The pinnacle dinner of our Seattle trip on Saturday night was at Canlis, toted as the best fine dining restaurant in Seattle. Since I knew it would come at a hefty price, I did quite a lot of review reading to ensure it was what we were looking for. At first, I was concerned that a restaurant over 60 years old might still be serving 1950’s style food but after learning that they hired a new chef, Jason Franey, who had won Food and Wine’s Best New Chef award in 2011, I felt much more comfortable with my choice. The final piece that drew me to Canlis was its seasonal vegetarian tasting menu. I think it takes guts for a chef to be able to transform a simple vegetable and transform it into the star of the dish.
As we drove up to Canlis, we were immediately struck by the beauty of the restaurant and its surroundings. It sits atop a hill that overlooks a lake with views of the whole city. The view is quite breathtaking.
When you step into the door, the place screams of formality. Yes, perhaps a bit old-school and something that you rarely, if ever, find in Vancouver any more, but on occasion it is nice to get the sort of special treatment that Canlis obviously prides itself in. There are servers aplently that escort you to the bathroom, pull out your seat every time you move to and from the table, clean crumbs after every course, etc, etc. There were a few small blips in service (having to wait 15 minutes for our table despite having a reservation and waiting quite a while between some of our courses) but overall it was quite exceptional. We were especially impressed when we were brought a free aperatif because they felt that we had were waiting too long for our cab at the end of the meal. It is obvious that pleasing their guests is paramount.
Canlis prides itself in its designation as the top wine destination in Seattle and when you see it's why list, you will see why. They have nearly 20 000 bottles of wine in their massive cellar! So no matter what your particular taste in wine is (and what your price range is), you will find what you are yearning for. They actually recommend arriving an hour early if you want to read through the entire wine list beforehand! Ok, I enjoy my wine but this seems a bit excessive! They also have 5 sommeliers who can assist you if the list overwhelms you. There is a decent selection of Washington wines which is great for those of us visiting from elsewhere who are into locally sourced options.
I, of course, ordered the 7-course vegetarian menu. My husband was not all that impressed by the regular tasting menu so he instead ordered a steak. Our waiter helpfully suggested that he order a half portion of two appetizers so that he would not be without food for too many of my 7 courses. He therefore ordered the famous Canlis salad (apparently voted one of the top 100 dishes in North America by Saveur magazine), the hamachi with green apple and the filet with a side of their famous twice baked potato that they have been making for over 60 years.
We were first treated to an Amuse Bouche. It was quite a sizable Amuse, comprised of a light strawberry chilled soup and, on the side, a delicate round strawberry gelee. It made for a very pretty plate and was the perfect starter to a vegetarian tasting menu.
I was very excited to be served an asparagus dish as my first plate. Fresh, local asparagus is one of my favorite things about spring! The two juicy asparagus spears were sitting atop a salty caper aioli and some fluffy quinoa. Perched on top of the asparagus was a beautiful quail's egg yolk, which really made the dish for me.
When I heard that the next dish was a beet salad, I was a bit disappointed. Not that I do not like beets, but it seems like everyone and his brother has some kind of rendition if this on its menu right now. Fortunately, my disappointment disappeared when I realized that this was no run-of-the-mill beet salad. Sure, there were beets (local and delicious BTW!) but there was also a side of goat cheese sorbet and, best of all, a delicious crumb component (not sure what this was) that added a wonderful textural contrast. I have eaten many beet salads in my day, but this one wins top prize for both creativity and taste!
The third dish showcased cauliflower and carrot. The piece of grilled cauliflower was served on a carrot purée (what a radiant orange color!) with two miniature carrot halves on the side.
The main dish was a ramp and ricotta tortellini (also the sole vegetarian entree on their current menu). The tortellini stuffing is a beautiful mint-green clot which pairs beautifully with the brilliant green watercress purée beneath the pasta. A visually beautiful dish with clean, delicate flavors.
Next, we each received a palate cleanser of pineapple sorbet- it was so good that I ate it up before I was able to get a picture:)
Lastly was the dessert course which I shared with my husband since he did not order dessert. It was an easy dish to share as there were two components- a chocolate lava cake for him (rich and decadent) and an ice cream with cookie pieces beneath it for me (refreshing with just enough sweetness). The best of both worlds!
As you can probably tell by now, I enjoyed my meal very much. I really appreciated the chef’s creativity in making the vegetable the star of the dish and using the other ingredients to highlight it. I also really enjoyed the chef’s playful use of texture to add depth to his dishes. Also, the presentation of the dishes were extremely artistic and the colors of spring really shone through. My only suggestion is that they may want to consider increasing the portion sizes of the dishes, particularly the pasta course. Even after 7 courses, I was still slightly hungry leaving the restaurant, so I ate a second dessert when I got back to the hotel:)
My husband really enjoyed his meal as well. The Canlis salad was very fresh with a generous amount of bacon, his steak was perfectly cooked and the twice baked potato was decadent.
Overall, Canlis does a very good job at making you feel special. Their 60 years of experience certainly shows in the quality of service. Their food, however, is not the leat bit dated thanks to a chef who is obviously daring in the kitchen and shows great technique in his use of texture, color and flavor. All we can hope is that Canlis remains for at least another 60 years and that it continues to evolve with the changes in the culinary tide.