Thursday, November 10, 2011

I am so happy to have found you....

The other night I went to Sitka and Spruce for an impromptu dinner.  Nestled in the back of the Melrose Market on Capitol Hill, this is the type of restaurant that will make your heart melt.  It will also, incidentally, make your belly very very happy as well.

It's a strange feeling when you walk into a place, a place you've never been, and you feel like you are home.  That is what Sitka is. It's homey, eclectic, and rustic, in the most understated and elegant of ways.
With a communal dinning table that extends directly out of the kitchen, seriously talk about open kitchen, and a spread of tarts, olives, and crockery waiting at the ready- you truly feel as if you are sitting at  your mothers', your friends', your grandmothers' kitchen table.   Now if only I knew more people who could cook like that...

I know this is a baking blog and I don't often weigh in on the savory, but after a meal like that, I feel I am obliged to throw my hat in the ring. And don't worry, it all ends with dessert.

We started with raw tremiti olives, while we poured over the extensive wine list. Incidentally, I never knew most olives can't be served raw, but that's just another perk of dinning with chef friends.  The olives were exactly what you want in an olive. Meaty, salty, and for me, not too over powering.

Next, smoked silver salmon with lentils, beets, and crispy leeks. Despite, the disappointing fact that the lentils didn't make it to our plate, this dish was delicious. I can only imagine the lentils would have made it perfect.  Although none of us realized the absence of lentils until after we had moved on to the next course- so maybe the perfectly smoked salmon and fresh beets didn't need a thing.

We then tried the steamed winter squash with house made yogurt, dukkah spice and salted lemon.  The squash was steamed skin on and maintained a great flavor and texture. The yogurt was mild, and the dukkah was a little too caraway heavy for me, but the slated lemon- seriously salt and lemon may just be all you need to squash anyways.

Finally, the duck. Duck. Duck. It's worth saying three times. I don't have that much experience with duck, from a culinary perspective, but I am now officially it's biggest fan.  Well, maybe fan isn't the right word because I am now going to want to eat them all the time, but hey, delicious is delicious. We asked our server to have the kitchen pick between the lamb and the duck, and while, the service was all in all a little underwhelming, the kitchen made a great call.

Sitka's spiced duck with poached quince and button chanterelles was the perfect protein to round out our meal. The duck was juicy, gamey, and amazingly tender.  Quince, may quite possibly be my new favorite fruit, paired phenomenally with the rich duck, adding just the right amount of tart flavor and crisp texture.  The chanterelles added a nice crisp bite to the dish.  But seriously, duck and quince... come on.  I may have mentioned it before, but as a more recent carnivore, I have no idea how I survived six years without eating meat.  I've said it before and I will say it again, my life is infinitely better.  I am a convert, and things like roasted duck breast, aren't making me regret my decision in the slightest.

Now, on to my favorite part....

When I go out to eat I consider dessert as my research. Therefore, barring some freak occurrence, I never skip it. Seriously never and let's be honest I don't really understand people who do.  So for research's sake, we split the house made mignardises and the gateau basque with poached pumpkins.  The mignardises were average, the chocolate chip cookie a little flat and greasy and the almond biscotti, while flavorful, was a little too crispy for my liking. I appreciate meringues, but usually just in concept, however if we didn't have the tart to get to I could have eaten a million of the dates- sweet, chewy, with a perfect salty nutty crunch.  But, since I am putting all my dessert opinions on the line here, dates aren't really dessert- they're just not.

This is why I order two desserts.

Gateau basque has recently become one of my favorite desserts. Although it holds the name of a cake (gateau) it's really more pie or tart than cake.  The crust often made from almond flour is nutty and eggy, and the filling usually consisting of a pastry cream and some sort of fruit preserves- is the perfect rustic, tangy, creamy, and simultaneously rich and light dessert.  As far as I am concerned, this is definitely one for team pie though.

So without knowing what I was getting into I decided I would give it a go.

It's all about the crust. Yolky, lemony, buttery, and nutty it is the perfect complement to a simple pastry cream center.  You don't get a recipe this time because this particular cake is still a work in progress, but I'll say I was happy with the crust and not so much with my filling.

I am sure there are a number of reasons but when it comes down to pastry creams and whipped creams I am at a loss. I am getting better, working through the tips of the trade that people have generously offered, but it's definitely an experiment.  I need help.  I haven't quite reached the dollop-able consistency that the gateau basque needs, or rather-- that it demands.

Still, it looks pretty tasty.

All in all I am glad to have found Sitka

Get ready.

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