So I went to Canlis recently, thought I’d share my thoughts here.
I made a reservation very far in advance and got a really great table in a somewhat secluded section of the restaurant. Not a window table, but a corner “mob boss,” table where you can see out the windows but nobody is looking through you to see out the windows. I enjoyed the element of privacy this table offered. I went into Canlis having very high expectations, and expected to be blown away by at least a few dishes. We opted for the tasting menu, which may not have been the best choice to showcase Brady’s cuisine and style. The waiter let us know that beforehand as I mentioned I was very excited to try Brady's cuisine. Brady is developing the 3-4 course menus before the tasting menu, and I was told he will have his own tasting menu out in late summer or early fall (you bet I’ll be back to try that out). The tasting menu was sort of an homage to Canlis classics, albeit with very modern preparations and presentations. I don’t really want to discuss individual dishes, more of the overall experience and feel.
The location and space were both great, it is an extraordinarily beautiful restaurant. The piano player was skilled and was playing a fun mix of new and old songs. It was refreshing to be in a restaurant in Seattle where people dress nicely and is not noisy. Also nice was the fact that it was an older crowd and not a bunch of millennials (Note: I am mid 20's but embarrassed for how my generation acts in restaurants) more concerned about putting flash photos of their food on Instagram than actually enjoying the evening. The service was exceptional as well. Canlis is a very well staffed restaurant and the staff is very knowledgeable and willing to answer questions. We were there for over 3 hours and I felt very comfortable and at ease the entire time, always eagerly anticipating the next dish. While at Canlis you really do forget about the outside world. They do a phenomenal job of achieving the perfect relaxing ambiance.
I thought the drinks at Canlis were some of the best in the city. Every drink was interesting and I will go back to the bar soon to experience more of their great drinks. I prefer gin drinks and I like a good vermouth so I favored those spirits. However, for the lamb course the waiter recommended a bourbon drink called “into the birds averno,” which was pretty close to mind blowing for me. Other drinks I had included a negroni (probably the best in Seattle, though Spinasse also has a great negroni), and the “nemean lion,” which was also excellent. To finish the night I had a small glass of Carpano Antica vermouth on the rocks with a twist of orange. Side note: If you haven’t had Carpano Antica I highly suggest you try it by itself, that stuff is indeed mind blowing (thanks Hitchcock on Bainbridge and Miyabi 45th in Wallingford for introducing me to this amazing liquor). My only recommendation to the Canlis bar program was regarding the ice. It was holding the drinks back slightly. They were using regular machine ice. I expected Canlis to be using better shapes of ice and paying attention to the dilution rates more than they did. That is really my only real recommendation to them in terms of my entire experience there. Either way, the bartenders were highly skilled and the drinks were still extremely good. Probably trivial to most, but I get spoiled by certain restaurants and bars who have implemented great ice programs that just add a level of sophistication and detail to their cocktail program. I cannot comment on the wine program as I am more interested in cocktails.
Now on to the food. I’ll just come out and say this first: Nothing blew me away. This may have been my fault for ordering the tasting menu and not selecting dishes from the 4-course menu, which looked a little more interesting. All of the dishes were very good, well crafted, and the plating was also very visually pleasing. Every dish was cooked perfectly and I really mean that; I could find no fault whatsoever in that regard. On a purely technical level each dish was exceptional. The ingredient quality was also very high. I understand Canlis is a fine dining establishment in every sense of the phrase so they aren’t going to have a hanger steak on the menu, so no points off for the NY strip and filet (who wants a filet though, seriously). However, none of the dishes had that *lean back in your chair, close your eyes and just let the flavors take over your mind* feeling where you realize "How have I lived so long without this?". None of the dishes really required any contemplation (besides the "pineapple and white chocolate" dessert which was really badass and unique). Most flavors were fairly familiar. The dishes very tasty but relatively safe, rather pedestrian in terms of their components. Again, Canlis is a fine dining restaurant so I suppose they need dishes that make people feel comfortable, are well thought out, flawlessly executed and still interesting to most people. In that regard they do not miss the mark. To me it was slightly pedestrian since I am accustomed to eating somewhat more innovative/unique things (Spur, Altura, or Hitchcock in the Seattle area; Roe, and Castagna in Portland, and Hawksworth in Vancouver BC are examples of what I mean) when I drop such serious coin on a meal. Either way, I can't and won't fault them on that, nor would it have prevented me from going to Canlis even had I known all of this beforehand. They do what they do extremely well! It is worth noting though, if you want to go to a restaurant where pure deliciousness and interesting more contemplative unique dishes are your main/only priorities you can do probably do better (I am expecting to eat my words once I try Brady's tasting menu). However, you will not find those types of things at a place (In the pacific northwest) that does all the other things Canlis excels at, it is simply not going to happen.
Other things I noticed:
The flatware, glassware and dinnerware were all picked out for a reason, and it enhanced the experience in my eyes. The seats were very comfortable as well. The restrooms were also extremely nice, well designed and extremely clean (they had a garbage build into the wall by the door so you did not have to touch the door on the way out, pet peave of mine when restaurants do not set up their restrooms like that). I hear the Canlis valets are legendary but cannot comment on that as we used Uber as our method of transportation to avoid driving at all intoxicated. Also noticed that many of the staff there had pretty nice, well-tailored suits; that was cool.
None of my above comments about the food prevented me from having a great time and thoroughly enjoying myself. Perhaps I was even too harsh about the food. The food really was very good, and the whole experience was fantastic. Think of Canlis as the whole package, you don’t just go for the food, you go for all of the elements blended together to create a very memorable experience. Canlis certainly does not fail to deliver on that. I would definitely say it exceeded my expectations. All in all I had a really great time and will definitely be back. Canlis really pays attention to the details. I have a tremendous amount of respect for all of the staff there. They are true professionals and are definitely at the top of their game. Leave them a large tip, they really earn and deserve it!
Thanks for reading, and thanks to Canlis for providing an incredible night out. I apologize for the lengthiness. If you have not been to Canlis, you owe it to yourself to try it out. Make sure you make a reservation early.