Seattle Spanish Staying Power?
Disappointed to learn of Aragona shuttering after less than one year, it occurred to me that it is not at all the first acclaimed (or at least interesting) local Spanish resto to meet an early demise. I'm thinking of:
Txori - gone (now replaced by Pintxos, with a diluted/nightlifeish menu)
Taberna del Alabardero - outta here
The Harvest Vine - not gone, but by many trustworthy accounts not the same since the original chef left.
Chico Madrid - vanished in a blink
A Yelp search leaves only 4 other nominally Spanish places once those mentioned above are set aside. Of those 4, Ocho is fun but leans away from truly Spanish; I have found Gaudi servicable but not remarkable. Andaluca appears to be an overly safe crowd-pleaser that is at most "Spanish-inspired."
Are there environmental/cultural factors which particularly disfavor true Spanish here? Is Spanish cuisine becoming out of fashion on a national scale?
The real test would be whether Tom D or Ethan S could open a Spanish restaurant and have it survive.
It could be that people don't like or understand Spanish food. Some of us get excited about blood sausage and octopus, but we may be few in number.
Or it may just be time and place and the number of restaurants competing for diners. Chico Madrid was cute, but IIRC had a pretty limited menu, and it was in a more residential neighborhood, away from most of the foot traffic on the hill. Taberna went into the old Cascadia space in a crap economy. That space is large, and I bet the rent was pretty high.
I have a gift certificate for Harvest Vine, I'll have to find an excuse to use it soon. I've always enjoyed HV, haven't been in a while (probably a year), but I have been a few times since the divorce, and I haven't noticed a difference with Caroline in charge rather than Joseba.
Definitely disappointing news about Aragona. I will miss the olive oil ice cream with the cocoa nib crust - about my favorite dessert in Seattle over the last year. Interesting point about Spanish spots not being so durable - I loved Txori and could not believe they did not make it with the Belltown location and happy hour crowd. As for Aragona, I found it strange that they did not serve lunch in that prime downtown space. I think maybe Seattle is not cosmopolitan enough for the Spanish style of truly small plates and late night dining.
Those are interesting questions, Equinoise. Going down the list of Spanish restaurants that didn’t make it, I was never very impressed by the quality of the cooking at Taberna del Alabardero the few times I ate there, despite an ambitious menu. And to add to your list, another Spanish-leaning restaurant that bit the dust is Olivar. I agree that Txori was terrific. I can’t remember the circumstances of its closing, but perhaps the divorce played a part. There may be a little downturn in quality at Harvest Vine, but I don’t think it is all that noticeable or significant. Even during his co-ownership, Joseba was often absent from the restaurant, and his right-hand man, Joey Serquinia, has stayed on at Harvest Vine to run the kitchen there. I still enjoy going to Harvest Vine, especially for the weekend brunch (a welcome change from bacon and eggs and other standard American-breakfast dishes). A glass of cava with the brunch doesn’t hurt either.
I don’t have any special insights or wisdom on why authentic Spanish restaurants don’t seem to fare well in Seattle. Maybe it is the mainstream food preferences of most Seattleites, despite a growing minority of adventuresome foodies, that makes Italian food a “safe” choice, but less familiar cuisines (e.g., Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish) a little scary and off-putting. Perhaps that explains the passionate defense by many hard-core Seattle loyalists for Dick’s hamburgers, the prevalence of Americanized (as opposed to authentic) Thai restaurants, and the fact that many of the new restaurants opening in Seattle feature “new-American” cuisine (e.g., Mkt., Babirusa). (P.S., I absolutely love the food at Mkt.)
I don’t sense that Spanish cuisine is becoming out of fashion on a national scale. José Andrés’s restaurants, for example, seem to be doing fine. On recent visits to Jaleo in Washington, D.C. and also in Bethesda, both places were packed and the food was, in general, very good.
As noted in my previous lengthy Chowhound review of Aragona, I thought many of the dishes there were both authentic and first-rate, and I’m saddened to see its early demise. My salvation is that, thanks to Spanish Table and mail-order options for the availability of ingredients, I often prepare Spanish food at home. Already this week, I’ve enjoyed a dinner of morcilla, and an evening with assorted pintxos, including the classic gilda (aka the “Rita Hayworth”) made with anchovy, guindilla pepper, and manzanilla olive (or other green Spanish olive). It is fishy, salty, spicy, and sour from the vinegar-pickled guindilla. Definitely not mainstream American fare.
re: Tom Armitage
I very much like Spinasse, which is actually relatively adventurous for an Italian/-ate restaurant. And I have great confidence that the team behind it and Vespolina will do something interesting within the confines of the concept that etoiledunord relates.
However, in terms of the discussion of the dwindling presence of local Spanish cuisine, I find it discouraging that the proprietors are choosing to go with yet another variation on the Italian theme. I absolutely agree with Tom that it seems that in terms of openings there are 5 Italianate, "New American" or comfort food joints to every 1 of anything else.
PS- I have a cookbook that I enjoy (The Basque Table) with a recipe for a pintxo with anchovy, green pepper and serrano ham. I wonder if it has a similar nickname.
The restaurant is still remaining but the theme of it is changing. The release states "Aragona’s last night of service will be Saturday, Sept. 6, after a farewell run, during which Stratton will offer a $65 tasting menu of Spanish favorites, and wines above $100 will be steeply discounted. Vespolina opens Monday, Sept. 8. The striking interior, including Erich Ginder’s pendant lights and Kate Jessup’s mosaics, is to remain the same.
Stratton says that when he and chef de cuisine Carrie Mashaney actually sat down to work on Vespolina’s menu it took them “about half an hour” to come up with ideas. Expect more varieties of pasta than at Spinasse, and they are looking beyond Piedmont (Spinasse and Artusi’s spiritual home) for inspiration: trennette from Liguria, filled pastas from Emilia-Romagna, dumplings from Alto Adige, for example."