It's pronounced Spanish-pirate-style: arrr-ah-GOAN-ah. The name comes from the medieval kingdom of Aragon; the new restaurant is from Jason Stratton of Spinasse and Artusi fame. It is, according to its stately menu verbiage, the culmination of Stratton's "longstanding relationship with and love of Spanish cuisine and culture, drawing inspiration from the regions of Catalonia, Valencia, and Andalucía, as well as the waters and land of the Pacific Northwest."
Seattle food freaks have been freaking out about the advent of Aragona, and for good reason. Stratton started out as a dishwasher at the late, great Le Gourmand in high school and ascended to the status of Food & Wine Best New Chef 2010, and Aragona is effectively his first very-own restaurant (Spinasse was started by Justin Neidermeyer in 2008, with Stratton taking over after a year). Furthering the PR flurry, Carrie Mashaney, Stratton's chef de cuisine, was eliminated on the insanity that is Top Chef only two weeks ago. More anticipation: Running Aragona's bar is liquor-magician David Nelson, formerly of Tavern Law, Spur, and Il Bistro (the Sleepwalking Ballard, with cava, chartreuse, and limoncello, is inspired by a Lorca poem).
Aragona is kitty-corner from the Seattle Art Museum, where Thoa's used to be. The high-ceilinged interior is spare and pale, with a pillar covered in geometrical mosaic acting as a focal point near the spacious open kitchen. The cardboard light fixtures are polyhedrons, and the marbled wallpaper is, upon closer inspection, made of letters and numbers. The decor is tasteful and contemporary without feeling too corporate. The food is the exciting thing, and rightfully so.
I am eating some leftovers from Aragona right now: the "Mar i muntanya," or a combination of "sea and mountain," the Catalan version of surf and turf. It's a white-bean stew, deeply flavored with tomato and peppers, with the tenderest, most chickeny-tasting young chicken, including slices of grilled breast and a braised leg; tubes of delicate, yet meaty, squid; and small, free-floating pieces of foie gras, for bites of pure, soft, gamey richness. Using chicken liver might have been sufficient, but the foie is the fabulous gilding of a humble dish (which costs $30).
Needless to say, it is an excellent lunch. You might end up with leftovers from Aragona, too; on one visit, we were advised that the menu is designed for three courses per person, an upsell that would seem to indicate that the portions are precious, which they are not, or that even if you've eaten in a restaurant before, you don't know how to order for yourself, which you do. I would highly recommend that you start with the local spot prawns with cider sauce ($22), a prosaic description for a dish of poetry: six plump, perfectly poached prawns bathing in a pool of savory greatness. The reduced tang of the cider is combined with a shrimp-shell stock and, clearly, an unholy amount of butter. When the server asked if she could take the bowl with some of the sauce still in the bottom, it was somewhat embarrassing to say no, but it had to be said.
Aragona's upgrade on a traditional Spanish tortilla has sunchoke dispersed through the egg and a topping of the fluffy oceanic intensity that is sea urchin ($12). Again, it's gilding the food you'd find on a country table in Spain, and gilding it brilliantly. Same with a completely delicious rice and squab dish ($24): Slices of dark pigeon breast had the taste (and almost the soft, giving texture) of dirty-rich organ meat, while the bird's hindquarters had been braised, with the stock used to flavor the rice and the meat shredded into it. A salad of paper-thin slices of gorgeous watermelon and black radish, mint, soft-boiled egg, and the very Mediterranean combination of oranges and olives ($13) was tasty, refreshing, and definitely big enough to share.
In the less incredible category: The grilled octopus ($21) was skillfully prepared, but the accompanying trinxat potatoes (like pavé ones) were slightly dry. And braised beef cheeks ($34) with boletus mushrooms and squiggles of puff pastry did not achieve the height of hoped-for wintertime pleasure, with the leftovers sadly going uneaten. We also made the mistake of ordering the trotter croquettes (fatty, deep-fried pig-foot nuggets, served with pickled squash and passion fruit for contrast, $10) and the black cod "in adobo" ($18) at the same time—turns out Spanish adobo is not a sauce, but more deep-frying, after the fish is given a limey-tasting vinegar marinade. Both were good, but a warning from the server (or more information on the menu) would have been helpful, cholesterol-level-wise.
Speaking of service, on one night we were waited on to within an inch of our lives, which befits Aragona's prices but felt interruptive at times. Not every dish needs a stiffly formal introduction. (Notably, sommelier Jackson Rohrbaugh, formerly of Canlis, is able to read a table's mood and have fun while still providing the level of service everyone's obviously aspiring to.) Another night in the lounge, where there are mismatched wooden chairs and a view of the Sound with the Ferris wheel lighting up the night, the interval between the fried-food course and the entrées stretched from "Oh, it's taking a while" to "Is this actually happening?" to "What is the nature of time, anyway?" Maybe more oddly, we never got napkins, even after apologetically asking for some midway through.
The service at Aragona will, surely, even out. More importantly, the love professed on the menu is already there.