Saturday, February 24, 2007

Sitka and Spruce---Dining Seattle Style

If you are familiar with the great Pacfic Northwest, you will recognize my title as the names of two of our gigantic evergreens. This is correct but it is also the name of a small Seattle restaurant. I had read about this eatery months ago but was hesitant to try it because they have "communal" tables. The place only holds about 20 customers total and then to be kind of jammed in the same small space.....well, I wasn't sure. The reviews of the food have been terrific. As such, with my new found courage after eating at a community dinner table on a cruise ship, I thought we'd give it a try. Besides, it is in Eastlake which is close to the UW and easy access to downtown.

Speaking of Eastlake---Seattle is enormously confusing because of water water everywhere. Eastlake refers to the east side of Lake Union. Westlake is the west side of Lake Union. Northlake is the north side but there does not seem to be a Southlake--it just turns from Eastlake to Westlake somewhere near Chandler's Crab House. However, we do have a Northgate area which is north and east of Greenlake. We also have the Eastside including an area called Eastgate which is actually Bellevue and is on the east side of Lake Washington. We do not seem to have a Westside. But finally, there is West Seattle and it has nothing to do with a lake but is instead located on the east side of Puget Sound. Curving waterside roads and bridges connect them all. Ah, I guess you have to live here.

The location of the restaurant was important because we have season tickets to the 5th Avenue Theatre and we like to eat somewhere between the University and 5th Ave. before the show. The musical we attended last night was "The Buddy Holly Story." I can finally say that I am too young to know about something. Of course, I had heard about Buddy Holly mainly from Don McLean's song "American Pie" from my generation. But Buddy Holly was actually before my time, as they say. We enjoyed the production and were surprised that some of the familiar songs were Buddy Holly's. What I was startled to learn was that Buddy Holly recorded his first hits at the age of 19. He was on top of the billboards for a mere 18 months before his death in a plane crash in Iowa at the age of 21. These are the ages of my children so the ending of the show actually freaked me out!

And now for my little restaurant review: First of all, we sat at a table for six. One couple was seated and we sat at the other end of the table which left two single separate seats. Knowing that the place fills up, we moved closer so the remaining two places would be together. How bad could it be? Seattle folks just ignore one another anyway. Sure enough, another couple joined us to fill the empty spots. With true Seattle spirit, we all ignored one another to look at the extensive menu written on a black board.

A foursome entered and took the last remaining table. The tiny place was full and then it became impossible to ignore one another. My husband knew one of the foursome. Since they were seated an inch away, handshakes and introductions were in order. We are a polite people, after all. Following all of that joviality, one of the men seated at our table of six asked my husband in a whisper who the man was that my husband knew. It turned out he had gone to high school with my husband's acquaintance and hadn't seen him for 35 years.

This guy then squeezed behind our chairs to embrace the man at the table of four. It took them a few minutes to catch up on 35 years. Wow! The place was beginning to hop. Politely, we ordered our food and turned to our own partners in conversation for a good portion of the meal. On the cruise ship, by contrast, communal conversation continued throughout the meal. As is common with Seattleites, the interaction with each other begins again when the end is near. For example, on airplanes, we do not talk to our seat mates until the pilot announces we are about to land. Sure enough, as we were finishing our dishes, we talked to one another again and mainly it was about the food and what we had ordered. Frankly, the entire experience was delightful because we were all Seattle people and we knew the social boundaries.

The food was fabulous. The plates are shared for two which makes for more wide range sampling. Our first course was steamed clams with fresh crusty bread for sopping up every bit of the broth. Second, they brought house made pasta with lemon and stinging nettles. I have been stung by nettles many times in my life but never have I eaten them before. They were so good--much chewier and more flavorful than spinach. Next, we had roasted tuna with chick peas and arugula. Naturally, the tuna was rare and translucent in the middle. Lastly, we shared guinea fowl with tarragon and thyme over new potatoes. When the server picked up our plate we had left a half of a potato. She said everyone always leaves a half of potato so we discussed for a few seconds why that would be?! We'd definitely go back to Sitka & Spruce. In fact, I am drooling as I write this. A link to their website:


The foursome left when we did without taking time for coffee or dessert. As we hurried out, I joked to my husband that perhaps they were going to see "The Buddy Holly Story" as well. "Yea right!" Dave responded. "There are a million things to do in Seattle on a Friday night. The fact I saw this man in that tiny restaurant was strange enough....I doubt I'll run into him again in this city of 2 million or 4 million or however big we are."

But you know what? As we walked into the theater, there they were. Dave put a hand on the guy's shoulder and we all had a huge laugh.