Saturday, August 1, 2015

Canlis (2nd Visit) - The Works of a New Chef and its Unique Situation

After Chef Jason Franey's departure, it certainly made a void at the helms of the Canlis kitchen. However with the recent addition of the newly made Chef de Cuisine at Canlis, Brady Williams, it would seem that Canlis has decided to go towards more of a route utilizing molecular gastronomy. Even with that being said, Canlis has a unique dilemma for a fine dining restaurant: it seems that it wants to attract people from out of town who are really passionate of food (i.e. "foodies") while also  not wanting to alienate their clientele who have more simpler palates or tastes. I will later dwell on that near the end of the blog post.

When we had arrived, the entire restaurant was packed. Although we were a bit early, I had encountered a mishap where I had left my ID and we had to go back to the place we were staying at then quickly returning. What's going to a high-end restaurant serving great food and ambiance without having accompanying drinks that'll also get you a bit lit throughout the experience? When we had arrived again, our table was ready for us. Right when we sat down, we were a table away from being right next to the window. Luckily, the table next to us with the spectacular opened up. However after asking one of the bussers, we had to have approval of the Maître d' before moving. Fortunately my friend and I received approval from him and a grumpier pair that came later took our previous table. No doubt, the view and interior of Canlis is spectacular as it certainly carried vibes of swank and class; a modern take of a 50's dining club.

The Maître d' warmly welcomed us informing of my message I had sent prior to inform my friend's lactose-intolerance and my birthday to which they were more than happy to oblige. Afterwards, we were greeted by one of our main waiters for the night who was a fun, pleasant, easy-going waitress who was also able to attain her formality when chatting casually with us, while she took my drink order. I ordered my usual when it comes to dining at fine establishments like Canlis: a Sapphire Martini with a lemon twist with very little to no dry vermouth; a great way to cleanse the palate. 

After deciding what we'd want to order, the other main waiter came by and took it while taking great detail and enthusiasm of not only just going over each dish but to accommodate and being upfront about our orders, such me wanting to order another dish but was willing to share his concern about not wanting me to order too much to which I'm grateful for. He clearly was the star of the front of the house. FYI, if you go for the Four Course option, instead of two appetizers, one main, and a dessert; you could also go for one appetizer, two mains, and a dessert. This is great for those of you who want to have one main while also wanting to try their famous duck for two for which we did. One of the things I admire about Canlis is them being very easy going and not stickers for generally sticking to the menu (although I'd imagine if one does the tasting menu, the rest has to) while being very reasonable towards the customer of only charging the cheapest item out of the entire menu ordered if you want to order another dish, although the dessert seems to be the exception as they would charge the cheapest thing other than the dessert.

Throughout the meal, the main waitress was very fun to talk to as she would tell us which bars to go in Seattle and how fun they were while taking her very important time to quickly write a list of where we should go for the rest of our trip. Whereas, the other main waiter was very sharp and attentive while going over the dishes and then asking about it with such detail and enthusiasm. It was amazing hearing his input as he was someone with a great amount of experience and insight which adds more to him being the front runner of their service team. The more and more my friend and I were able to talk to them, their already top of the line service got better and better since we're building a rapport and enjoyed each others' company rather than them with some of the other, more grumpier and snootier customers that were primarily going to Canlis solely for it being the fanciest place in town without caring much from the food; not "foodies" at all. I bring up the snooty and utterly demanding clientele as I think the servers, other than the two aces I've mentioned, who brought out the bread and dishes had uninterested deadpan faces without giving much eye contact, if any at all. Although it was disappointing for those other servers to not give anywhere near the same level of enthusiasm as our main waiters, I can't help but feel sympathy for them as they seemed emotionally worn out for dealing with those types of customers. Hell, I'd be the same way if I were serving a bunch of demanding and harsh people who weren't appreciative about being in a high-end restaurant and not wanting to enjoy and be interested in the food. I will dwell more on that later.

Our Amuse Bouches came before us while providing a different to my friend set due to his dietary restriction. Although I don't remember exactly what my amuse bouches were (top), I remember the first two being very delicious and the last chip with the salmon roe & crème fraîche was alright, albeit refreshing.

The bread for this visit was a small baguette with accompanying salted butter. It was certainly very moist and also greatly appreciated to quell our initial hunger. Like with their bread, I hear it's freshly baked for each customer. Although some might say otherwise, I'm really glad that Canlis doesn't give you too much bread to stuff yourself with and would much rather serve you one extremely delicious, high-quality piece as if it were a course itself. I've been to some of the other high-end, more French-focused places who place a lot of emphasis on the bread served throughout the meal: Canlis serves better bread than most of those places I've been to.

My first course was the Foie Gras Torchon w/ Summer Berries, Chamomile Gelée, Nettles, and Amaranth coating the foie gras. The Foie Gras Torchon itself was very rich and heavy that's full of foie gras flavor. Unlike the previous visit at Canlis although they've provided an accompanying piece of cinnamon bread, I'm glad that they've provided a good amount of torchon with refreshing, sweet berries to counter the richness of the foie gras instead of proving too much while having little of the component meant to go against its richness. Along with the Chamomile Geleé, the nettle sauce and the Amaranth coating, the Summer Berries (Blueberry, Blackberry, Strawberry, and Currant) were some of the sweetest, freshest, best tasting berries I've ever had that it was too a pleasure to eat the remaining ones when I've already devoured the foie gras. I'd say, the strawberry was the highlight our of all the berries I was fixated on.

My friend had the Peter Canlis Prawns w/ Dry Vermouth, Garlic, and lime, sans butter (lactose-intolerant). I too was anticipating to try this classic. Even though they've got rid of at least most of the butter, they still tasted pretty damn good! The prawns themselves were plump and succulent and the sauce was still richly flavored with shellfish stock and loaded with umami that it was still beyond passable without the butter. If you had to choose one if you wanted to try one of Canlis' classics, I would highly recommend the Peter Canlis Prawns.

I usually have bad experiences with modern age cocktails/mixology to which I really want to get into. It's most likely due to the fact that I'm a straight up spirit drinker of Scotches and Cognacs which is why I prefer more classic, high-spirited, less sweet cocktails such as Martinis and Manhattans. However, this "Into the Birds Averno" is hands down my most favorite modern cocktail I've tasted. This is what I had in mind hoping when wanting to try mixology cocktains. Although flavored with bourbon and other Italian herbal liquours, the more pronounced flavor of mint came from the Strega herbal liquor component. Surprising to its looks and although it has those rich flavors, it actually is much lighter and somewhat refreshing due to the Strega. Out of all the cocktails on the cocktail list at Canlis, I would recommend trying this one first.

 Next, our fish main courses are up. Like my last visit at Canlis, they seem to do fish very well; and they should being in Seattle. My dish was the King Salmon in Broth w/ Peas, Fava Beans, Lemon Balm, and Mint. This dis incorporates some of the newer methods of cooking such as the Salmon being Sous Vide due to the moistness and softness of texture (and the lack of grill marks and a harder exterior), and molecular gastronomy by relying on the properties of oils and lipids not mixing with the broth. The Salmon is so moist and concentrated with flavor from the vacuum pack of the sous vide. Although some would argue by grilling it or pan searing it, you would bring out more of the flavors of the fish while the carmelization from the sear/grill marks adds another dimension to the dish. Be that as it may, this preparation is quite satisfying to those who love sushi or more rawer preparations of fish and meat. Without the caramelization or the burnt carbons as put in by other preparations, the lack of it allows the soft and delicate salmon to cooperate well with the other lighter components such as the mint and lemon balm to which those components also bring out more of the salmon.

My friend opted for the Halibut that's sauteed/pan fried w/ Summer Squash, Buckwheat, and Manila Clams. Although the caramelization and char brings out some of the flavors from both the fish and the vegetables partucularly, my friend and I believed that although the crust was meant to provide a crisp, crunchier texture to the dish, we've felt that it was overcooked where the flavor from the burnt carbons overwhelmed the delicacy of the dish.

Before our main dish came out that the both of us were excited for, albeit very fitting as a date dish to which we had to both put our egos aside, I went for a glass of Margot Pinot Noir from Colene Clemens in the Willamette Valley, 2011 to go along with the upcoming duck dish as unlike some of the earthier cabernet sauvignons, the pinot noir has a much more resilient berry component and associated acidity while having a tone of earthiness that would pair well with duck rather than red meat such as beef. The sommelier was very friendly and excited to give his concise notes of the pinot noir I was having as he had me smell and taste the wine for approving. Of course, it was very delicious and was how I'd just described it to be. Giving a warm and devoted smile with appropriate eye contact that's inviting and completely the opposite of a glare, he finished pouring the rest. 

FYI to those that don't know unless if the wine is really bad even though I really enjoyed the wine provided and felt that it was well compatible with the upcoming duck, it's generally polite to still accept the wine even though it might not completely suit your taste as he or she already opened the bottle.

Finally! I get to try the famous 28-day dry-aged Muscovy Duck. Granted, most dishes meant for two are generally date dishes. However, my friend and I are pretty secure with ourselves to not let that get to us. On to the dish: a 28-day dry-aged duck breast that's roasted whole w/ Radish, Cherry Gastrique, and Spring Onions. The duck itself was seasoned to the right point with the right amount of salt on the skin. Eaten together with the radishes and the different types of spring onions along with rubbing the duck with some of the cherry gastrique, all the components blended well. The earthy acidity and sweetness from the cherry gastrique complemented the rich fatty flavors of the well seasoned duck and the zing from the spring onions provided a refreshing contrast to the heaviness of the duck which also invigorates the tastebuds to amplify the tongue's ability to taste all the components further. My only issue with the duck is that I felt it's been either cooked too long or left out for quite awhile as it wasn't as moist as duck can be (think of Chinese roasted duck that you'd find in dim sum restaurants or Peking duck as well). Otherwise it's a solid dish that I highly recommend trying when you're dining at Canlis as most likely, you'll get a more fresher, moist piece as we ordered ours later in the night.

With still some room left in the stomach, I ordered an additional dish for myself which is the Artichoke w/ Dungeness Crab, Potato, Buttermilk, and Nasturtium which are those dark green leaves that look like lillypads. This dish was amazing as it was loaded with the Dungeness Crab (Canlis certainly doesn't skimp on the high quality ingredients). The artichokes tasted really fresh which gave the crab some earthy flavors. The nasturtium brought some additional fresh flavors to the dish while the lemon juice mixed in brought out and uplifted the flavors of the artichoke and the dungeness crab especially, whereas the potatoes served as a bite to accompany texture in the dish while absorbing some of the lemon juice in order to not let it become too acidic on the palate. As the waiter inquired about how I enjoyed the dish, we've both agreed that there should be a name change to the dish as there's significantly a whole lot of crab in each bite. Although I can understand the chef wanting to use artichoke as its name as you can see it more visually than the crab along with it being a huge component in the flavors of the dish; from a marketing prospective, it would seem to be better to change the name of the dish to Dungeness Crab in order to entice more customers to order the dish, and like I said before, I've taste more of the crab compared to the other elements of the dish. If it's still on the menu, I'd definitely recommend someone in your party to order it, especially if you or someone else wants to try the bounties of the Pacific Northwest.

After devouring the duck, this is the part where I usually indulge in a liquid dessert like a Single Malt Scotch or a Cognac. I forgot to take the photo but me being partial to the scotches of Islay with their intense peatiness that incorporates medicinal and smoky flavors, I went with a Laphroaig 18. The peatiness was certainly more than the 10 year that I usually drink. Even with that being said, the flavors were more restrained while the amplitude of the peaty flavors were more than the 10 year. I certainly enjoyed this Scotch as it was served in one of those snifter-like tasting glasses. If you haven't tried Laphroaig, you have to try the 10 year ASAP, especially if you're a Scotch lover like I am.

Although looking at the dessert menu I was more interested in the "Buckwheat" dessert with Strawberries and Devonshire Cream which all sounds delicious by the way, I went for the original Canlis Soufflé as not only was it on my to-eat list and me not going to be back for a while as I'm out of state, it's mainly because I was disappointed with the dessert I had during my previous visit as I don't want to experience that same mishap again which is why I want to go for their classical dessert. After the waitress poked a hole on the top of the soufflé, she poured the Crème Anglaise into it and left the rest of the glass on the side. Although the menu says that it takes 30 minutes to prepare the dessert, our waitress says realistically it's more like 15 minutes and she was right. After blowing out the candle, the candle holder was an apricot gummy that was certainly delicious. On to the actual dessert itself: it was certainly eggy in both flavor and texture as the texture was mixed with being fluffy and runny at the same time (also due to the crème anglais mixing in with the soufflé). The Grand Marnier liquor gave the dessert citrus notes without being too aggressively citrusy. And, the sweet creaminess of the crème anglais not only provided a sugar rush on the palate, but the creaminess melded the citrus and egg flavors well together. It's definitely a solid dessert where you cannot go wrong ordering it, especially if it's your first time at Canlis. At least someone in your party should order it and they'll certainly be happy, unless if you have the same dietary restriction as my lactose-intolerant friend.

At the end of our meal, the most embarrassing thing happened to me that one could possibly face at a fancy establishment where your reputation can be tarnished: my debit card was declined! As everyone at the last few tables left, our star waiter politely gave me privacy and patience for me to take care of this matter. Although it took around 30 minutes, the issue was that I didn't let my bank know about my travel plans as I had thought it was only for international travel, even though I didn't let my bank know before that I was out of state and was fine (this actually was during the first time I went to Canlis actually). Once it finally went through after finishing talking to the bank at 12:30 am, I was immediately relieved and the waiter was certainly glad that the situation resolved, not solely because I was able to pay for the meal but he was certainly empathetic towards my situation as he didn't show any issue and was more than willing to wait. I share that particular situation on this post to demonstrate the high aptitude of the service team at Canlis as they're really thoughtful and attentive to your needs; just downright good people.

The waiter left our complementary chocolate bars and macarons which their flavors change throughout the year during the frustrating call I had with the bank. Not exactly sure what the pinkish orange macarons were but I think they're Apricot but the other brown ones were Hazelnut Coffee. The flavor of the chocolate bar was Mint Chocolate Chip. After I took care of the mishap of the bill, I finally ate the macarons guilt free while saving the bar for friends and family to enjoy back home in California like with my last trip. Canlis has certainly nailed it providing macarons as a great way to end the meal. Not only being in Seattle, it would seem wasteful to not take advantage of the coffees they have at Canlis. I went for the Flying Boat Irish Coffee. Certainly it was very delicious with the warm coffee spiked with Irish Whiskey whereas the dollop of cool heavy cream on top gave it a refreshing, invigorating contrast.

My meal at Canlis was very wonderful, especially as I was able to bring a friend from out of town to experience it. The food is certainly solid as I don't doubt most people with a sense of taste will certainly enjoy it as Seattle's best high end restaurant. With that being said, this leads me wanting to share my thoughts of Canlis' current situation, or even a dilemma. 

With Seattle booming even more as their tech sector's still growing, there will be an influx of wealthy or well off people in the city creating even more of a demand for high end dining. However, there is a good chunk of people who simply go to Canlis just because it's the nicest place in Seattle with a spectacular view while not caring a whole lot for the food itself which is sad as that's what one should go to a restaurant primarily for. Basically, these people have no taste or haven't developed a sense of what's good and only see food as a source of nutrients, not for taste which translates into pleasure. Throughout the Lyft ride I took to Canlis, the driver told me some of the customers' opinions of how they say Canlis is overrated and only good for the view which saddens me to hear, especially as I'm not part of the staff at all. If you look on Instagram with #Canlis, most of those photos are people taking pictures of themselves or selfies; shouldn't they be filled with food? That tells to me as I said earlier that a good chunk of people only want a nice place to be at between the hours of 6-10 pm without caring about what they put in their mouths. In addition, they'd probably would add more to the trash talk.

When tasting the food, I could certainly taste or even feel the restraint in the cooking, and not the good kind to not let aggressive flavors go out of control. I understand that Canlis is a restaurant with a long standing tradition and history that doesn't want to alienate its loyal patrons with simpler tastes (just to be clear, I'm not trying to give those types of people a hard time as I'm definitely capable of knowing how simple foods are deceptive in the following sense as there certainly is a complexity involved such as a good steak or well prepared sushi) since it started out as a steakhouse serving what you'd expect since the 1950s. However, I personally feel that the restraint is implemented due to the fact that they know that a lot of people with unrefined tastes and aren't adventurous in that regard will dine over and do not want to shock them with avant-garde cuisine as that's the direction Canlis is taking since hiring on Chef Jason Franey. Also in regards to the restraint and on the other end of the spectrum, there are those that are certainly snobs, or at least act snobbish but don't really have any taste, that would try to find fault in everything that's in front of them while barking hideously at the servers which would ultimately degrade the quality of service since the front of the house staff would be worn out when moving to a new set of customers. With that being said, it's not just Canlis, but any restaurant won't ever be able to really please these types of people; that's what the overpriced steakhouses are for. Most likely, these people won't return anytime soon, or at most they'll probably come by once every few years for a really, really special occasion.

Moving on to my point: regardless of what previously was said, Canlis, with its stellar and unmatched service that dwarfs even some of the restaurants with Michelin stars, and having a Chef de Cuisine who trained at a two Michelin Starred restaurant in Brooklyn who is also gifted in molecular gastronomy; certainly it is clear that Canlis has the potential to truly become one of the best, most innovative restaurants in the nation. For starters, they certainly need to get rid of the current tasting menu involving modern approaches of their classics if they haven't so already. As the tasting menu usually involves solely on the creations of the Chef de Cuisine, the prospective tasting menu should be with Chef Brady Williams having complete control, or at least the majority of it, of what's going to be on it highlighting his cooking technique. Also Canlis being a restaurant in Seattle, the tasting menu should mainly utilize the local ingredients while only importing a few specialty ingredients in order to make it the best and most unique restaurant in Seattle. In order to still retain the loyal followers who've been dining at the restaurant before the days of Chef Franey, they should have a separate menu having only the classics, or if that seems much, keep doing what they've been doing by adding the classical dishes to the menu but have an asterisk next to them noting them as such. However, as someone who generally prefers a la carte for most meals, not just the tasting menu but Canlis really needs to let Chef Williams loose to crank up the innovation so that most items on the menu can be both mind-blowingly delicious and innovative at the same time of which the diner won't have expected to taste anything like it before while being pleasantly surprised and satisfied as well. One of the things that usually gets people coming back to these high end places in particular is its quality of only offering food that really can't be served elsewhere along with being mesmerizingly delicious that they'll want to go back with a deep yet unexplainable yearning. Restaurants that are successful in that regard, such as the now defunct "El Bulli", want their customers to not stop raving over the dishes had over the following days; even and especially for the most seasoned diners as well. I personally think it's imperative for a restaurant to develop a menu without much compromise (well in this case, still have items for the other patrons). If you even look at some of the other restaurants in Seattle such as "Sitka & Spruce" and "The Walrus & the Carpenter", albeit not high-end, the customers keep coming back, even if they're from different parts of the world. Not only are reservations filled, but even "The Walrus & the Carpenter" with their no reservation policy always have lines of people waiting for an hour plus, even on a Tuesday. Not only do those restaurants use high quality, local ingredients, their main attribute is their innovation: making unique dishes utilizing local ingredients and using unique cooking techniques that makes food from their restaurants hard to emulate. 

With all of that being said, I implore of Canlis to let the creativity of their cuisine go with guns blazing. I hope to return to Canlis in the near future and as they usually say: "The third time's always the charm."


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