Sitka and Spruce
Seattle, Wash.

Matt Dillon (right) of Sitka & Spruce is picking up the Alice Waters torch.
TonxMatt Dillon (right) of Sitka & Spruce is picking up the Alice Waters torch.

My best restaurant meal of 2010 was lunch at Sitka and Spruce, in Seattle’s new Melrose Market. Melrose’s home is a car-mechanic shop built in the ’20s that has been transformed into a locavore temple. It features a sandwich shop, a wine bar, a local-meat butcher, and nestled in the back corner under high windows that (weather permitting) let the sun stream in, Sitka and Spruce. The day I visited, the sun was in full force, illuminating a long butcher table offering communal seating on one half, and on the other, the mise en place and staging area for the kitchen. On the cook’s side, the table terminates at the mouth of a great big wood-fired oven. Presiding over the kitchen was a robust bearded fellow, serious but with a Falstaffian gleam in his eye. He turned out to be chef-owner Matt Dillon. (No, not the Flamingo Kid one.) His food was terrific. The menu is more or less straight-ahead Mediterranean, but refined and concentrated in flavor and yet absolutely light. It tasted healthy, but not in the way of banal “health food,” full of sprouts and Bragg’s amino acids. I left the place feeling like something had happened to me — the way that a reading a great novel is an experience, even though you’ve done nothing but sit silently on your ass.

My friend and I ordered a variety of small plates. Everything was on point, but two dishes stand out. The first was Middle Eastern-style dried fava beans, cooked down into a paste, seasoned with garlic and lemon, and topped with an over-easy fried egg. I love dried favas, but they can often be heavy. Under Dillon’s care, they were feather-light, as if the paste had been whisked to incorporate air. The seasoning was gorgeous: you couldn’t taste salt in it, but nor would you dream of adding any. And the way the warm egg yolk interacted with the favas: nirvana. The second dish, rabbit /snap pea salad, also sounds heavy but even more miraculously was anything but. The rabbit, which I suspect was poached in olive oil, came shredded, and was moist and earthy against the snap of the peas and the tang of lemon. Mint, which I always forget to use in my cooking, added freshness and a little sting. Again, perfect seasoning. As for wine, the list concentrates on the kind of subtle, unmanipulated stuff I adore. (See my screed on “natural wine.”) I don’t want to be too effusive, but I did leave Sitka and Spruce thinking that Dillon represents the next vanguard in the tradition of ingredients-obsessed cooking established a generation ago by Alice Waters. Dillon takes the southern European techniques embraced by Waters and refines them into something new, original, and mind-bogglingly light — and yet still utterly substantial.

Don’t miss: Anything.