Monday, July 11, 2011

SEATTLE, WA: Canlis Restaurant

Perhaps you've had the experience of going to a restaurant you've heard about - perhaps for years - only to find out its glory days are long gone and it's living on its reputation. That is decidedly not the case with Canlis.
Founded by Peter Canlis in 1950, this elegant restaurant is now being directed by its third generation of Canlis family members -- scions who are clearly dedicated to maintaining this restaurant's well-deserved reputation.

Although my wife and I have lived in Seattle for a number of years, we had never dined at Canlis. We were in our "salad days" when we lived here in the '80s, and they were exactly that; we simply didn't have the funds for this icon's offerings.

This year, we decided to mark our birthdays (including one milestone birthday) with dinner at this Seattle landmark. In retrospect, we're sorry we waited so long!

Arriving well before the time of our reservation, we slipped into the small, retro bar and enjoyed a champagne cocktail and a Hawaiian-themed drink named the Halekulani, after Peter Canlis' favorite hotel on O'ahu. The atmosphere was so inviting that we lingered in the lounge beyond our 6 p.m. reservation time. Unhurried, we were graciously escorted to our table when we were ready and not a moment before.

At Canlis, all the tables have a view of Lake Union and, on clear days, the Cascade mountains in the distance; there isn't a bad seat in the house. However, some seats are better than others, and window seats provide an unobstructed view.

Service was prompt and attentive, and our primary server MacKenna used our names just enough to give the evening a very personal feel. I say "primary" because Canlis practices a "team" approach to service with everyone on Canlis' service staff taking responsibility for each and every guest. No one passed our table without at least a quick glance to ensure that all was well, or to check to see if we were in need of anything.

Because it was a birthday celebration, we pulled out all the stops and started with an appetizer of steak tartare and a Canlis salad. From there, we moved on: my wife to the halibut and I to a New York steak, with shared sides of twice-baked potato and forest mushrooms.

My better half enjoyed a Bourgogne Blanc with her fish while I opted for a Crozes Hermitage followed by an Argentine Malbec.

Friends who learned of our dining plans urged us to indulge in the Grand Marnier soufflé for dessert. Though we prefer savory to sweet and generally don't eat dessert, we were ever so glad we did! The soufflé was light and had a touch of sweetness from the orange liqueur and the crème fraîche. A cup of deep, rich coffee concluded our 2-1/2 hour dining experience.

Make no mistake: Canlis is not inexpensive. Our dinner, including a well-deserved gratuity for the servers, the $5 valet parking charge and a gratuity for the valet who retrieved our car was slightly more than $335.

To capsulize the essence of our experience, Canlis provided us with a perfect trifecta of a beautiful view, delicious food, and outstanding service. How those three line up in the "win", "place", and "show" categories is really unimportant. They're all grand, and all combined to make it an experience we are very much looking forward to repeating.

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