May 26, 2010

sitka & spruce, reborn

Back in late October 2006, I was preparing to fly up to Seattle for a job interview. Having never spent any significant amount of time in the city, I figured I'd send an email to two local food bloggers to get recommendations for restaurants to check out. Dana Cree (@deensie) and Molly Wizenberg both emailed me back recommended that I check out Sitka & Spruce, a tiny little restaurant in Eastlake that had opened just a few months earlier. I checked out the website, saw that they did Sunday suppers, and gave them a call to see about stopping in the evening before my interview, on November 5th.

Too bad---there wasn't to be a Sunday supper that particular evening due to a private party. I ended up having a perfectly lovely meal at Tilth that Sunday evening. But the desire to try Sitka & Spruce haunted me for months.

I ended up accepting the job and relocating to Seattle in February 2007. Two months later, I finally found myself dining solo (LaV hadn't yet moved to Seattle) on a Wednesday evening, enjoying a brightly dressed tuna crudo and an unctuous plate of braised beef cheek with gremolata. I remember Matt Dillon coming out of the kitchen in the midst of a very busy service and saying in a gentle voice, "How is everything?" I told him it was terrific---that his food reminded me of everything I loved about eating back in the Bay Area, and that the gremolata on the beef cheek was a remarkable accent that really made the dish shine. He thanked me for noticing the gremolata accent, then disappeared back into the kitchen. At that moment, I had two feelings: First, I couldn't wait for LaV to come up and try this place. And second, with restaurants like this, Seattle was going to be a great place to live.

Over the course of the next two and a half years, Sitka & Spruce quickly became my favorite restaurant in Seattle. We were eating meals of such simplicity, resplendent in their remarkable balance of flavor and purity of ingredients. With two of my all time favorite servers/hosts (Matt and Megan), every meal at Sitka & Spruce felt like an intimate evening with friends... and we happily brought all of our visiting friends to this neighborhood gem, tucked between a Subway and a teriyaki joint in a micro strip mall, to show them why I've enjoyed eating in Seattle more than I ever enjoyed eating in the Bay Area.

That's right, I said it. More than I enjoyed eating in the Bay Area. Not by much, but undeniably so. That proclamation drives my friend Riley nuts.

I love this place so much, but I've never wanted to blog about it before. There was already enough press about how great this place was, and far better photographers had already documented the restaurant in their photos. Besides, I long ago lost any ability to be objective about the food and the people of Sitka & Spruce. I was totally content to just sit and enjoy each meal.

Then, out of nowhere, came the news that Sitka & Spruce would be moving to Capitol Hill. No! This place had become so near and dear to us... would the relocation change things? Would the restaurant have a different feel, a different crowd? Would we miss the things we'd come to love so much about the place, like its quirky location, the bright green walls, the beautiful chalkboard menu?

The farewell event was on December 30, 2009. We enjoyed a communal spread, said our goodbyes, and waited for the new location to be completed. Almost six months later, LaV ran into Matt at Bauhaus, and he let her know that the opening was just weeks away. At last! And tonight, Sitka & Spruce reopened.

And man, was it worth the wait. A big round of hugs from Matt at the entry. So good to see him and Megan running the floor. A wonderfully designed space... open, airy, yet cozy and intimate. Killer open kitchen. I mean REALLY open kitchen... with a wood burning hearth/oven. Big communal table. Lots of natural light. Wow.

And then the food. Lenrimmad halibut with creme fraiche, honey and fennel. Our first bite from "new" Sitka, a "wow" moment for me as I pondered the nuanced composition of flavors, the kiss of honey adding an unexpected but perfect waft of sweetness to the richness of the creme fraiche and the pristine flavor and texture of the halibut. Warm vegetables with anchovy brown butter. Grilled asparagus with piparras and a six minute egg. At this point, Sitka & Spruce is showing up big time.

Live sidestriped prawns and grilled bread. Plucked from the waters of the Straight of Juan de Fuca yesterday, doused in olive oil and cooked until the sweet flesh was just done, the oil infused with the flavor of the shells. Oh man, I could eat this all day, soaking up all the oil with good, crusty bread.

A half chicken, roasted in the hearth, with yogurt and harissa. This team has a way with roasted chicken, and they've never surpassed how perfectly cooked this one was. Outrageously moist and tender... I have no idea how they got such precision from the wood burning stove. This expert touch, this respect for the ingredients is what makes their food sparkle.

A simple dessert of olive oil gelato with olive oil cake and outrageously delicious strawberries with a hint of rose water.

Sitka & Spruce is back. It's as good as it ever was... maybe even better. As much as I adored the randomness of the old location, the restaurant finally has a remarkable space to match its food. Service is still warm and personal. After six long months, my gastro-universe has its anchor back and order has been restored. Pretty impressive for their first evening back.

And really, the only thing I miss is the chalkboard.
Sitka & Spruce on Urbanspoon

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