The room is ideal for cooling out over an unhurried weekend meal. Even on one of the city's frequently overcast days, the light streams through the back wall of windows and bounces cheerfully off the hodgepodge of brick, woods, metal, and concrete. Chef-owner Matt Dillon originally opened Sitka & Spruce, his first restaurant, eight years ago in a spare strip mall space two miles away in the Eastlake community. His menu—mingling the Pacific Northwest's seasonal, regional sense with Italy's exuberant sensibility—lured food obsessives and chefs. Dillon catalyzed the acclaim into a spate of restaurants with airy, languid settings (Bar Sajor and The London Plane among them) and a farm on nearby Vashon Island that supplies meat and produce to his kitchens.
He moved Sitka & Spruce to Capitol Hill in 2010, as an anchor for Melrose Market that houses meat and cheese shops (as well as Dillon's all-things-booze counter and store, Bar Ferd'Nand, and a retail outlet for produce and flowers called Marigold and Mint). I lived in Seattle in the late 1990s and haven't spent much time here since, but eating at Sitka & Spruce helped fill in the years. This is a place to linger to absorb the city's essence. Dishes like hop-cured salmon strengthen the sense of place: The fish is layered in Dominoes fashion with apple slices, and crisped slivers of sourdough, affixed in cultured cream and garnished with agretti, an Italian succulent with chive-like greens. Fresh elderberries (the length of the growing season for berries in the Pacific Northwest is damned enviable), walnuts, wildflower honey, and torn mint make a bowl of homemade yogurt about as exhilarating as humanly possible.
Some dishes meandered to other lands with equal grace. The same yogurt, mixed with herbs, smoothed the texture of eggs baked North African style in a ceramic casserole with merguez, tomatoes, and olives. A thick blintz subbed for dessert, rolled around soft ricotta and drizzled with plum syrup. Brunch cooks get a bad rap, but this crew (manning the stove less than six feet away from our perch at the restaurant's communal table) pulled off the country's most contentious mealtime with rare finesse. And no Hollandaise in sight. I'm curious about Sitka & Spruce at dinner; I'd just as happily return for another Sunday afternoon respite.
Restaurant Editor Bill Addison is traveling to chronicle what's happening in America's dining scene and to formulate his list of the essential 38 restaurants in America. Follow his progress in this travelogue/review series, The Road to the 38, and check back at the end of the year to find out which restaurants made the cut.
Photos: Bill Addison