Restaurant: Sitka & Spruce – Part 2/2
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest/American/Eclectic/Brunch
Last visited: July 21, 2013
Location: Seattle, WA (Capitol Hill)
Address: 1531 Melrose Ave
Transit: E Pine St & Bellevue Ave
Phone: (206) 324-0662
Price range: $20-30+ ($10-17 small plates/mains)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- Chef/Owner Matt Dillon
- Popular local favourite
- Small plates
- Good for sharing
- Wholesome eating
- Locally sourced/Seasonal menus
- Moderately priced
- Vegetarian options
- Gluten free options
- Wine list
- Reservations recommended
- Walk ins welcome
11:30am to 2:00pm, Mon. – Fri.
5:30 to 10:00pm – Tues. – Thurs.
5:30 to 11:00pm – Fri. & Sat.
4:30 to 9:00 – Sunday
10:00am to 2:00pm – Saturday
10:00am to 2:00pm – Sunday
- Monday “Malafacha” 5:30 pm – 9:30 pm
- Twitter: n/a
**Recommendations: Buckwheat Canelé, Cracked Emmer & Lentil Salad, Marinated Summer Squash, Roasted Eggplant with Egg, Braised Lamb
Follow Me Foodie to 2 Days in Seattle ended at Sitka & Spruce.
Sitka & Spruce is one of the restaurants located inside the Melrose Market. The Market is an urban space featuring Seattle’s independent food purveyors, butchers, producers, artisans and boutique businesses. It reminded me of Chelsea’s Market in New York, but on a much smaller scale since there were only about 12 shops.
It is a sophisticated and charming little market with a “hipster feel” which I can sometimes tolerate, but other times it makes me write posts like this.
I rarely detail service and ambiance unless it plays a significant role in my restaurant experience, and at Sitka & Spruce it did. The two factors complete a dining experience, but I can overlook them for the most part since my interest is primarily food.
Anything in the service industry falls under hospitality, so at any given restaurant I expect some form of interaction from the host, but here I got almost none. My level of patience for service may vary depending on the restaurant, but at a place with such high accolades and local love, I expected not to have to clear my own table and plates, pour my own water and refill my glass, or fear asking for recommendations; even a small smile would have been nice.
Working brunch can be rough and nobody likes to wake up tired and have to be chipper, but it’s called “working” brunch. I get we all have an off day, but the non-chalent attitude was to the point of negligent, and the service was unacceptable.
Maybe I started on the wrong foot when I thought it was “seat yourself” service and attempted to sit at a reserved table (half the room was empty and there was no line up). My bad, but knowing walk-ins were accepted and being ignored while waiting at the door, made me think “seat yourself”. I was stopped and told “all tables were reserved”, but wasn’t offered one of their available tables, so I had to ask for one.
I was scared to ask for recommendations, because the vibe I got was rather intimidating, but did so anyway. I was told “everything was good”, and when I asked kindly for specifics I was listed the whole menu. Thanks, that helped. What did help was asking the table behind me for suggestions since they had already started eating, they happily offered advice.
I also reused my plate between sweet and savoury courses, asked for new plates, and had my dirty plates pushed across the bar to make room for new plates. Even when I wanted to add to my order I was given an index finger with no eye contact, which in case you’ve never been given one as a kid, means “wait”.
Anyways I could keep going, but I don’t want to sound like some of those cringing yelp! reviews. I don’t want to look back at this post months later and want to crawl into a hole in embarrassment, but it has been a couple months since Follow Me Foodie to 2 Days in Seattle, and I remember it like yesterday. Again, I could have tried it on a bad day (and we all have them), but as a tourist I only had one opportunity to try Sitka & Spruce, and that was it. First impressions count.
There was a solid 1.5 hours to redeem service with even a friendly attitude if not proper service, but there was no change from either server. I asked locals if this was the “norm” and some said “no”, and others said “yes”. Inconsistent service? Perhaps, but still no excuse.
Service was one thing, but ambiance and food is another. On the bright side, they both matched and outweighed the service, which wasn’t hard to do even if they were just half decent. Oddly enough, the open kitchen and communal table were warmer and more welcoming than restaurants with a similar aesthetic appeal. I wished that “homey” feeling translated to the service, but I certainly didn’t feel like a welcomed guest.
As for the food? I loved it. I ordered ¾ of the menu and I wanted to keep going. The service might have figuratively left a bad taste, but the food literally left a good one.
The Executive Chef is Matt Dillon who was awarded “Best Chef in the Northwest” at the James Beard Foundation Awards 2012. The style was “farm-to-table” which is typical these days, but his flavours and dishes were eclectic and inspiring. It was as unpretentious as the atmosphere and done with taste.
It was simple, but more than one would casually do at home, and there was consideration for texture, components, and freshness of ingredients. Most ingredients were sourced from their Vashon Island farm and it was food I’d want to eat at home. The portions were good, the food approachable yet still exciting, and all my plates were well seasoned. It was relatively healthy and wholesome without being too “granola”, and it was “home cooking” by professionals. The baked goods didn’t have the techniques of bakeries like Crumble & Flake or Cafe Besalu, but it was a restaurant and not a bakery.
It was well prepared food and it was good enough that I would come back for brunch, lunch, or dinner despite the poor service. It wasn’t the worst service of my life, but it was below par for what I would expect for their standards. I would still recommend Sitka & Spruce for the food and ambiance, but cross your fingers for the service.
On the table:
- With our brined and baked ham $6
- After croissants at Crumble & Flake and Cafe Besalu, I was croissant spoiled. However even without those to compare, I still would have thought it was just okay.
- The points came from the ham which I found more impressive than the croissant.
- The homemade country style baked ham was not too salty or sweet and it was shaved nice and thin.
- It was an American style croissant, but it was freshly made and baked in house and reheated upon serving.
- Even a technically flawed croissant is still good, so this was good and better than your average grocery store croissant, but I wouldn’t seek it out.
- It was dome-like in shape and it was decently crisp and flaky on the exterior, but not quite shattering crisp at the bite.
- The inside didn’t have the membranes of a properly made croissant.
- It was very bready, soft, and dense with the membranes weighed down.
- The inside was not feathery light, but the flavour was buttery and enjoyable.
- It was a hybrid of a croissant and brioche and I liked it as an American style croissant ideal for sandwiches rather than eaten alone.
- That’s why I liked that it was served with ham instead of jam or butter. It was intended for sandwiches.
- With Washington dew berries $4.50
- It was reheated upon serving, but baked in house likely that morning.
- It was crisp on the exterior and flakey inside although a bit dry and quite bland.
- The berry jam was very good with a nice tart and sweet balance, and the scone relied on it for flavour.
- The whipped butter was a bit over whipped and separated and it would be better served with Devonshire cream.
- It was an okay scone, but not something I would have to order again.
- With lavender whipped cream $5.50
- It was pricey for a canelé, but it was my favourite of the three baked goods and it was a very good canelé.
- A canelé is a small French pastry, or cake, with a caramelized crust, and tender, soft, rich and custardy baked interior.
- It is basically the cake version of crème brûlée.
- The outside is almost black, so this one was even a bit under baked, but I didn’t mind. It shouldn’t be burnt.
- This one had nice and even, glossy, dark brown colour and it was caramelized and a bit crisp on the outside.
- The crust was thin, which is how I like it, but some like it thick. It had a nice chew that wasn’t tough.
- The inside was moist and eggy and scented with what seemed like unexpected cinnamon as well as expected real vanilla bean.
- It was very aromatic from a touch of rum as well, which is traditional to the recipe, but fully cooked out.
- I couldn’t tell it was buckwheat and the texture was of a canelé made with usual white flour.
- Making it with buckwheat is likely to cater to the gluten-free crowd.
- The canelé is a sweet pastry that could pass for dessert, but I have a sweet tooth, so I could have it for breakfast.
- The lavender whipped cream was a modern accompaniment.
- I wished the lavender was infused in the whipped cream instead of only sprinkled on top, but I liked the idea although I enjoyed the canelé as is too.
- Rainier cherries & crackers $5.5/oz
- I rarely order cheese and crackers since I could easily do that at home, but being a tourist, I wanted to try their local cheese.
- They had two options for the cheese and I went for Dinah’s Cheese from Kurtwood Farms on Vashon Island.
- Farmstead cheese means the cheese is made on the farm from cow’s also on the farm.
- It was a rich and buttery Camembert style cow’s milk cheese, but it was served chilled instead of room temperature.
- It was salty, with a good strong flavour and was served with housemade crackers.
- The house made caraway crackers were salty, nutty, and crisp and I could eat them alone.
- It wasn’t a typical dry and boring cracker. They were addicting crackers.
- Early peaches, rose-pistachio granola & honey $8.50
- It was another “I can make that at home” dish, but it sounded creative and the flavours were right up my alley.
- I also just like yogurt and love pistachio and granola.
- The yogurt was not thick like Greek style yogurt and it was a bit thin (maybe 1-2% fat yogurt).
- It could have been over mixed or just not strained too, which would be other factors affecting the thickness.
- It was lightly sweetened house made yogurt and it wasn’t tart, but I like a bit of tartness to my yogurt.
- The rose water was mild and I could taste a subtle hint of cardamom too which I loved.
- The granola was crisp with some chewy raisins and a decent amount of whole pistachios.
- The dried rose leaves were almost like pistachio skins and it wasn’t too floral or overwhelming.
- There were some currants which were a bit hard, and then some super ripe peach wedges underneath.
- The honey quality was a bit thin, but still good and everything came together nicely.
- I could always use more pistachios and it was what I was expecting. I enjoyed it.
- If you’re in Vancouver and like very thick yogurt, you might want to try Burdock & Co.’s “Best Ever Yogurt”.
- Basil, mustard greens & pumpkin seeds $9/$15
- I was debating between this and the Cracked Emmer & Lentil Salad as my vegetable dish, so I asked the server for advice.
- I asked for a bit more description for each dish to help make a decision and the response I got was exactly what was written on the menu. Thanks, I can read.
- I rephrased the question as an attempt for a better answer and the second reply was “being that it’s summer, the season of squash, I’d get that. I also just like squash.”
- I was still friendly at this point even though my server was not, but I ended up ordering the squash anyway, and at least it was excellent.
- For a vegetarian dish it was hearty and rich without being heavy or greasy.
- The oven roasted marinated summer squash was caramelized and blistered and served chilled.
- I couldn’t tell what it was marinated in, but it seemed very simple (olive oil) with pepper and flaked salt to finish.
- They were not cooked to the point of melt in your mouth, but they were tender with a crunchy bite, naturally sweet and not bitter.
- I think they were blanched and marinated before being put under a broiler to char, and then later chilled.
- It was interesting how they retained their crunch while looking like they were completely soft and caramelized.
- Underneath the baby squash was a thick, creamy, nutty, cheesy, and savoury sauce, which was more like a dip.
- The sauce tasted like a cross between mustard mayo and savoury basil and Parmesan pesto.
- I think it was made with mustard, ground almonds, pumpkin seeds and pine nuts, fresh basil, and Parmesan.
- It was pureed and smooth without the chunks of seeds and cheese, but it still had viscosity and texture.
- The dip was thick like an artichoke and spinach dip and I loved the richness and flavours it brought to the simply seasoned and prepared squash.
- The farm fresh mustard greens was a nice touch, and the crispy salted toasted pumpkin seeds gave the dish texture and earthiness.
- I loved the umami from the sauce and there was also pickled salted shallots for acidity and more crunch.
- I would have liked something sweet like currants, candied lemon peel, or sweet basil flowers to finish the dish, but it was still excellent.
- I love nutty flavour profiles, so I really appreciated this dish and I would order it again.
- Lamb’s quarter, herbs & borani $10/$16
- I ended up ordering this anyway because I saw it land on another table and it looked fabulous. It was.
- This was my kind of salad. It was a healthy and earthy salad that was substantial enough as a main and it was well thought out and inspired.
- Cracked Emmer or Farro (an ancient heirloom grain) is the new quinoa.
- I mentioned it at the bottom of my Top 10 Food Trends for 2013 post, and it was a trend that didn’t make the list, but was worthy of a note.
- This was another vegetarian option, but not gluten free although low in gluten.
- Farro is a nutty and earthy grain with a very slightly sweet flavour.
- If cooked properly it is soft and chewy with a bit of crunch and resistance at the bite.
- I guess it is somewhat similar to brown rice and/or often referred to as barley or wheatberries.
- It is a great source of protein and healthier than brown rice and quinoa.
- I loved the mix of farro and lentils because otherwise it would have been boring, but I didn’t get tired of eating it.
- It had somewhat meaty texture rather than starchy, and together the farro and lentils made for different layers of nutty flavours.
- It was a bit like a rice pilaf meets a vegetarian biryani (Indian rice dish) and there was Middle Eastern influence.
- I could taste cumin and coriander and some Middle Eastern/Indian spices.
- It sat on top of borani (chilled spinach and yogurt salad) which is a traditional Persian dish normally eaten alone as a snack or appetizer.
- Eating borani alone is perhaps a bit acquired, so here it was more like a sauce or dip served with “rice pilaf”.
- This modern style borani was made with lamb’s quarter (wild spinach), mint, cilantro, parsley and onions, folded into lots of yogurt and a bit of lemon juice.
- There was also lots of dill and fresh tarragon tossed in the pilaf, in the yogurt and to finish. The dill was quite strong.
- It was an herby, fragrant, nutty, earthy and fresh dish, and I would have loved some sweet raisins, pomegranate seeds or barberries for a sweet component.
- It was an excellent side dish to the Braised Lamb main I ordered, although this was filling enough to be a main too.
- Tomato, pine nuts & toast with a poached egg $16.50
- This was my favourite course and I would come back for this alone. It was one of their two larger plates at brunch.
- I loved all the ingredients and the idea, and it was comfort food without being stereotypical or indulgent.
- It was the perfect ratio of components and it was nostalgic, simple and classic (eggs on toast), but new and modern at the same time.
- It was a Mediterranean-Sicilian style eggs on toast and it was fresh, light, and yet substantial enough for breakfast.
- It was another vegetarian dish and as a meat-eater I didn’t even realize it. It had a meaty quality.
- The egg was perfectly poached and runny (Runny Egg Yolk Series! quality) and it was a complementary sauce to the one it already had.
- The tomato sauce was reminiscent of Caponata, which is a Sicilian eggplant relish made with eggplant, zucchini, celery, onion, tomatoes and peppers.
- This wasn’t an authentic Caponata, but the idea was similar and it was pretty much a sweet and sour vegetable stew with added fruits.
- The vegetables were in good bite sized meaty chunks and I like how they weren’t dissipated into a puree.
- It was a stew of tender, creamy eggplant, plump and juicy, sweet and local cherry tomatoes, minced onions, tart currants, Rainier cherry halves, sweet bursts of fresh ligonberries, and toasted buttery pine nuts for texture and flavour.
- I love sweet, savoury and tangy all in one bite and this was a vibrant punch of flavours without being confusing or too much.
- It was an incredibly saucy and juicy dish and it was sweet and tangy like Ketchup, but better and real.
- The stew was poured over a thick piece of chewy and crunchy grilled house made bread, which soaked up the natural juices.
- The edges of the rustic artisan bread were a bit too hard, but that was easily overlooked.
- It is apples and oranges to compare this olive oil and tomato based sauce to a buttery rich hollandaise, but both give me equal satisfaction and this was unexpected.
- To top things off, I would have love crumbled goat cheese along with the fresh basil garnish, but regardless this was a “must try”.
- Piracicaba, new potatoes, roasted broccoli, aioli $17
- This was the other larger plate offered and it was a great main to the Cracked Emmer & Lentil Salad, which I treated as a side.
- It was another hearty, but light concept and for a meat dish it was not weighing.
- It was “meat and potatoes” with a lot of vegetables, and again it felt healthy and I felt good eating it. (I wouldn’t feel bad for eating this to begin, but just saying).
- The lemony, roasted, skin on, new potatoes were a bit dry and thus starchy (new potatoes are usually waxy), but they had good flavour.
- The braised lamb leg, or shoulder, was tender, moist, with no obvious spices or flavour, but it was savoury and well seasoned.
- Piracicaba is a Brazilian broccoli and it is a cross of broccoli and rapini.
- There was a mix of roasted Piracicaba and regular broccoli, but it was quite ordinary in flavour with perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice.
- There was a mustard aioli which went well with the potatoes (think potato salad) and lamb, but it wasn’t as interesting as some of the other dishes.
- It was lamb, potatoes, and broccoli with lemon and mustard and it was a breakfast I would make at home from leftover dinner – not a bad thing, but just more typical.
- It was still a very good dish, but not as memorable or well developed as the other dishes.
- I would have loved more seasoning, spice or components. A poached egg on this would be great too.