Dinner for four. Sitka & Spruce.
I arrive at Sitka & Spruce to find an open parking space in front of the restaurant; in the tiny lot, parking is hard to come by, and I take this as a good omen. The restaurant is in a little Eastlake strip mall between a sub shop and a teriyaki place; it seems a little out of place. The small dining room holds only five or six small tables, plus one communal table in the middle of the room, perhaps twenty-six seats all together, and they don't take reservations. This is why I have only eaten here once before. The eight blocks between work and home is packed with cafés and restaurants and bars, and it is rare for me to eat anywhere outside of this half-mile radius, anywhere that involves driving and parking and waiting in line for a table. (I really am that lazy, although not as lazy as my cousin, who reportedly felt taking the elevator down twenty-six floors and crossing the street to the 7-Eleven for some steamed buns or a ham-and-egg sandwich was too much effort).
Inside I find my parents and uncle already eating, having arrived promptly at 5:30, when the restaurant opens (or shortly thereafter) and snagged a table for four, ordering wine and eight of the twelve dishes listed (in virtually unreadable script) on a huge blackboard that hangs on the wall. There is no printed menu, just those twelve items (nearly all available in full or half portions) scrawled in chalk (the wine list is also written up on the chalkboard). They have saved a plate for me with a little of everything that arrived in the first wave of dishes, along with a glass of a powerful red Italian wine and some bread that came to the table wrapped in a napkin, no plate or basket to hold it. As I dig in my mother points out all the things on my plate and tells me about what else is to come.
There are sweet roasted beets tangled with green curls of purslane, fried smelt with a side of the best smashed potatoes I've ever tasted, and a slice of oil-cured tombo (a kind of tuna). There are some slices of pork belly, but they are too dry and chewy, not fatty enough to be truly tasty. Americans are afraid of fat, snorts one of my parents. Grilled quail is served atop a chunky tapenade, grilled octopus tossed with baby clams and chickpeas. Then there is pasta, the Piedmontese tajarin, delicate egg noodles entwined with tiny chanterelles and melting scraps of lardo, sprinkled with a little chopped parsley. It is my favorite dish of the night. At last comes grilled skirt steak, sliced over more peppers and onions and olives, sweet and savory all at once. I tell myself that I will come here again, soon.
I am badgered into paying for dinner by my uncle. But it is worth it.