One of my favorite things to do with Tyler is go out for a good dinner, preferably somewhere with a tasting menu and paired wines, so we can sit back, relax, and let ourselves be surprised by the chef.
This year for our anniversary we decided to try Canlis. Perched on the edge of Queen Anne and the Aurora Bridge and overlooking Lake Union, it's an institution. All I really knew about it was that it was a family run place, fancy and a bit expensive.
Arriving is like entering a sanctum--Tyler thought the dining room looked a bit like it could be a Bond villain's lair, but in the best possible way. Greeted by an actual Canlis family member (one of the grandsons of the founder), we were shepherded to our table. One thing I liked immediately was that they had tables along the edges of the room oriented so that couples sit next to each other rather than across from each other.
We already knew we were leaning towards the tasting menu, where you get five courses that are pre-set by the chef. I have to admit, when I first saw the menu, I felt slightly underwhelmed--caprese salad? Proscuitto and melon? Classics, of course, and appropriate for the season, but I thought it sounded slightly pedestrian.
Fortunately, I was proven wrong in that initial assumption over the course of the evening!
First, an amuse bouche, or little bite to wake up our appetite--a small cup of tomato pepper gazpacho with a bite-sized "grilled cheese" with house-made mozzarella, basil and a tiny sliver of tomato.
The gazpacho was rich and smooth, with a great punch of pepper flavor without being overwhelming. Sometimes I think gazpacho can be a little water-y, but this was rich and flavorful. And the presentation, with tiny, perfect drops of oil dotting the surface of the soup. I was intrigued.
Next came the caprese salad, a beautiful array of various tomato types, more of the house-made mozzarella and more. Unfortunately, I didn't pay enough attention to the waiter to really hear everything that was on the plate. There was an avocado mousse, which also tasted a little smokey, an aspic-like gelatin on the plate with basil seeds, and some green, popping things, that tasted a little fish-y and a little mustard-y. Maybe some kind of caviar with wasabi?
We had decided to also do the paired wines with our meal, and they had two options for that: the pairings listed on the menu or, for more, the "sommelier's pairing, with different pairings that the sommelier would come out and describe. We decided to do one of each, and Tyler was gallant enough to offer me the sommelier option.
The wines were delicious, but the best part about doing both was to see how the pairings differed. For the caprese, I got a sparkling rose, with a nice toast-y flavor that I thought complemented the tomatoes and cheese while Tyler had a Walla Walla rose which was very darkly colored and dry, but fruitier.
Next was the proscuitto and melon, which also included some dried/fried prosciutto (as Tyler described, like the thinnest piece of bacon ever), fennel fronds, fresh fig and pickled fennel and figs. Tyler got a Vouvray, while I got a dry Riesling. At first I thought I got the better wine of the two--I tend to like drier wines anyway--but I ended up feeling that the Vouvray went perfectly with bites that had the pickled flavors whereas the Riesling brought out the earthier, herbaceous flavors of the fennel and prosciutto when paired with the fresh melon. Mmmm.
Now onto the meats, and maybe my favorite course--basically chicken and truffles. Chicken breast with truffle under the skin, a perfectly seared morsel of chicken thigh, some chicken truffle sausages and an amazing truffle sauce. Earthy, rich goodness. For this course, we both got Pinot Noirs--one was earthy like the dish, the other more acidic as a counterbalance. I can never get enough of the earthiness, so I co-opted Tyler's for my own to bask in that flavor profile.
Then lamb. A slender tenderloin with ras el hanout, a North African spice blend, a baba ghanouj-stuffed squash blossom (I'm always a sucker for a squash blossom), some greek yogurt, and small bites of zucchini and a sun-dried tomato. Tyler got a nice Bordeaux-blend pairing, while I had Tempranillo. Again, both tasty, though I loved the lightness of the Tempranillo against the richness of the lamb.
Just as we were getting full and up to our eyes in richness and red wine, it was time for the palate cleanser. In this case, homemade ginger beer with flowers and cherries. These cherries were amazing--skinless and soaked or injected in the ginger beer so they burst in your mouth. (I think the waiter described them as grown-up "gushers".) Just the thing to wake us up from the rich food stupor, and heaven for Tyler who loves ginger.
Then dessert, a pannacotta that was strawberry shortcake-inspired, with shortbread at the base, strawberry gelato and other sweet goodness. (Yes, it's not your imagination, my memory blurs a bit as the evening wore one.) And, being Canlis, they noted why we were celebrating. This came with a dessert wine from Washington grown from very old vines (maybe 1917?) and a sparkling wine. Again, they were paired well for each of us, with me loving the sweet on sweet while Tyler liked the lighter acidity to match his dessert.
To stretch the evening just a bit further, we sipped some decaf americanos, where Tyler got his choice of four sugars to add to his coffee: raw sugar, regular sugar, splenda and vanilla sugar.
Then the evening was done. Along with our check came two treats for each of us: a Fran's salted caramel and another bite of deliciousness--and I failed to photograph them before popping them into my mouth.
So--my overall impression? Wow. The food was interesting, suprising and well-executed. The service unwaveringly good. Great view. Nice dining room. Excellent wines. We didn't know this before we arrived, but they're known for their valet service, which was impressive. You drive up and get out. When you leave, your car is ready for you. No tickets. No waiting. No asking for your car. Tricky!
If I were to split hairs, there were two things that was a little disappointing. We had one sommelier bring out our wine for the first two courses, but then another sommelier came out for the other courses. Normally, that wouldn't be a big deal, but after the first course, I thought we should take advantage of having a knowledgable wine steward tableside, so we had a nice conversation about the pairings and he left saying, "I'll be interested to hear what you think about this one" but then we never saw him again. And later in the evening we're pretty sure the new sommelier started serving Tyler the sommelier pairing instead of me, which was probably just a small oversight, but felt a tidge sexist.
All that said, it was an amazing meal and an amazing experience. Pricey, but worth it. I would definitely add it to my top five dining experiences and hope to go back for another celebration.
I remember when these rings felt new and strange; now we feel naked without them. Looking forward to another picture like this when our hands are old and wrinkled!
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