It was the spring of 2013, and chef Devin Finigan was waiting in line at Starbucks at Logan International Airport in Boston, on her way to Spain to cook for a few weeks at an acclaimed restaurant in Mallorca. She struck up a conversation with the next person in line, who just happened to be the landlord for a recently vacated restaurant space on Main Street in downtown Stonington. It was kismet.
A month after Finigan returned from Spain, she opened her new restaurant, Aragosta, in that space, offering up locally sourced cuisine inspired by her travels, learning and cooking with some of the best chefs in the world.
“I came back from Spain, and I opened Aragosta in a month, which was, admittedly, insane,” said Finigan. “So this year, with the whole offseason to prepare to open, felt like total luxury.”
Finigan, 31, is a Vermont native who moved to Maine about 10 years ago after falling in love with the state during a visit to Deer Isle while her sister was taking classes at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts — and then falling in love with her husband, Luke, a Brooklin native.
In Vermont, she grew up on a farm, with a chef father, a gardener mother and three sisters.
“Out of my three sisters I was the one that worked in the kitchen with my dad, learned to garden with my mother, working with food,” said Finigan. “I grew up loving kitchens and cooking and farms from a very early age.”
Prior to opening Aragosta, Finigan worked at restaurants in the Blue Hill area, including the Lookout in Brooklin and the Blue Hill Inn. After her chance encounter last year with the owner of the building that Aragosta is now in, she and her husband jumped at the chance to open their own place — located in the heart of Stonington’s working downtown, with a large inside dining room, as well as a spacious deck overlooking the harbor.
“We always said that if the right opportunity and the right place arose, we’d take it. And we did,” said Finigan. “Stonington is true Maine to me. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted.”
Aragosta is Italian for lobster, and naturally, Finigan’s menu prominently features Stonington’s most valuable catch, including an elegant preparation of a classic Maine lobster boil ($25), served with garlic butter and preserved lemon. There’s also what Finigan calls her signature dish — Stonington Lobster Ravioli ($30), made with house-made pasta filled with the meat from a whole butter-poached lobster, and served with a decadent citrus beurre blanc and lemon confit.
Italian cooking techniques are rooted in her pasta dishes, like Nasturtium Tagliatelle ($24), a fresh pasta made with nasturtium flowers and leaves — though a love of French cuisine shines through in her duck three ways presentation ($29). Oysters served multiple ways — with green garlic, for example, or broiled with house-made pancetta and parmesan cheese, or with a jalapeno granita — round out the small plates menu, as well as a dazzling array of charcuterie, which Finigan makes herself.
Finigan notes that she has been lucky enough to work with and learn from some of the most acclaimed chefs in the world — the Island Culinary and Ecological Center, of which she is a board member, each year brings world-renowned chefs and food writers and thinkers to Stonington to lead workshops and present dinners. Chefs like Thomas Keller, owner of Michelin-starred restaurants The French Laundry in California and Per Se in New York; Jean-Georges Vongerichten, a multiple James Beard Award-winner and owner of more than 10 acclaimed restaurants worldwide; and Mark Bittman, food writer for The New York Times.
“Through the ICEC I’ve had the opportunity to work with amazing people. It’s opened doors, and so have farmers like Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch,” said Finigan, who most recently cooked for a few weeks this spring with Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester County, just north of New York City. “It’s been a matter of taking the opportunity and going for it, and as a chef you can never stop learning. I use the offseason months to learn.”
This year the ICEC will host chef Ross Florance of Keller’s Per Se in New York, who will cook a five-course meal with Finigan, starting at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 10, at Aragosta, and will lead a wild foraging workshop the next day on Russ Island, a rocky outcrop off Stonington Harbor. The ICEC’s eventual goal is to offer a year-round culinary training program on the island for both high school students and adults. In the meantime, Finigan is offering her own sort of culinary training program, right in the kitchens of Aragosta.
“We have people here on staff who have never worked in a kitchen, and we aim to teach them,” she said. “We want people to be inspired by cooking, because we are so inspired by it, as chefs.”
Aragosta serves dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. There is also a tapas and cocktail evening on the deck from 5 to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, offering up live music, a small tapas menu and specialty cocktails. For information, visit aragostamaine.com, or call 367-5500 to make a reservation.
A previous version of this story erroneously referred to Mark Bittman as the author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” Michael Pollan wrote that book, not Bittman.