Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sitka & Spruce

I'm currently on a trip back home to Los Angeles eating a ton every day, but for whatever reason, I woke up craving Matt Dillon's Sitka & Spruce.

Sitka & Spruce is still one of my favorite restaurants in Seattle. The only reason I've waited so long to write a post about this place is because I've been waiting to see if I'd ever have anything bad to say about this place. After numerous visits to this mecca of seasonal, delicious, creative, and locally-sourced food, I've concluded that I really don't have anything negative to say about this place. This is Northwest cuisine in its purest form.

Sitka & Spruce used to be tucked away in an unassuming strip mall, but the restaurant was recently relocated to the Melrose Market in Capitol Hill. In the back corner of the market, you'll find a smartly decorated, open-window restaurant with a well-sized communal table, an open kitchen, and a handful of private dining tables.

The overall effect is a space that is welcoming, casual, friendly, and relaxed. Service is always smooth and stressless, which always contributes to a feeling of going over to a friend's place to eat. If you can, grab a seat at the communal table. The kitchen is mesmerizing and amazingly calm, and a Matt Dillon sighting is far from a rarity.

Sitka & Spruce can be as expensive or as cheap as you want your meal to be. The menu changes with each and every meal. Really. Brunch tends to have a handful of repeat items, while dinner tends to have more dishes with a lifespan of one night. Every menu is loaded with plenty of tasty small plates and three to five full-fledged entrées. The menu is usually very vegetable-driven, but there are plenty of meaty offerings as well.

One look at the menu will probably leave you confused more often than not. Sitka & Spruce will use plenty of unfamiliar ingredients balanced out by entirely familiar ingredients. Don't feel sheepish about asking the waiters and waitresses about the items on the menu. I learn at least three new food terms every time I go.

That said, this post is going to be less writing and more drooling, mainly because there are a lot of pictures and you probably won't have the opportunity to order the same exact things you'll see here. Feel free to assume, however, that everything I've had at Sitka & Spruce has been absolutely delicious.

Don't expect things to completely blow your mind with every single dish, but do expect to partake in a consistent showing of creativity, seasonal flavor, and pure awesomeness. Yes, you'll see some dishes that you will think you could probably recreate at home, but take a bite, and skadoosh. You'll think differently.

Enough with the jibba jabba. Let's eat.

If you're here for brunch, make sure to start your day with a fresh batch of Stumptown. Their French press is usually loaded with Stumptown's Indonesian or Ethiopian varieties.

Similarly, make sure you get an order of their bread, sourced from Columbia City Bakery.

The Columbia City bread and soft butter do well on their own, but save most of the bread to dip into the other brunch items.

There is always scone at brunch, but only get one if you're really in the mood for a scone, because it's huge. This here's a currant scone with squash jam and crème fraîche. Sweet, savory, herby, and completely satisfying.

The restaurant also tends to serve a chickpea purée of sorts. This is a Yakima chickpea purée with carrot salad & harissa. Super rich, yet refreshing, and spicy. This is one of those goodies you'd probably want to save your bread for.

The beets & winter squash with sweet spices & tahini is another dish you should mop up with your bread. The sweet beets, squash, and spices balanced extremely well with the nutty and intense tahini.

The marinated sheep's milk feta, heriloom navels, olives & dukkah makes an appearance on the brunch menu every once in a while. If it's there, get it. The feta is more creamy and milky than intense and pungent. The orange adds a beautiful, sweet, brightness to the dish. Meanwhile, the dukkah brings the two other components together with a mixture of herbs, nuts, and rye-like flavors. The olives are a nice way to separate each bite. Make sure to utilize your bread with this dish as well.

Like any other brunch in Seattle, Sitka & Spruce almost always offers a dish with locally-sourced salmon lox. This here is blackmouth salmon lox & beets with tarragon. The rich and fatty lox and the fragrant olive oil coat your mouth with a familiar goodness. The paper-thin beets and distinct licorice-like tarragon complements the familiarity with interesting notes.

For something more traditional, consider ordering the double smoked ham, pimenton fried egg, & parsley salad. It's not on the menu every time, but if it's there and if you're in the mood for an addictively smokey piece of ham accompanied by a deliciously runny fried egg, get it.

Seriously. This egg be runny. Don't forget to pick up any remains with the last bits of your bread.

Dinner could easily be a much more formal experience, but Sitka & Spruce doesn't stray by even a hair in creating that same, comforting, casual feel. That's Chef Matt Dillon there with the tattooed arms.

At dinner, the restaurant dims the lights and adorns the tables with single flowers and flickering candles. The nice thing about this setting is that you can still opt to make the night as romantic and special as you want.

There is almost always an option for some type of grain-focused bowl. This is a cracked emmer taboulleh with preserved orange & sumac. Refreshingly light and wholesome with just the right touch of sweetness.

The restaurant also tends to have a very leafy lettuce inspired by seasonal greens and local cheeses. This one is warm greens, walnuts, & Yarmuth Farms tomme. This salad was from a menu in January, and accordingly, was packed with winter greens such as kale and chard. The cheese had form, yet was supremely creamy.

Like brunch, dinner will usually have a salmon option as a nod to the Northwest. This was a simple blackmouth salmon lox, crème fraîche, and herbs drizzled with olive oil. Simple, clean, and light.

A plate of grilled asparagus with hazelnuts and piment d'espelette. Nutty and surprisingly sweet with great notes of dill.

Steamed young artichokes with labneh, nettles & flatbread. Rich, sweet, savory, and creamy. The flatbread is to die for.

Sformatino of Kurt's cheese with rye crackers & carrot salad. Absolutely delicious. The sweet carrots, pickled radishes, and crunchy rye cracker add great texture and balance to the addictive ramekin of melted cheese.

The emmer flour crepe, spiced pumpkin, labneh, & many herbs is probably one of the most memorable dishes I've had at this restaurant. The sweetly spiced pumpkin, tart labneh, and mountain of herbs all balanced extremely well with the surprisingly fluffy emmer flour crepe. The crepe also had these amazing crispy corners that added a perfect crunch and charred flavor to every other bite. So, so good. I hope this finds its way back to the menu when I'm at Sitka & Spruce again.

The two beets with toasted seeds, sultanas, salt cod, & tahini I had in January was also amazing. Absurdly salty cod, a smooth tahini, sweet sultanas, and thinly sliced beets made for a real flavor marathon.

This roast of winter vegetables, a hen's egg, & bagna caoda delivered the earthiness of winter root vegetables, the awesome gooeyness of a well-poached egg, and the salty spice of a well-balanced bagna caoda. The generously oiled pita bread was also a nice touch.

Labneh, raw beets, heirloom navels, & Syrian mountain bread. If you ever see Syrian mountain bread on the menu, get it. The bread is crispy and addictively charred on the outside, and nice and fluffy on the inside. The raw beets brought a nice, pickled flavor to the dish, the navel oranges added that bright sweetness, and the labneh brought that awesome tartness to the dish. So fresh and so clean, clean.

Salted eye of round with almonds & yellowfoot chanterelle. Oh snap, the magic word. Chanterelle. You have to know this about me by now, but just a reminder: any dish with chanterelle probably will not disappoint me, and accordingly, this did not. The beef was pleasantly toothsome and thinly sliced, while the nuttiness of the almonds and the earthiness of the chanterelles worked together to bring in some sweet qualities.

Another memorable dish was this set of artichokes, chilis, & salted pork belly. I love roasted artichoke hearts, I love chilis, and I love pork belly, especially when salted. The sweetness of the roasted vegetables really came through and contrasted the saltiness of the thin strips of pork belly. The spice flawlessly married the two flavor extremes. I'm going to have to try to unsuccessfully make this at home at some point.

I distinctly remember this bowl of Alaskan spot prawns steamed in a cataplana with fino sherry as well. The stewy base of briny beans made for a hearty dish, accented by perfectly steamed spot prawns. I wish I could eat an entire tub of this stuff.

La Push halibut, natural morels, caraway, tahini & wood sorrel. Oh snap. The other magic word. Morels. Automatically delicious in my book, more often than not. You can't go wrong with deliciously soft halibut, earthy morels, silky tahini, and perfect amounts of caraway and sorrel. Boy, do they know how to cook a fish.

The spiced duck breast with honey, walnuts, & turnips proved that Sitka & Spruce knows its way around poultry as well. The duck was insanely flavorful and moist, and the sweetened base of walnuts and turnips really played well with the spiced duck skin.

The charcoal grilled pork with mustards, chickpeas & cumin finalized any doubts I didn't have about Sitka & Spruce's ability to perfectly cook any type of meat. The medium-rare pork was juicy, rich, and amazingly flavorful. The chickpeas and cumin, which happens to be one of my favorite spices, really balanced out and brought out the intense flavor of the charcoal-grilled pork.

No surprise here. Sitka & Spruce can whip up a mean dessert. The two chocolate cookies with hazelnut caramel and sea salt was like a bite of heaven. Really, the menu description should have said "two chocolate cookie sandwiches," because that's what they were. No complaints, though. The cookies could have been a little less hard, but the centers were rich, moist, and sweet. The nutty caramel was perfectly burnt and salty. I think everyone can agree at this point that sweet and salty desserts are the ish. Goodness, this was awesome.

If I seriously had to vote one thing I've eaten at Sitka & Spruce off of the island, this might be it. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't say goodbye to this guy without tears streaming down my face. The gateau Basque with spiced sugar pie pumpkin featured a lightly sweet and spicy heap of seasonal pumpkin jewels on top of an addictively nutty and light cake. Okay, wait. I wouldn't vote this off the island. Eff the island.

As service ends, you'll probably catch an eerily quiet and spotless kitchen counter, as if nothing ever happened. The embers in the charcoal and wood-fired grill will extinguish, the excited conversations will die down, and you'll probably thank the chef for the meal and leave.

Sure, Sitka & Spruce isn't at the head of modern cuisine, and you probably won't find anything like foams, bubbles, or nitro crumbles. What you will find, however, is a refreshingly accessible take on locally sourced Northwestern cuisine.

Sitka & Spruce, I can't imagine breaking up with you. Ever. You'll probably be my favorite restaurant in Seattle for a long, long time. In sickness and in health. Thanks for always being and continuing to be consistently fresh, delicious, inspiring, and exciting. See you soon.

Sitka & Spruce
1351 Melrose Ave E
Seattle, WA 98122
(206) 324-0662

GET: Anything. Really.

1 comment:

  1. This is so pornful. I want to eat it all. Jibba jabba jabbaaaaaaa... (that's me drooling).


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