WHEN I ARRIVED for my second visit to Sitka & Spruce, my companions were already seated—and a bit perplexed. The teensy space provides little room for waiting, and when they arrived the tables were full. “We weren’t sure whether to stand blocking the doorway or move in toward the packed bar.” The only seats to be had were at the communal 10–top stretching down the middle of the room, which at the time held a romancing couple at one end, a solo diner at the other. “Should we have just plopped ourselves between them?” When one of the five private tables became available, my friends were seated and given the wine list. Orally. “So we had to keep asking them to repeat the vintages…”
Welcome to Sitka & Spruce, the latest and perhaps least likely It restaurant to open in this town. The list of its idiosyncrasies is long and, among those who care about such things, infamous: Its middlebrow location in an Eastlake strip mall, its reclaimed decor (here a mirror and a tray hung on a chartreuse wall, there a cow skull and some LPs), its strikingly insufficient capacity, its arcane reservations policy (only one per evening—and only for a party willing to sit at the communal table between 7:30 and 8pm), its legions who consequently eat standing up, and chef–owner Matt Dillon’s penchant for dreaming up an entirely new menu every night.
Even Dillon, who himself admits difficulty remembering the wine list, agrees it’s weird. “We’re…kind of a different restaurant.” Different by a mile from the places the young Dillon earned his chops: the Georgian, the Salish Lodge, the Herbfarm, the Stumbling Goat Bistro. After working in these kitchens, itching for a place of his own, he envisioned something big, something expensive. Then he took a trip to San Francisco. “There’s a place on the Embarcadero, Boulette’s Larder, where you can go for a pastry during the day, or get all the ingredients for making your own,” he recalls. “In the evenings they do multicourse dinners for 10 to 20 diners. It was like a kitchen with a cash register.”
The “food studio” idea appealed to Dillon, who wanted a pastry–coffee–small lunch operation by day and whose ardor for fresh seasonal ingredients translated well to nightly improvisations on small plates for limited numbers. “Anything bigger than the space we now have might mean loss of quality,” Dillon muses.