Am I the only one who just couldn’t manage to visit Sitka & Spruce in its previous location, in the miniature strip mall on Eastlake? I wanted to, and had been assured that once inside you forgot all about how you got there, but it seemed too sharp a juxtaposition between that and all of the great things I had heard about chef Matt Dillon and his exquisite food.
Thankfully, with its new home in the Melrose Project on Capitol Hill, Sitka & Spruce has the beautiful location it deserves. Very recently renovated, the building houses two hip retail spots, Velouria and Sonic Boom Records, and a bunch of fantastic foodie options. There is Still Liquor around the corner on Minor, and Calf & Kid (yum… cheese), butcher Rain Shadow Meats and Marigold & Mint (fabulously urban flower stand) all in the open arcade space. Also joining the arcade will be another Matt Dillon joint, wine and oyster Bar Ferdinand, and in a Melrose-facing spot a second location for Homegrown Sustainable Sandwich Shop.
The L of windows and shiny red sliding doors beckon you back to the corner of the arcade, to the light-filled space occupied by Sitka & Spruce. Once inside, it’s a succession of contrasts between light and dark, rustic meets refined. The exposed brick, big dark beams, tall open ceiling and what look to be the original warehouse windows lend the restaurant a bit of grit, all well-balanced by the white coat of paint on some of the bricks, lots of stainless steel and a judicious use of red accents. The few tables are augmented by an 8-seat counter that looks west toward downtown, as well as the butcher block table that is a 12-seat extension of the kitchen island. That was Matt Janke, by the way, formerly the namesake of Matt’s in the Market and soon to be launching a new venture called Lecosho, sitting at the kitchen table the night we were there. You know that you’re in the right place when another chef whose food you admire is dining just a few seats away.
We both agreed that our first dish of the night was the best: liver pate on toast with morel mushrooms and sorrel, topped with a raw egg. Salty and gooey and rich and wonderful.
Next came the salad of tom thumbs, radish, new onion and Kurt’s cheese. (That last item is one of the fabulous cheeses produced by Kurt Timmermeister at his farm on Vashon Island, who also happens to be host of one of my favorite experiences, Sunday dinner at Kurtwood Farms.) In addition to being beautifully composed, the greens were deliciously fresh and the dressing of 25-year balsamic vinegar with a touch of anchovy a nicely earthy complement.
In the whey braised hazelnut finished pork and dandelion the bitterness of the greens contrasted with the tang of the sauce, and the pork was fall-apart tender. The Washington ling cod and accompanying asparagus just didn’t have quite enough oomph for me, though the sauce of tahini and honey was so delicious I made good use of the housemade slipperbread to ensure that none remained.
Unfortunately, the Melrose Project has suffered its share of difficulties in the process of renovating and leasing all of the space. This post from the Capitol Hill Seattle blog does a good job of outlining the dispute between Tamara Murphy of recently-closed Brasa and the developers of the Melrose Project. Sadly it looks as though Tamara’s new restaurant Terra Plata won’t be occupying the cool triangular corner spot, but according to CHS the fine folks of Ballard’s Bastille will be taking the space instead. Either way, I see a great foodie future at the corner of Melrose and Minor.