Back in April, my friend Jackie took me to Canlis for a belated birthday gift. Having never been before, I knew that I was in for a treat, but really. Who knew it was going to redefine “treat” and change my restaurant standards. I now have a new saying for when I describe good service at restaurants: “It’s good service, not, you know, Canlis good, but good.” In general, I’m wary of visiting the canons in Seattle eateries (*cough*Dick’s, Le Panier, Dahlia, Top Pot *cough*), where I’m usually left wondering WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot, but in Seattle, Canlis is the institution by which all restaurant standards are set. You can read about their history here.
I arrived early as I’d never been to the place and the directions seemed a little confusing. Here’s the girl directional tip–if you’re on the south side coming up 99 and you start to cross the Fremont bridge, you’ve gone too far. I sat in the lounge and sipped a Halekulani cocktail (12), made with bourbon, lemon, orange, pineapple, and grenadine. I can’t say it made me feel like I was in Waikiki because I was too busy absorbing the gorgeous view and being spoiled by the waiter’s attentions, but it was tasty. Not the annoyingly familiar, not insultingly disdainful, the juust right attention that made me feel like I could’ve ben somebody famous. Maybe I was, he didn’t know, right?
Once Jackie arrived, she ordered an iced tea. I was surprised at how long it took until I realized, as the server set the little pitcher down beside her glass, that the iced tea appeared to be freshly brewed to order.
After a few minutes of sipping, we were led to our table, which had a pretty fantastic view.
We ordered and magically the food started trickling in. I guess not magically, since we were in a restaurant.
The sweet waitress brought around a basket of rolls and said “Which roll would you like to have, the olive or the golden orb?” After three seconds of anguish, she said, “You can have both.” I took both. Delicious. I silently reminded myself “Pace yourself, girl. You’re not a restaurant rookie who fills up on bread and needs to-go boxes.”
The first amuse-bouche arrived, and here’s where I have to tell you that it’s been over two months since I ate this meal and I’m not going to remember everything. But I do have photographic evidence that it happened and surely that counts for something.
The dishes were strawberry focused because even I can see that slice of strawberry sitting atop that piece of savory shortbread with flavored foam on top. I’m almost certain the soup was strawberry rhubarb’ish. Both did indeed amuse my bouche.
Jackie ordered the tasting menu and I’m damn glad she did. I’m never the most adventurous eater at the table, so I always appreciate it when dining with people who are willing to try stuff just because. The tasting came with a gazillion samples of wine, all gorgeously poured.
I took it easy on my ordering and went straight to the classics, starting with their famous salad.
Canlis salad ($14). Romaine, Romano cheese, bacon, mint, oregano, and a lemon, olive oil, and coddled egg dressing. Yes, I would have left out the mint, but it worked. It was delicious.
That makes me want a really big bite right now. Mmm. Along with the arrival of my trusty salad came Jackie’s first course.
The first item was Peas and Carrots with goat cheese and morel mushroom crumble. Now, this may be your mom’s version of peas and carrots, but it ain’t my mama’s. This was so beautiful I wanted to whisper “Be careful” when she started digging in, but the chef had to know somebody was gonna destroy it, right?
Next on the Tasting was a duck egg, slow poached with asparagus, watercress and uni. I don’t know how it tasted, and I have to admit I didn’t want to know, but it was damn pretty.
And more wine. I really don’t care about wine but this wine service had me wishing I did.
I’m reluctant to say things like I’m about to say for a couple of reasons. My first inclination to not tell people I received a “free” bowl of soup is that I don’t want to get anybody in trouble. Additionally, I don’t want people to expect free food because I said I got something free. But here’s the truth: the waitress at Canlis gave me a free bowl of pea soup. The reality is, she took pity on me as Jackie was getting plate after mini plate on the Tasting menu, and I had only ordered a paltry salad before my steak and side dish arrived.
Pea soup with peas, honshimeji mushrooms and extra virgin olive oil ($14). I ate a pea soup and I liked it. How do they do the voodoo they do to peas, for crying out loud?
If I wasn’t already in love, when our server sat down that beautiful bowl of the most elegant pea soup I’ve ever seen and said “I know you didn’t order this, but she is getting a lot of plates over there, I didn’t want you to feel left out,” I was then.
She also dropped off the next Tasting item, pan-seared black cod with fava beans, nettles, and fermented black garlic. I don’t know when people started eating nettles, but I’m sure Canlis could make even the pine cones savory.
The view was gorgeous, and I was almost tempted to order another cocktail, but decided to switch to my own iced tea by this time.
The next tasting item, short rib braised for 48 hours with ramps, broccoli rabe, and smoked bone marrow, was brought out the same time as my steak. The rib was marbeled with just enough fat to make it decadent, and was so tender it melted in my mouth. So yes, I did have a taste of her pork–who could say no to that?
I’ve never been able to bring myself to order Wagyu meat because of its exorbitant price tag. But it was my birthday, it was Canlis, I was being treated (I did contribute a little when I made the decision to get decadent, I’m not that tacky). Wagyu tenderloin ($68). Canlis was teh first restaurant to serve American grown kobe-style beef, and while I’m a novice at Wag beef, this was magically delicious. The meat really is buttery tender, it really is amazingly flavorful, and it really is phenomenal. I don’t know about 70 phenomenal, but for special occasions, the Wagyu beef being the occasion, it’s worth it. A funny thing about the temperature of the meat–when I ordered it medium-rare, the server said that because of where we’re sitting, the meat might not seem pink because of the lighting, but she would be glad to bring out a flashlight to show that while it may appear to be cooked through, it was indeed very pink in the middle. Sure enough, when I cut into it, it looked completely cooked through. But not in a way a steak becomes dry, just kind of juicy gray. I snapped the photo and looked on my LCD and sure enough, while it appeared cooked to the blind eye in that lighting, it was a perfect shade of pink on my display. Within seconds of cutting into my steak, the server came back around to make sure it was ok. I showed her the photo on the LCD. And this, my friends, is another example of the horror of striving for the correct white balance in food photography when photographing at ambient light.
The steak was garnished with purple potatoes and spinach.
I say garnished with potatoes and spinach to justify my side order, ahem.
Truffle fries ($8) with fine herbs and fleur de sel. I could easily have eaten these with my little olive rolls and been happy, because yes, I’m just that hooked on carbs. Perfectly delicious. (Note: do you see how purple-gray that tablecloth looks below those fries? That’s why when eating at Canlis by the window, your server has to tell you that your $70 cut of beef really doesn’t need to be sent back to the kitchen because it’s been cooked too long, there’s just a purple-gray light from the tint on their windows changing the tones).
After the main course, we received our next sweet amuse bouche to preprare us for the sweet part of the meal. I’ve never been bouched so much before, it’s enough to spoil a girl.
This strawberry fizz was perfect and I could’ve stopped here and been happy. Of course I didn’t, but still.
The tasting finished with this sweet plate of rhubarb tart, fennel ice cream, and champagne espuma. I had a taste of the crumbles on the side, and they were delicious.
Since it was my birthday, after all, I ordered the most divine thing on the menu. It didn’t disappoint. Chocolate covered chocolate ($12). Molten chocolate cake, cocoa nib shortbread and chocolate-covered salted caramel ice cream. Whenever the words molten and chocolate appear on the menu, I’ve given myself permission to order that dish, guilt-free, whenever I want. Kick in the caramel ice cream and it’s bliss. Sure, folks might go crazy for Wagyu beef, but I’m all about the chocolate cake.
I shed a little tear as the chocolate dribbled out of that cake. Moist, delicious, and sweet enough even for me. I had been worried because many upscale restaurants seem loathe to actually add the right amount of sugar to their desserts, which I can understand because the chefs want all the ingredients to be savored and we all know that sugar can make a pie out of even rhubarb, but still. It’s dessert. It’s supposed to be sweet. And this cake was. Sweetly delicious.
The salted caramel ice cream upside-down pop was creamily nice, although a bit too heavy on the salted. It was probably the only criticism I had on the whole meal, and that’s because I don’t generally mix salty and sweet as much as the current trends favor, because they generally go overboard on the salty.
And just when you thought you couldn’t stand another bite, the server drops off a couple of chocolates. Just in case you got hungry while forcing the zipper back up on your pants. That’s probably just me, but I haven’t felt that overly indulged in a really long time. The service throughout was amazing, the food was beautifully plated and cooked, the flavors were spectacular, and I’m running out of positive adjectives here. Sure it’s expensive and a place I’ll probably end up visiting once a year, but I will definitely visit once a year. We went on a Monday night after Easter and the place was packed, so it’s not like my working girl budget is going to keep them from going under. Very fun place, and thank you very much to Jackie who gave me a wonderful birthday treat.