Sitka & Spruce is in a strip mall, next door to a Subway, in a space formerly tenanted by a doughnut shop (a really good one—Sophie's). It's got five tables crafted out of glossy recycled lumber, split-pea–green walls, shelves with a skull and a brass deer and other random stuff. Records play on a turntable. The kitchen's bigger than the dining room and full of cookbooks and looks much more like somewhere you want to be than any other restaurant kitchen I've ever seen. A sign in chalk at the tiny bar (which has no seats) says "Food worth standing up for."
Matt Dillon (of Herbfarm, Supreme, Stumbling Goat experience) makes food at his new restaurant that I'd eat standing on my head; Sitka & Spruce's monumentally low-key atmosphere is combined with a certain DIY elegance. I got outed to Dillon as a food writer for The Stranger a few weeks ago. I agonized about anonymity, and he told me in polite ("No offense...") but no uncertain terms that he's cooking for people like they're friends at his house, not for critics. I believed him that at Sitka & Spruce no one would get special treatment—or, rather, that everyone would. He's a believable guy.
When I went in with three friends to order every item on the chalkboard menu (seven or eight dishes in two or three sizes each, containing exactly what's most achingly new and thrilling that specific day), Dillon sent us out a bowl of clams on the house. I think he would've done this for any group standing at the bar waiting for a table and basically chewing on their own arms. We ate the clams—so sue me. (I don't think he even told our server what was up; otherwise our wine order might've been expedited. The pace here isn't like Subway—so sue them.)
Dillon's preparations revolve around simple, clear, lovely flavors. Sauces are sparing, nothing's overwrought, and insanely fresh produce meets again and again with reverence and utmost care. Commonalities among what we ate: lots of glorious greens, and lots of springy-tart flavors, and appropriate hints of richness here and there, and a general genius of restraint. (And: the butter for the bread—organic, Italian, from the same milk that's used for Parmigiano-Reggiano. Oh. My. Fucking. God.)
The clams ($10/sm., $16/lg., when not on the house), ironically, didn't amaze—somewhat rubbery, with toughish cubes of serrano ham, pea vines (universally approved), and a broth that everyone called too salty but didn't stop sopping up. A cold carrot soup ($7/$10, self-served into chilled bowls, emblematic of the DIY/nicety intersection here) caused contention: Those in their right minds loved the unambiguous, dulcet flavor, gorgeous color, and frisson of teeny strips of lovage on top, while others deemed it "cold, boring, and oily."
After this came consensus of the sort that involves a lot of plate passing and saying "yum." Everyone's favorite dish was a layer of thin-sliced baby "boulangerie" potatoes ($8/$12), rendered salty and crispy on the outside by virtue of duck fat, sweetish and creamy inside, crowned prettily with a pile of astringent arugula and just the right amount of buffalo ricotta—a freakishly good combination. The young goat ($8/$12; possibly killed by the chef himself, who spends one day a week at Sea Breeze farm on Vashon) was sold out, but a piece of pristine white salmon ($12/$20)—melty-rare in the center, cooked skin-side-down until the skin was crackly-crisp—had a minuscule fern frond pressed into its top and tasted of purity itself. Its side of faro, with its popping texture, nutty flavor, and bit of ricotta for enrichment, was too subtle for some, wildly appreciated by others. Organic hangar steak ($10/$16/$22) lost points for having tough bites among perfect ones—but the flavor was flawless, and would a filet mignon really be at home here anyway?
Desserts ($6)—a chocolate mint semifreddo (made with actual mint that's chocolate flavored) and chocolate cornmeal cake (in a pool of vanilla cream, and with a tiny bit of salt sprinkled on top)—suited Sitka & Spruce's simple-yet-inventive ethos perfectly.