Shovel Time: Canlis
The only reason I went to Seattle at all was because it was–and is–cheaper to fly to from NYC than Portland where I ultimately ended up taking a Bolt Bus to because I’m all about luxury. Also, I had this minutely contrarian notion that Seattle is a more serious restaurant city than Portland, which I’m not sure is true. All I knew was that if I were going to Seattle with that mindset, I’d need to experience Canlis, a classic spread-out in a low-slung, mid-century building overlooking Lake Union with food that has morphed over a half-century into something highly regional and to be taken seriously, the latest incarnation circa summer 2015 being the work of chef Brady Williams, formerly of Roberta’s, a slightly unexpected shift from the special occasion restaurant with a piano player, and couples stationed side by side to take in the view from banquettes.
I don’t even know if Portland has a Canlis equivalent. I can’t recall ever seeing women dining in sequined sheath dresses, or even tattoo-sleeved youths–this is the Northwest, after all–in appropriately glam frocks, in my hometown
My original plan was to simply go by myself, despite no bar seating (the lounge was closed for renovations, but I’m not sure if it was ever for dining) but after my sister said she would be into coming up to Seattle from Eugene (and thankfully saving me the visit down there) I said I’d take her to dinner as a belated Christmas gift, the first time I’ve ever role-played the wealthy husband role. Even going the $100 four-course pick-and-choose prix-fixe route rather than a tasting menu and sticking to a sub-$100 bottle of wine (a small percentage of the voluminous list), a Walla Walla syrah from a producer I’m blanking on, this was a full-on splurge (those pre-dinner drinks and digestifs will get you).
The food? I don’t want to ramble or play by play. I’m often as much about the experience as the food even on the higher end, not just with chains. That, and all my Seattle memories tapped into Evernote vanished into the ether, perhaps in an effort to teach me about ephemerality and living in the moment. (And the poorly lit photos almost make me wish I had my little DSLR that I’ve weaned myself off.)
It was mostly very delicious, and yet what I’m remembering most, more than the umami-rich Wagyu tartare (apparently made with kelp powder, ayu fish sauce, and black lime, which in no way is called out on the menu), Dungeness crab tucked into a cabbage leaf and surrounded by tender sunchokes, or 28-day-aged Muscovy duck breast with a quadrant of sauces in the same beige-and-green palette as my favorite clothing, was the side of truffle fries with fancy fry sauce, the ketchup-mayonnaise blend a la Arctic Circle that I’ve learned thrives in Oregon and Utah. I’m a Northwest rube at heart, what can I say?
The bread was second-helping amazing (all the bread I was served in Portland and Seattle was top-notch), the souffle and macarons a classic ending and extra, and the cranberry-egg nog chocolate bar a nice seasonal send-off.
Unexpectedly, I will be back in Seattle next month (and will likely be spending more time in the NW going forward) and would love to do a Canlis date for real, but I’m not sure if I can keep up the sugar daddy lifestyle. It’s tough.
Canlis * 2576 Aurora Ave. N., Seattle, WA