Sunday, December 7, 2014

Canlis: Where Modern New York Gastronomy Meets and Evolves the Old School Distinctions & Traditions of Seattle's Most Prestigious, Historical Dining Establishment (Chef Jason Franey's Final Days at Canlis)

After hearing about Canlis for the first time a couple years back and how it's the premiere destination for modern, fine dining in Seattle, I was determined to dine there the moment I had a chance to return to the city. After researching much about the current generation of Canlis as Chef Jason Franey from Eleven Madison Park in NYC and brothers Mark & Brian Canlis, the third generation owners, are directing the restaurant towards more modern takes on gastronomy; it was extremely eye opening of how the restaurant has a long established glory of being Seattle's finest restaurant when it served classic preparations of high-end Traditional American cuisine (and still does but with more apparent modern twists). With that being said, witnessing how Canlis transformed into what it is now for this generation was most definitely one of the most thrilling aspects of my dining experience, aside from enjoying the wonderful dishes and gazing at the serene views, of course. A month prior to my visit, I've heard that Chef Franey was planning to leave Canlis for other ventures in his career. Fortunately, I was able to book during his final days at the helm of the Canlis kitchen.

After being dropped off from my Lyft driver with the day before being the first time I've used the app and its services (Lyft>>>>>Taxi), I finally have walked into the building where I had been dreaming of doing so during many instances of viewing the restaurant's Yelp page. It was even more gorgeous than what I had visualized over in my head and after viewing the interior pictures on the internet. Not only was it appropriately dim, the restaurant was remodeled to exceed modern, sleek standards while preserving the charm of the previous generations since its founding. Walking in, I was gladly complying with their jacket policy as dressing up dapper is an absolute must for enjoying the most optimal dining experience at Canlis, especially with its tradition of serving some of the most influential clientele ever in American history. After walking in, I was immediately greeted by one of their gracious hosts. After telling him that I had a reservation without disclosing my name, without any written reference in front of him, he said my last name after immediately addressing me as "Mr." and immediately expressed his gratitude on behalf of the restaurant for my patronage while also offering to take my coat. After taking my coat, I was introduced by another gracious host who guided me to my table. Extremely lucky for me as I was a party of one, without asking, I was assigned to the table where the original owner, Peter Canlis, sat at during his days of operating the restaurant. As the waiter told me of how Peter Canlis would take reservations with his rotary phone (it's still there!) at that table while also using the spot as an optimal vantage point to monitor the front of the house, I then realized that I sat where many events of American culinary history took place and was immediately astonished and appreciative of doing so. That spot was also where I really savored the breathtaking view of Lake Washington, its flora and the North Seattle buildings that surround it that the building wanted to highlight for its patrons.

After that host sat me, I was then greeted by my main server for the evening with the menu. Not only was she very informative but she was one of the most courteous and empathetic servers I've ever had the privilege of being served by in all of my fine dining experiences. That says quite a lot! From knowing what to order from extensive research from the internet, I immediately ordered the four course "a la carte" menu with the addition of one supplemental dish after giving my initial drink order. Minutes after, my perfect starter for a fine dining experience has arrived: a Sapphire Martini with a Lemon Twist. Without using dry vermouth of course, this is the most cleanest, pristine tasting Sapphire Martini I ever had (I drink Bombay Sapphire on the rocks all the time and it still didn't taste as pure as what I was served). Puzzled of how this could be possible, this is definitely due to the extreme craftsmanship and magic of the Canlis bartender. This martini immediately beat all of the other martinis I've ever had, even from the bartenders of official Michelin-starred restaurants.

After the arrival of my martini, The amuse bouches came of a Morel Mushroom Tart, Rice Crisp with Egg Yolk and Wasabi Infused Tobiko (Flying Fish Roe), and a Tater Tot. From reading online, Chef Franey's favorite foods are tater tots. At first, it may seem questionable in terms of maturity to have a tater tot at a restaurant part of the Relais & Chateaux association. Don't get me wrong: I love tater tots too. Be that as it may, they, no doubt, were made with the utmost care which was why it was was definitely the best tater tot I've ever had. The Rice Crisp was certainly refreshing on the palate, especially with the wasabi-infused tobiko bursting in my mouth. Out of the three, the Morel Mushroom Tart was my favorite as the morel flavor was bold and rich without being overwhelming. FYI, all of the three amuse bouches had some sort of sauce/puree underneath in order to serve as an adhesive, in addition to providing flavor. This is how the cooks and chefs make sure that they're transported to the table without any incident in regards to the possibility of them falling off of the unique serving platform.

After the amuse bouches to kick off the meal, I was given bread service. Certainly as one of the most unique takes on it I've had, I was given a Sourdough Roll with Fennel Seeds and lemon. No doubt, with the sea salt and butter, it was one of my favorite breads I've ever had the pleasure of being served at a fine dining establishment. Not only was it moist, but the crust had a nice consistency with the right amount of crunch which shouldn't be that much. This showed of how freshly baked it was as it was certainly made with tender care like with their other dishes of greater presence. Plus, it's great how they don't overwhelm you with bread as I'd much rather have one, very savory tasting and moist roll vs having a bunch of dry ones to fill the precious real estate in my stomach.

After finishing my elegantly crafted Sapphire Martini, I've looked at the Canlis cocktail list greatly eager to trying out a new age libation in our current renaissance of mixology. After having something light (in flavor, not ethanol content), I've decided to go for the L'Emozione Di San Valentino. Listed from their website's cocktail menu, it was made with cognac, Pimm's No. 1, a liqueur of cocoa cream and cardamom infused Madeira. As it was placed in the middle of the cocktail list as it ranged from the lightest at one end to the heaviest at the other; with its herbal component, it made a great transition into the more heavier items I've ordered for my first and second course.

My first course was the Foie Gras Torchon with Dehydrated Cinnamon Meringue and Washington Apples. It came with a warm slice of Cinnamon Brioche. The Foie Gras Torchon was loaded with more meatier flavors of the duck liver which differs from my other foie gras experiences of the fattier flavors being more of the forerunners. With that being said, this distinction played well with the refreshing apple component of the dish while the Dehydrated Cinnamon Meringue served as the sweet bridge that brought them together. Sorry about the picture being quite blurry

As the last dish was very modern as it signified that it was from the influence of Chef Franey, I had previously wanted my next dish to be one of the classics of Canlis. However, since I was dining during the final days of the chef being at the restaurant, I went with the Pork Collar. Served with the plate being very hot, the collar was sitting on Polenta and Chorizo with bits of popcorn on the top. Cutting it through, the Pork Collar was cooked beautifully. With it being moist, it had deep flavors while the polenta served to keeping them restraint while delivering another flavor profile for the dish.

For sure, I definitely had wanted to try one of Canlis' classical dishes. For my supplemental course, as my very kind and empathetic waitress had mentioned that they would charge the least expensive dish as the supplement, I ordered the famous Canlis Salad. Now, what I have to note is that the salad is meant to be more simply straight-forward as it existed since the beginning of the restaurant; nothing utilizing molecular gastronomy or fancy ingredients like white truffles from Italy. As I was dining for one since I knew ahead of time that I wouldn't receive a presentation meant for two, I was fortunate enough to witness my same waitress making the salad for the table of two next to me.  As all of the components were separated into their own individual tiny bowls, the waitress then tossed all the components together in one giant wooden bowl. By the time I received mine, it came on one plate neatly presented before me as another server applied the pepper. No doubt, this is certainly one of the most freshly prepared salads I've ever tasted. The romaine lettuce and the mint were definitely crisp while of course proving their roles to cleanse the palate. In addition, the lemon juice added provided the refreshing acidity to counter the more savory bacon and Romano cheese that was used to give the salad a savory element. My only issue was that the salad may have had a tad bit too much salt. Be that as it may, it was quite fulfilling while greatly serving the purpose as an intermezzo to refresh the palate for the upcoming main course.

After finishing my second cocktail, another member of the waitstaff had recommended me a more lighter cocktail to be better suited for my following main dish of seafood. Complying with his recommendation, I went with the Nemean Lion which consists of Royal Dock Gin, Cynar (an Italian herbal liquor with Artichoke as the dominant component), Cherry Heering (a Danish cherry liquor), grapefruit, lemon and rosemary. Immediately, I could tell that this was a well crafted cocktail and the waiter skillfully thought it went well with the upcoming seafood dish along with the cocktail itself being refreshing and a long one. Unfortunately for me, mainly the herbal liquors and rosemary threw me off. As I've just mentioned of how I could tell of how well made it was, it just wasn't those cocktails that just doesn't suit to my tastebuds, personally. They were really kind of not charging me for the drink as I didn't finish it and was replaced with something else; ended up completely going to a Lagavulin 16 yr Single Malt Scotch which might baffle some individuals who partake in fine dining quite frequently as, you know, Scotch is quite harsh on the palate. But with me being extremely partial to whiskey in general, I can drink Scotch with pretty much just anything.

My main course then arrives: Pan-seared Sea Bass with Parsnip, Quinoa and Preserved Lemon. Pan-seared beautifully with a nice golden crust without the slightest blemish; the thick, moist piece of Sea Bass looked decadent as it sat on top of the other components. The moment I sliced through the fish, I immediately was able to tell that the fish was cooked to perfection (I rarely use that word) as my knife went through it consistently without encountering much resistance. And when the fish itself made contact on my tongue, a rush of emotions and thoughts when through my head. This is certainly not only the best cooked Sea Bass I've ever tasted, but I knew right then that this immediately was the best dish of my Seattle trip. Seasoned to the right point, the butteriness and the meatiness of the fish, in terms of flavor, were balanced at the right point especially with how generously thick the piece of fish was that greatly contributed to this effect with, of course, the fish being such skillfully prepared. Not only cooking the Sea Bass to perfection but consistently doing it for many orders is astonishing as cooking seafood, especially cooking such a thick piece as such, takes immense talent, skill and the utmost strain of one's cognitive abilities for doing so. The Quinoa definitely provided another element of texture to the dish while the Preserved Lemon provided the acidic component that's needed to invigorate the senses in order to enjoy such a beautifully prepared fish.

After enjoying the best dish of my Seattle trip, I was given the dessert menu to which I proceeded with the Apple Tart with Hazelnut Cremeux, Caramelized Apples and Cider Granita. Although I was excited with the dish as it had the icy granita which I wanted and needed as it seemed refreshing, I was unfortunately quite disappointed with this dessert. Let's start with what was good: it certainly looked beautiful and vibrant as the colors of each component popped out and the Washington Apples tasted splendid as my waitress mentioned of them being harvested at the peak of the season. Be that as it may, the hazelnut cremeaux was quite heavy; not only in terms of flavor but mainly in consistency of almost that of peanut butter which overwhelmed the dish. What was the main offender was ironically the part that I was the most excited about: the cider granita. Unfortunately, it tasted more like apple vinegar rather than cider to which it soured the dish (sorry for the pun).

Be that as it may, the waitress then came over with a well-crafted, luxurious wooden box filled with Macarons! I understand that not only it came in two flavors but they change periodically. The flavors offered were Hazelnut Coffee and Red Velvet Cake. I only took one of each as the waitress graciously implied I could take more but was getting really full from the meal. They were very well made. The Red Velvet Macaron was delicious although I'm generally not a fan of Red Velvet Cake. The Hazelnut Coffee was not only my favorite of the two. but it definitely made me recover from he Hazelnut Cremeaux of the previous dessert.

I then proceeded with a liquid dessert I usually like to end my meals with of either Cognac or Scotch. With that being said, I went for the Hennessy VSOP Privilege Cognac which was a great way to end the meal.

After receiving the bill, I then began to walk out to which I was then gratefully thanked for my visit by my waitress and then one of the hosts immediately proceeded to grab my coat and helped me put it on without hesitation. I was also given a complementary bar of Chocolate at the end of my meal. Like with the macarons, the flavors of the chocolate bars change periodically. The flavor for my visit was Peanut Butter & Jelly. Within its boxing, it looked very elegantly prepared. When I flew back from Seattle was when I enjoyed it. It was certainly very delicious and had wished that the dessert I had tasted at least as good as the chocolate bar.

My meal at Canlis certainly exceeded expectations, albeit the dessert. With that being said, Canlis is most definitely Seattle's best fine dining establishment. Not only with the interior being extremely classy and elegant as staying true to when the restaurant was initially constructed but also updated to modern definitions of American luxury, but the breathtaking views of Lake Washington and North Seattle make it quite suiting as Seattle's premiere dining destination. Aside from that perspective, the amazing food was brilliantly made with not only the finest local ingredients but was skillfully prepared with such effort to which I was graciously fortunate of being able to dine during Chef Franey's final days. As I was chatting with the waitress in regards to the subject, I found out that it wasn't certain to which direction they would be heading but I hoped that they still would continue in the same way in regards to modernizing their cuisine when they had initially hired Chef Franey. Seattle certainly deserves a fine dining establishment that serves today's modernist cuisine. With that being said, for the price I paid of five courses and four drinks being under $200 before gratuity, Canlis is certainly of the best value while also serving the best food among all of the other of Seattle's fine dining restaurants that serve more simpler food at prices higher beyond reason which is quite shameful for them. In addition to the elegant food served at Canlis, what highly sticks out as I've dined at many fine dining establishments is that the restaurant provides some of the greatest service, if not, the best service I've ever experienced. This includes the restaurants with official Michelin Stars. Without a whiff of pretentiousness, they will politely and gladly address you and cater to your needs with such empathy and concern that will amaze even the most seasoned of diners. Extremely knowledgeable and courteous, the well-trained staff at Canlis will make your dining experience one to remember for the rest of your life. I will certainly return to Canlis in the future as I will certainly count on them to have another memorable moment.

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