Dinner for three. Sitka & Spruce.
I had skipped out on dinner the previous night, but tonight we are headed out again to Sitka & Spruce. Last summer when my grandfather was here I was working a later shift, and never managed to join them for an early dinner. But tonight I make my escape early (although I am still a little late), and zip across town to that tiny strip mall where Sitka & Spruce occupies a small storefront just off Eastlake. Again I am fortunate enough to find a parking space (this time doing a terrible job of parallel parking between two other cars, facing the wrong direction, I mean me, not them) in the lot. Again, I go in to find the rest of my party already seated, though this time they have not yet ordered. Uncle leaves the job of ordering up to me, and we lob choices back and forth as my grandfather grunts a yes or no to every suggestion. Finally, we settle on five dishes for the three of us, two vegetables, a pasta, and two meat dishes.
The menu tonight is similar to the last one we saw a few weeks ago, beginning with a salad and ending with grilled "Wagyu" flank steak, with one pasta choice and several seafood and poultry options, perhaps a dozen in all, written on a huge blackboard in slightly illegible handwriting, loopy and cramped all at once. We pass on the quail, which we had last time, and the tomato salad, because it does not come with mozzarella, and I have the general impression that either is unacceptable without the other, in my grandfather's (all-abiding) opinion. I embarrass myself by not being able to pronounce "poussin," and then have to explain the difference between "poussin" (young chicken) and "poisson" (fish) to my uncle, who is familiar with the latter but not the former. What a lovely language French is, I think to myself, full of tongue-twisters and silent letters. Makes Mandarin Chinese seem easy by comparison.
Tonight, there are still empty spaces at the big table, and three more spots at the six-top we are presently occupying, no hungry diners arriving to be turned away, surprising on a Friday night. We have a simple salad of some curly-headed lettuce, sliced into wedges, anointed with lemon juice and fragrant with herbs, all scattered with fragile shavings of Parmegiano-Reggiano (or something similar). The herbs add a certain something to the cool crunch of lettuce, and there is not too much cheese, just enough. Next is the grilled (or roasted, I can't tell) eggplant, sprinkled with pine nuts and more herbs and dressed with tangy yogurt and olive oil, which pools onto the plate (I dip my bread in, and would have wiped the plate clean had I been alone). My grandfather likes it, and I relax a little.
The taglietelle is a tangle of wide noodles with beans and tomatoes. I like it, but not as much as the lardo-tossed tajarin we had the last time we ate here. The bricked poussin is crisp-skinned, served on a bed of the best vegetable dish ever, sweet corn and tiny chanterelles. I eat more than my fair share, hoping no one will notice. Grandpa gets up for a smoke, and I make off with the last spoonful of corn that tastes like candy mixed with the buttery chanterelles. I could have just eaten this for dinner. Last is the flank steak, with fingerling potatoes and sweet-tart huckleberries and shards of crisped lardo. It is also very good, better than very good. We forgo dessert and head home to bowls of ripe cantaloupe. Another time I will be back for more.