Thierry, Stratton AND Wilson? Downtown Seattle's holiday restaurant heist

Any one of these spots would be enough good news for a month, but this season three celebrated Seattle chefs are all opening restaurants downtown.
Any one of these spots would be enough good news for a month, but this season three celebrated Seattle chefs are all opening restaurants downtown.

First, Loulay Kitchen & Bar, in the 6th & Union corner of the Sheraton Hotel. This is Thierry Rautureau's eagerly awaited new venue, successor to the 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.

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Chef and restaurateur Thierry Rautureau at his newest venture, Loulay.

When it opened in 1982, 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 (sample: 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.

Loulay Kitchen & Bar, 600 Union St., 206-402-4588


Also opening this week was Aragona, an 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 modern Spanish fare, Stratton has turned to his longtime sidekick (and current Top Chef contestant) Carrie Mashaney.

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Jason Stratton, Aragona's creator, and Carrie Mashaney, Argona's chef (also a current Top Chef contestant).

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 room at the top.

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 Gordon is in charge of baked goods and desserts; Master Sommelier Chris Tanghe runs the wine list, and David Nelson is behind the bar.

Aragona, 96 Union St., 206-682-3590


In previews this week, with a formal opening by mid-month, is The Millers Guild in the Hotel Max at 6th & Stewart.

The centerpiece is a 9-foot, wood-burning grill that actually has a name: the Infierno. It's a custom-built beast that allows chefs to "conduct a symphony of fire." The first one in Seattle was test-driven on the third floor of the hotel's parking garage before being installed downstairs in Jason Wilson's (of Crush) new restaurant.

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Chef Jason Wilson (with haunch) at Miller's Guild.

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.

The Millers Guild, 612 Stewart, 206-443-3363


But wait, there's more. U-Village's Joey is a terrific new spot from Canada, part of the 23-restaurant upscale-casual chain. The corporate exec chef is Chris Mills, a contestant on the original Japanese version of Iron Chef, two-time headliner at James Beard House and a competitor in the French Bocuse d'Or.

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Inside at Joey.

What's a guy with those credentials doing at a chain, you might wonder. Well, not every creative and competent chef wants or needs to fly his own plane, and it's actually quite challenging to develop programs that recruit, train (14 separate stages!), motivate and retain a cadre of cooks and managers in two dozen stores across North America.

The original Seattle Joey's (in South Lake Union) fell victim to construction and traffic congestion and closed in November.

Now, in a 200-seat University Village space designed by celebrity architects Olson Kundig, the Joey's crew is ready to go again. This time, the installation is designed for intensive recipe-testing, since the chain has ambitious plans to expand across the US. (Initial target: the newly remodeled Westfield Topanga mall in Canoga Park, Calif.)

There's also an ambitious on-tap wine program (five Washington wines, one Oregon pinot) dubbed "Barrel Fresh" that's actually a proprietary bag-in-box system, to accompany signature cocktails like the Supersonic Gin & Tonic and the Supernova Vodka Soda.

Among the new ventures from the test kitchen menu: a 500-calorie vegan salad, a duck-confit and prosciutto club sandwich on fruit-nut bread; a veggie burger (see sidebar); and a fragrant, mildly spiced, Indian butter chicken. The Key Lime pie arrives in a cloud of whipped cream. They do nice work, the Canadians.

Joey Kitchen, 2603 NE 46th, 206-527-6181


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ronald Holden

Ronald Holden

Ronald Holden is a regular Crosscut contributor. His new book, published this month, is titled “HOME GROWN Seattle: 101 True Tales of Local Food & Drink." (Belltown Media. $17.95).