A Return to Sitka & Spruce

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The last time I wrote about Sitka & Spruce in Seattle, I praised the place but called the food “challenging.” That was in January. On this most recent trip to Seattle, we returned to Sitka and Spruce–this time for brunch–and the meal was so good, so beautiful, that “challenging” was suddenly the wrong word for it. I decided I needed to do a follow-up post and that’s the post you’re reading right now.

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The Oyster Bar (Bellingham, Washington)

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For as long as I’ve been visiting Craig’s family in Bellingham, Washington, I’ve been hearing about the Oyster Bar. It’s where Craig went for his prom night dinner. It’s where Craig’s parents celebrated their most recent anniversary. It’s beautifully situated on Chuckanut Drive, the scenic route you take when getting off the I-5 from Seattle.

On this most recent trip, we decided to go there with our friends Mark and Diana. After the Fair, we changed into our fancy clothes, hopped into a car and parked precariously on a ledge. I’m pretty sure Diana thought I’d fall to my death off a cliff when I opened my car door. Maybe that was the plan all along!

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The Northwest Washington Fair

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In a town called Lynden, just a short drive from Bellingham, Washington, you’ll see lots of people sitting on their lawns offering you a parking spot for $5. That’s because, in the middle of August, it’s time for the Northwest Washington Fair, a celebration of community, agriculture, and rides that make you want to throw up.

Craig couldn’t contain his glee when he shepherded us newbies to the fair on the Tuesday before we left for Eliza. He, along with his sister Kristin and his brother Eric, had been going to the fair since as far back as they could remember. Now Mark, Diana and I would get to experience the magic ourselves.

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Surfacing on Eliza Island

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When Jesse Eisenberg “plugged in” as Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network,” headphones snug on his head, fingers fluttering away at his keyboard, I didn’t draw a line between what he was doing and what I do every day. He was in a world of numbers and codes, algorithms for Farmville animals and “poke” buttons that would one day rule the world. Me? I import pictures of food, edit them in Photoshop, upload them to Flickr and then use them in blog posts and my newsletter. Only, while doing that (and other kinds of writing), I’m also Tweeting, Instagramming, chatting, e-mailing, Facebooking and checking Google Reader in an endless loop. It’s easy to get sucked into that vortex, especially when your job requires you to sit at your computer all day. Two weeks ago, I realized that I was every bit as plugged in as Zuckerberg in that movie. Not only plugged in but also cut off. Cut off from other people, cut off from reality. And so, two weeks ago, I decided to make some dramatic changes before leaving for Eliza Island where Craig’s family has a rustic cabin just off of Bellingham, Washington.

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Sitka & Spruce

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Should good restaurant food challenge you? Or should it comfort you by reflecting what you already like to eat?

Sitka and Spruce, a restaurant in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, is the first restaurant that I’ve visited in a long time that fully embraces the former strategy. The food, while very delicious, challenges you while you eat it. It makes you ask questions. It reveals your prejudices, your fears, your secret desires. And it does so in a beautiful environment.

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The Salvadorean Bakery, Delancey & A Glogg Party

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There are three experiences I forgot to tell you about from my trip to the Pacific Northwest this year. The first experience happened on a morning in West Seattle (I’d written “East Seattle” and then Craig corrected me) with our friends David and Celia and their new baby, Johanna. Early in the morning, before my appointment with a chef at 9 AM, we all had breakfast at The Salvadorean Bakery.

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Archie McPhee

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Growing up, Craig was a big collector. He collected matchbox cars, stamps, shells, stickers, Star Wars action figures. “You name it, I collected it,” he tells me now.

By the time he entered fifth grade, he started collecting what he and his friend Joe referred to as “Creepers.” He recalls: “These were basically rubber skeletons and animals–frogs, lizards, snakes, bats, bugs–and we treated them like action figures and played creeper games and created a whole universe like Dungeons and Dragons.”

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An American Brunch at The Old Town Cafe (Bellingham, WA)

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Not long ago, my friend Diana had a friend visit from Italy and this friend–who went to college with Diana in the U.S. (Brown University, to be precise)–was incredibly eager to eat an American brunch again. “She was really excited about brunch,” Diana related to me later. “She says it’s one of the things she misses most about the U.S.”

A few days ago, while eating brunch at the Old Town Cafe in Bellingham, Washington, it occurred to me: if I were going to tell a non-American how to best experience American food culture, the meal I’d suggest (and this is a brand new revelation) is breakfast.

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