Any one of these spots would be enough good news for a month. Instead, we're getting three!
First, the one that's already open: Loulay Kitchen & Bar, in the 6th & Union corner of the Sheraton Hotel. This is Thierry Rautureau's eagerly awaited new venue, successor to his upscale Madison Valley spot, Rover's, that he closed earlier this year. It's named for the village where he grew up, St. Hilaire de Loulay, in southwestern France.
When it opened, the Sheraton housed Seattle's most prestigious eatery, Fuller's (long gone, but it's where Kathy Casey got her start) and today also has a chain steak house, Daily Grille, at the 7th & Pike corner. The local owners of the franchise have wanted something fancier for a long time to attract the convention crowd, and Thierry ("The Chef in the Hat") was ready to oblige.
He still owns Luc, a French bistro, in Madison Valley, with comfort food like French onion soup, boeuf buorguignon and cassoulet; Loulay promises a bit more sophistication (crab beignets, seared foie gras, veal sweetbreads). By popular demand, Thierry is bringing back Rover's scrambled egg and caviar combination ($25), and keeping a four-course, $49 tasting menu (ahi tuna salad, mushroom polenta, wild sturgeon, dessert). The dining room is on several levels, overlooking the open kitchen and the passersby on 6th Avenue. Rob Sevcik is at the stove; April Pogue is the able sommelier, and the Chef in the Hat himself is on the floor, greeting his guests with a warm smile.
And opening tonight is Aragona, the elegant new spot created by Jason Stratton and friends at the foot of Union Street, overlooking the Great Wheel. Stratton, of course, is known to all as the "boy wonder" who took over Spinasse in its convulsive first months (when the investors dismissed founder Justin Niedermeyer), and has since continued with Artusi. To run the kitchen of the new spot, which will concentrate on Spanish fare, Stratton has turned to his longtime sidekick (and current Top Chef contestant) Carrie Mashaney.
In what has been a remarkable transformation of the old Thoa space, Aragona will seat 55 in the dining room, 45 in the bar, and 25 more in a private space at the top. (There are plenty of pictures of the space on the web today, notably on Eater, Seattle Magazine and Seattle Met.)
The menu promises "modern Spanish" cuisine, something Seattle hasn't seen since the Taberna del Alabardero closed a couple of years ago. First thing to understand: it's not Mexican. Nor is it entirely about paella. The short menu being served this month starts with salads like a salpicon of Shigoku oysters, Asian pear and endive, or a beef tongue "en enscabeche", or a mussel soup with turnips and shallot. The main courses will feature local seafood like octopus grilled on the restaurant's flat-iron plancha.
We're keeping our fingers crossed. This is new territory for Seattle in terms of ingredients, flavors and even menu names for those of us who don't speak fluent Spanish. Traditional dishes from the countryside of Catalonia, Valencia and Andalucía will be featured. Says Stratton: "We'll do what's in season, perhaps with a very straight read, perhaps refining it." Clare Nelson is in charge of baked goods and desserts; Master Sommelier Chris Tanghe runs the wine list, and David Nelson is behind the bar.
Finally, in previews this week, The Millers Guild.
That grill in the background actually has a name: the Infierno. It's a custom-built, 9-foot beast that allows chefs to "conduct a symphony of fire." The first one in Seattle was test-driven on the third floor of the parking garage of the Hotel Max before being installed downstairs in Jason Wilson's new restaurant.
The high-ceilinged, street-level space (formerly Red Fin) will serve a "modern steakhouse" menu; in fact "wood-fired cooking" is a better descriptor, since there's going to be so much more (seafood, vegetables, fruit, desserts) than just carnage for carnivores.
The project is a cooperative venture with Portland's leading restaurateur, Kurt Huffman, whose development company, ChefStable, is the umbrella for a dozen spots as diverse as Pok Pok and Ox. Huffman's a former rugby pro who teamed up with a French chef to run a string of brewpubs in Lyon and St. Etienne, gave up, earned an MBA, and found his calling as the guy who does the serious, grounded stuff (fundraising, permits, build-outs, admin) and makes it possible for imaginative chefs to concentrate on cooking.
And wait...there's even more! It's a terrific new spot from Canada. That story later in the week.