Saturday, November 2, 2013

Dinner | Canlis

(Apologies on the wayyy overdue posts -- I promise I'm churning them out as fast as I can. This is the last full-length one from Seattle -- a summary post of our trip is in the works!)

During our trip to Seattle, we had the pleasure of dining at Canlis in Queen Anne, a landmark restaurant that has been open for over 50 years with the most vibrant of history and boasts spectacular views of the Emerald City. When I saw photos of it for the first time a while back, I knew it was one of those places we really needed to add to the "must-do's" of the itinerary for a future trip to Seattle. I am so very glad we did, as I had made reservations a month or so in advance.

In 1950, Peter Canlis "set out to build 'the world's most beautiful restaurant,' with his first fortuitous step of hiring architect Roland Terry, now widely known as the father of Northwest architecture." A collaboration between Mr. Terry and Pete Wimberley, Mr. Terry "wanted a timeless place of Frank Lloyd Wright discipline and subtlety," while Mr. Wimberley "dreamed of a restaurant where guests would feel comfortable kick off their shoes under the table." This includes "a great stone fireplace, a span of angled windows to capture the views, and a glistening copper charcoal broiler placed in the middle of the dining room." Even the kitchen was intentionally "left exposed to the dining room, a daring and cutting-edge design choice that visually launched Canlis ahead of its time."

Nearly four decades later, Canlis planned a major remodal and expansion of the restaurant with the help of architect Jim Cutler, where he "chose to reveal the building's original structure -- stone columns were allowed to extend upwards to the full height of the restaurant, while light and landscape from outside flooded in through a new translucent wall."

In 2005, interior designer Doug Rasar "brought serenity and warmth to the most recent re-design by creating a Zen-like connection that brought the outdoors to interior spaces. Mr. Rasar executed his vision by using "handmade organic wall coverngs and installed gardens by David Pfeiffer, resulting in every surface, every stitch, and every detail are echoes of man's clever submission to his natural environment."

When Mr. Canlis moved to Seattle in 1950, he chose "a magnificent view location just three miles north of the city's center" where Canlis still resides and operates. He is "credited with being the first restauranteur to utilized team-style service in his dining room." Also, instead of employing waiters in customary tuxedos, he "employed graceful kimono-clad waitresses who transformed customer service into an art form."

View of Canlis from the lounge.

There is live piano played nightly in the lounge at Canlis.

View of the bar inside the lounge.  I learned a little history behind the beverage program at Canlis -- in 1949, Seattle lifted its ban on restaurants selling liquor, so when Canlis opened a year later, it was the first dining restaurant to welcome back the era of the cocktail.

My guest had the Halekulani cocktail (from House Without a Key, circa 1930) made with bourbon, lemon, orange, pineapple, and grenadine. The namesake comes from Peter Canlis's favorite place to stay in O'ahu in Hawaii, a place which happens to serve the best drinks in Waikiki). Even though the heavier spirit of bourbon was used, it was quite refreshing with its citrus notes and tropical flavors -- truly capturing the essence of O'ahu.

I had the French Foam (circa 1900) made with Plymouth gin, Briottet cassis, Drappier champagne, and lemon sherbet. It combined the sophistication of a kir royale with the frostiness of lemon sherbet and a splash of gin. This was so damn good -- crazy to think that it was created during the turn of the 20th century!

The upper level of the dining room. Look at those lovely cobblestone columns and high ceilings!

SAM_1506The lower level of the dining room that boasts sweeping views through a wall of windows of Lake Union.

Another view of the lower dining room.

We started with three amuse bouches -- a sweet onion panna cotta tart with shortbread crust (a nice, petite bite yet savory); a black olive cornet with smoked salmon mousse, wasabi tobiko, and pickled rutabaga (reminded me very much of the salmon cornet at The French Laundry, but with an Asian twist); and a deep-fried egg yolk with sauce Gribiche (like an oozy, creamy croquette filled with egg). All fabulous bites!

Instead of the chef's tasting, we opted for the four-course prix fixe (there's also a three-course option) so we could share an optimal variety of dishes.

My guest's first course was the smoked sockeye salmon with yogurt, basil, and marble potatoes. Tiny wedges of nicely cut smoked sockeye were really silky and melted nicely with the yogurt and creamy marble potatoes.

I had the torchon of foie gras with celery, cherry and pistachio along with some thick slices of toasted brioche. It's hard to not love a paté of foie, especially if it's paired with a stone fruit and something nutty over buttery brioche. You better believe I ate every last lick of this! :P

For my guest's second course, he was served Peter Canlis' prawns sautéed in dry vermouth, garlic, and lime. It had a clean presentation with a classic-modern compilation of flavors and cooked to the perfect temperature.

I had the porkbelly with spring onion, huckleberries, and plum. It made for a great in-between seasons dish (i.e., summer/fall), and even though the pork was just a touch salty, the complements of huckleberries, plum, and root veggies helped alleviate that. The meat was really tender with the crispiest skin -- surprisingly comparable to the Chinese roasted pig that is hard to to get completely right.

For my guest's main course, he had the grilled filet mignon with carrots, potatoes, and melted shallots. Seared to a juicy, medium-rare center, the filet went beautifully with the melted shallot sauce and creamy purée of potatoes. A decent cut of steak, for sure!

I had the grilled lamb chop with braised-lamb "croquette", fried leeks, and piquillo pepper marmalade. While the grilled lamb chop was everything I'd hoped it be (with a heated kick from the piquillo pepper marmalade), the braised-lamb "croquette" was so salty, making it hard to eat and finish. Luckily, I was getting so full already from everything else that it was an afterthought.

We shared a side of twice-baked potato (a Canlis tradition for four generations). It was incredibly creamy and cheesy, not at all what I was expecting. I was expecting an actual baked potato with sour cream/butter/chives/bacon, so I was in for a rude awakening when it was cheesy to the point where it was too much. However, for you cheese lovers out there, you will love this.

Breathtaking view at night seen from Canlis.

We were getting so full that a cup of tea was a must.

My guest had the Canlis soufflé with Grand Marnier, orange zest, and creme anglaise (allow for a 20-minute preparation). It was a beautifully prepared soufflé, with a light, fluffy yet silky center and a rounded essence of orange from the Grand Marnier and zest. Certainly worth the wait (especially since we don't really see classically made soufflés much in the fine dining world as much as we had in the past0, the soufflé made for the perfect punctuation to this gorgeous dinner.

I was so full from the previous three courses that I opted for something lighter -- an assortment of three sorbets, whose flavors escape me now. Just know they really hit the spot! :P

Findings: While the culinary fare was pretty impressive (a well-executed soufflé truly speaks for itself), it was one of the most breathtaking dining experiences I've ever had the pleasure of having. Every aspect of the restaurant contributed to the dining experience -- the welcoming and open space, the well-curated artwork along the restaurant's walls, the ambient live piano that can be enjoyed nightly, the subtle and seamless service throughout the meal, and the nicely plated courses. The architecture of Canlis is dynamic, enthralling, and very much alive. It is a living and breathing chronicle of the Canlis family's rich history in the kitchen, in design, and in hospitality. The views alone and the unparalleled atmosphere can truly justify the price tag of its menu, so if it's your first time visiting Seattle, Canlis is undoubtedly an iconic restaurant to add to the itinerary if you're looking to splurge on a fancy meal while you're in town.

Price point: $12-18 for each cocktail, $100 per person for traditional four-course prix fixe menu.

--August 22, 2013

2576 Aurora Avenue North
Seattle, WA 98109

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