (and many others) with a pic. She's a real talent and
was very gracious considering she got kicked off in that week's episode.
re: Tom Armitage
My first visit to Aragona reminded me of some of my dating experiences as a young man. Specifically, it was like going on a date with a girl who is attractive, smart, and has a good personality, and not being able to explain to my friends afterwards why I wasn’t more infatuated. I liked the food at Aragona, in fact I liked most of it a lot, but for some reason I’m not sure I can explain, I didn’t come away with the same love-struck feeling that I’ve experienced at restaurants like Spinasse, Altura, and Four Swallows. Ah, the mysteries of love.
Does this mean I won’t ask Aragona out on a second date? No, I’m definitely up for seeing more of her. And the more I think about it, the more Aragona moves up the ladder of my affection.
The first thing brought to our table was a sunflower cracker which I found boring and an odd choice for a first impression. Our first ordered dish was spot prawns in cider broth. The spot prawns were perfectly cooked and I couldn’t get enough of the sauce, which was addictively delicious. In fact, my wife and I had a little friendly competition to see who could sop up the most sauce with our bread. There wasn’t the slightest smidgen of sauce left when we were through. My wife’s only negative comment, which was repeated for some of our other dishes, was that $20 seemed expensive for five small spot prawns. For me, knowing the cost of fresh spot prawns, this wasn’t a big issue, especially given how amazingly wonderful the dish was. Our next appetizer was beef tongue escabeche, a hearty dish with a strongly flavored brown sauce with onion, currents, and capers. I liked it, even though I thought that the delicious sauce somewhat overpowered the delicate flavor of the tongue, leaving the tongue as a more of a textural vehicle for the sauce. I contrasted Aragona’s preparation to the tacos de lengua I’ve enjoyed that are garnished only with a little salsa verde or onion and cilantro, where the flavor of the tongue is more prominent. The black cod in adobo was served with a cup of consume laced with sherry. This was close to a perfect bite – a crisp, non-greasy crust encasing the subtly flavored silky black cod inside. A complete wowser-dowser!
Well-prepared Spanish arroz caldoso (“brothy rice”) is characterized by a highly concentrated broth, a classic example of which I’ve had the good fortune to experience at Bar Pinotxo in the La Boqueria market in Barcelona. Aragona’s version of arroz caldoso, made with geoduck and turnip, captured the classic briny intensity of the seafood broth, but I wished that the flavor of the geoduck had been more prominent. For me, it seemed to get lost in the dish. The grilled pork chop with prune, garlic cream, pig’s trotter, and amontillado sherry came perfectly cooked to a medium rare (medium pink center) and tender as could be. The sauce was fabulous with the richness of the pig’s trotter and cream balanced by the acidity of the sherry. For dessert, we ordered the xuxos caseros, crispy fried pastry dough stuffed with crema catalana. The classic version, which I also had at Bar Pinotxo in Barcelona, dusts the fried pastry with crystallized sugar, and I was skeptical about Aragona adding truffle salt, fearing that it would be just an affectation. But it was wonderful. The xuxos were a perfect balance of crispy, soft, salty, and sweet. It took all my restraint not to order a second plate of them.
The service got off to a bit of rocky start with our appetizers arriving before we’d had a chance to order our wines. But our servers made sharing the dishes easy by bringing each dish to the table with separate small plates so that my wife and I could share the dish with swapping plates. It was a thoughtful and much appreciated aspect of our service.
I was excited to seek the advice of the one of the two superstar sommeliers Aragona has to guide you through your beverage selections. We were assisted by Jackson Rohrbaugh, formerly of Canlis, who was recently recognized for his best-in-class performance in passing his Advanced Exam at the Guild of Sommeliers. (The other sommelier is Christopher Tanghe, formerly of Canlis and RN74, who is one of only seven Master Sommeliers in Washington State.) Rohrbaugh selected different wines to pair with each of my wife’s and my dishes. The selections, which included some Spanish sherries, were thoughtful and interesting, introducing me to some wines I wasn’t familiar with, such as the lightly sparkling Avinyó Vi D’Agulla Blanco from Penedes, Spain and the Occhipinti SP68 Bianco from Sicily made from the rarely encountered Sicilian Albanello and Zibibbo (Moscato di Alessandria) grapes.
My wife and I sat in the uppermost dining room next to a window that looked out at the wall of a building next door. As others have pointed out, the best views are in the bar, where you can also order the full menu. But I was pretty focused on the food and wine, and our table was just fine.
Both Jason Stratton and Carrie Mashaney were in house, visibly checking all the dishes as they came out of the kitchen. In fact, Jason brought one of the dishes to our table.
All in all, despite the absence of love at first bite, my first date with Aragona was a very enjoyable experience, and I’m looking forward to more dates in the future.
P.S. Some of my favorite experiences in Spain, especially in coastal venues, are eating the amazingly fresh and abundant seafood prepared very simply, like the razor clams flash-grilled a la plancha with only a little olive oil and salt at Cal Pep, a seafood bar in Barcelona. Given the abundance of fresh seafood in the Pacific Northwest, why can’t we duplicate that kind of experience here in Seattle? I suppose our oyster bars come closest to this, but they aren’t quite the same.
re: Tom Armitage
To your last point, I ate at the uber-casual La Paradeta in Barcelona, where you wait in line and point to what you want from an array of fresh fish and shellfish, and indicate what you'd like fried/grilled/steamed. Period. There is, I think, one kind of sauce, and some lemons. It was one of my favorite meals ever and I thought it would be an AWESOME concept to bring to Seattle. If anyone out there wants to execute and wants an investor, let me know :)
We went last night. I loved the hearts of palm salad, the prawns, and torrija dessert, basically french toast sticks and honey. My husband had a great Novela Negra bourbon cocktail and loved the xuxos. The soupy rice and chicken two ways were both good.
Service was excellent. I too really liked how the starters were served one at a time with sharing plates.
The decor! From the waist up I loved it, the light fixtures and the mosaic pillar in the middle of the room. The chairs, though, were taken from a Hampton Inn breakfast room. The bar did look like the more cozy space.
We have a reservation for Aragona tonight, as I had been meaning to get there for a while, and Opentable now has it billed as "Aragona, soon to be Vespolina". Here is the article I found: http://www.seattlemet.com/eat-and-dri...
Seems to boil down to not enough customers/repeat customers because of unfamiliar food. Am debating whether it is worth keeping the reservation or cancelling, since I am worried kitchen staff will be already checked out and it won't be the amazing culinary experience I was hoping for!
Not sure if they are running the regular menu or just the Prix fixe at this point. Personally, I found the bar menu more interesting than the one in the dining room and plan to get back there for that before the change over. Also not sure what is happening with the desserts and breads now since their Pastry Chef is gone.