Earthly Delights

Eastlake's tiny Sitka & Spruce brings neighbors together for seasonal specialties.

Seattle restaurateurs have been challenging preconceived notions about dining for some time. Eateries like Elemental at Gasworks (a pint-sized joint where tipping is not allowed), Gypsy (an underground, roving restaurant), and now Sitka & Spruce create new models in terms of size, location, and menu offerings. Spruce is a tiny place on Eastlake Avenue in the space formerly occupied by Sophie's Donuts and Boat Street Kitchen. Decor is quirky/cool, the bright yellow-green walls serving as a backdrop for both modern art and a vintage tin bar tray. On the shelves behind the bar, you'll find knickknacks including an orange deer figurine and notable cookbooks from Escoffier to Traunfeld. One thing you won't find is a table to yourself, unless you arrive early. There are just 18 seats, eight at a communal table, and you can't get reservations for parties of fewer than five. One server handles the entire bar and dining area, so don't expect speedy attention to your needs. Chef Matt Dillon, who came from Greenwood's Stumbling Goat Bistro, opened Spruce in early spring. "The other day, someone asked what style of food we served," Dillon tells me over the phone. "I said 'just ingredients.' We're not trying to reinvent the wheel here." Basically, Dillon focuses on serving simple, seasonal, locally sourced food in a comfortable, homey environment. "If I had a bigger restaurant, it would be too hard to get the quantities [of local ingredients] I would need." Note that bread is from Columbia City Bakery, whole chicken is from a Vashon Island farm, and mushrooms are from area foragers. Dillon and sous-chef Nick Castleberry offer less than a dozen different food items nightly. Choices are written on a chalkboard that sits on a crate near the front door. Although the dishes can be ordered in large or small quantities, we found it's best to get a number of small ones and share. Dillon wants diners to feel at home, which is why he chose to create a space that's "more like a living room." The first time we went to this living-room-cum-restaurant, we savored lovely skate with sage and strips of white asparagus ($13 for the small portion/$19 for the large). In another dish, tasty triangles of polenta were served with buffalo mozzarella ($8/$12), though the cheese had congealed atop the polenta before we got it. The creamy, delicious Marcona almond soup with anchovy oil ($6/$10) was the highlight of the evening—a balance of salty, smooth, and nutty. Too bad the garden lettuces with shallot vinaigrette ($7/$10) was almost too boring to mention. The desserts—an egg-yolk-colored mint-flavored ice cream–like dish (the Italians call it semifreddo) and the honeyed sheep ricotta (both $6) went down super smoothly and left us feeling blissful. At the end of the night, the overwhelming impression we had was that the natural flavors of the ingredients really shone through—nothing was overadorned. On our next visit, we were immediately blown away by morels topped with mascarpone and adorable, petite purple flowers ($6 to $15). The fungi's meaty/woodsy flavor was tamed by the delightful velvetiness of the cheese. If this dish is listed on the chalkboard, get it. A bowl of tiny turnips with greens left on ($6/$10) was another notable side dish we quickly devoured. The halibut cooked in parchment paper with olives and greens ($19, only one size) was perfectly done; however, the fish lacked any sort of significant flavor. The tri-tip ($14/$21) or the pork cheeks cooked in carrot juice ($12/$18) would have been better choices, based upon the orgasmic faces of the diners next to us. In such an intimate space, it's hard to not notice and interact with your neighbors. Dillon says his initial vision was to have people help themselves to plates and silverware, but that plan didn't pan out. However, the spirit of his community-centered vision remains. You'll see Dillon and Castleberry serving food alongside the waiter or waitress. "We're all part of one thing," says Dillon. "We're in this together; let's have fun." mlori@seattleweekly.com

 
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