You’ve heard of Canlis. Canlis is the fanciest fine dining restaurant in Seattle. But it’s extremely hard for us to take Canlis seriously. In fact, Canlis makes us want to throw our heads back and laugh like people in probiotic yogurt commercials who no longer have to live with digestion issues.
If you’re considering pulling the trigger on the commitment that is a meal here, we’ve broken down exactly what you can expect from a night at Canlis.
STAGE ONE: PARKING
You pull up to the place, after having to drive really slow on 99 in order to find the right driveway. You turn in, and roll underneath the stone awning that makes you question whether this is a restaurant or a country club. You see that there is a parking lot—cool. You start to drive there, but then a man in spiffy attire runs in front of your car and stops you. You realize that you’re at Canlis, and of course there’s valet parking, and you let this fancy gentleman haul away your dent-covered 2001 Toyota Jalopy with empty coffee cups carpeting the floor. “Enjoy your time,” he says in a way that could either be suggestive or sinister.
STAGE TWO: ARRIVAL
Seven heads of Canlis staff whip around at once to see who just walked in the door wearing black Old Navy jeans covered in cat hair. The hostess smiles. “Welcome. Thank you for being here.” She’s definitely a robot. You’re early for your reservation, so she shows you to the lounge, where the pianist is playing Taylor Swift in the style of baroque.
STAGE THREE: SITTING DOWN
The hostess comes over and flashes another Stepford Wives-smile. “It appears as though your guest has arrived. Please, let me show you to your table this evening.” You say something dumb like “Rad, thanks,” and walk up the steps as the hostess presents you to your companion like you’re the new princess of Genovia.
You scan the dining room, which looks like the living room of the Brady Bunch house, if the Bradys were billionaires. One table has six people with wine glasses raised, and someone toasts, “To our business partnership,” another table has four men in sports coats drinking Manhattans and spitting stories about some guy named Mike who is a real hoot, and another has a server standing beside it ironing the white tablecloth with a portable iron. You look around and notice that every server has a portable iron. You’ve never seen so many portable irons.
STAGE FOUR: SERVICE
Everyone here seems to have a script (or they’re electronically programmed that way) and when anything hits the table, you get a soliloquy from the food runner: “What you have here is an ebelskiver, otherwise known as a Danish pancake, filled with a burrata mousse. (gentle chuckle) No utensils required, just pop the entire bite in your mouth. Please enjoy.” Your server walks over to the next table and you hear these same exact words being said. You try not to snort-laugh, but you do tilt your head to the side to see if you can locate this person’s battery pack. At the table next to you, four servers make eye contact and synchronize their arms to place plates down at the exact same time. If this were a movie, you’d be trying to escape at this point.
STAGE FIVE: FOOD
Finally. You’re made it through the excessive niceties and you’re ready to eat your dinner as the gorgeous waterfront view changes color with the sunset. The food is technically perfect. The Canlis salad has the exact amount of dressing that Paul Newman himself would have intended. The lamb is the perfect shade of pink. That ebelskiver definitely would have gotten a resounding “JA!” from anybody actually from Denmark.
But let’s be clear: You don’t just want this food to blow you away - you want it to blow you out of your seat, through the roof 20 feet above you, and right into Lake Union, because you’re spending $210 before tax/booze/menu additions/ tip on this meal for two. While the halibut is the freshest piece of fish you’ve ever put in your mouth, it tastes like textured air. The soufflé is a spectacle when the food runner says, “May I break this open for you to allow the steam to escape?,” but it tastes like a wet eggy cake and not much else. Also, mostly everything is lukewarm. You have to think that it’s intentional, but you’re not sure why.
STAGE SIX: CHECK & EXIT
Before the check is dropped, you are presented with a ceremonial-looking pandora’s box filled with macarons. There lies a little tiny pair of tongs resting on a little tiny pillow, and your server uses these tongs to carefully place two macarons on your plate. You’re able to eat them in one bite, and you’re pretty proud of that accomplishment.
Then, the check is placed on the table. You are about to pay as much as a cross-country plane ticket for this meal, and you don’t feel as good about it as you wanted to. You get up, full of expensive food and slightly disappointed thoughts. As you walk to the door, everyone you pass nods and says, “Thank you so much for being here tonight” like you’re going through a wedding party receiving line.
If you’re a person inclined to throw down for new food experiences, you deserve to do Canlis once. Bring your parents, bring your slampiece, bring your boss. You can choose between the four-course tasting menu for $105 a head, or a nine-course tasting (mandatory for the entire table) for $150 a head. The quality of food is about as high as it gets, there are some real standout dishes, and overall, a meal here is certainly memorable. But just know that not everything you eat will change your life, you’ll probably be served some kind of foam, and you’ll be treated so nicely that it’ll feel almost worse than being treated like a normal person. Is this what celebrity is like? If so, just hope that YouTube video starring you doesn’t go viral.
A pancake ball with mozzarella-tasting fluff inside. We’ll take two dozen, thanks.
This is a recipe passed down from the great-grandmother of the Canlis family. It’s romaine-based and loaded with herbs, cherry tomatoes, cheese, croutons, and bacon with a lemony egg yolk dressing. While extremely simple, this is one of the best salads we’ve ever had.
Great Scott. If we came to Canlis and there was an option to spend your entire $105 toward a bucket of these prawns and nothing else, we would do it. Holy sh*t, these are incredible. Alaskan spot prawns with vermouth, butter, and lime, but the best part here is the texture. These have the melt-in-your-mouth consistency of braised pork, and there are only two ways to explain that: the chef is a brilliant genius, or the chef is Harry Potter.
This comes with charred spring onion, a buttermilk sauce, and nettle oil. The sausage has an Italian kind of flavor but it’s nothing to write home about. Also, it is room temperature.
A thick slice of green cabbage fermented and grilled over coals, with a tasty sauce. You should order this, but really only because you have to choose between this and the rabbit sausage.
An expertly-cooked piece of lamb with two dollops of a Mediterranean-spiced cauliflower puree, a few cooked pearl onions, and mint. A great choice if you just want something protein-heavy, as you really don’t get enough cauliflower puree.
This is perfectly-cooked halibut, but the strawberry really doesn’t belong, everything is covered in food foam, and the fish tastes like air. Was it good? Yes. Would we rather have something pan-seared with a huge plop of mashed potatoes? Hell yes.
These are an optional addition to the menu for $10, and while we never expected Canlis to screw up frites, they’re way too salty. Don’t do it.
This is a scienfitically precise souffle with orange, crème anglaise on the side to pour on top, and little baby madelines on the side. Good, but we kind of wished we got to eat 60 mini madeleines in a bowl cereal-style with a spoon. Skip it.
Looks like an art exhibit, tastes awesome. Two little rectangles of Japanese white cake, buckwheat crust, rhubarb jelly, and cheesecake filling. We would do beer bongs with that cheesecake filling.
When an item is presented to you in a ceremonial box, it has a lot to live up to. Luckily, these macarons are excellent, and free.