Canlis is often mentioned as the classiest restaurant in Seattle. It's the place that forces me to find a sport jacket to wear, act on my best behavior, and consider the condition of my car (embarrassing!) ahead of valet service.
The restaurant consistently gets all kinds of accolades. This year, in fact, chef Jason Franey was a Beard nominee for Best Chef: Northwest. But here's a lesser-known fact: Canlis' Baruch Ellsworth was just a nominee for Food & Wine magazine's Best Pastry Chef award. So desserts here are as fantastic as the rest of the food.
A special someone's birthday was cause for a recent visit to Canlis. For dessert, we started with the Mille-Feuille ($12, above). The description read "milk chocolate, bananas, caramel and peanut butter," so the elements were compelling and comforting. Each bite offers different flavor combinations, sometimes reminiscent of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, sometimes Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream, and sometimes something like Elvis' favorite sandwich. The plate includes a banana macaron and banana-caramel ice cream, and feuilletine contributes a Cornflake-like texture. While not a mille-feuille in the traditional sense, this dessert uses modern flavors to its benefit.
Next up was Rhubarb Sorbet ($8), an appropriate "intermezzo" between richer desserts. The menu almost undersells the dessert in its simplicity, reading "bergamot and grapefruit," but the presentation is picturesque and shows off its complexity. The sorbet sings of spring, simple and yet punchy with its tartness. I'm told it's just rhubarb and sugar, with a little water and some seasoning. Despite a lack of dairy, the sorbet is delightfully creamy in body. Along with the sorbet, sous vide-poached rhubarb pieces are on the plate. The bergamot makes its appearance in the meringue, giving a somewhat bitter, citric note to these crunchy clouds. Liquid gels of Campari accentuate the bergamot's bitterness, while fresh grapefruit adds juicy citrus.
Finally, the Canlis Soufflé ($14). The tell-tale "C" for "Canlis" is missing in center of our soufflé as there was a candle there, but typically, after allowing for admiration of the soufflé, the server pours crème Anglaise over the letter. The soufflé itself is light and fluffy, eager to soak up the sauce, and contains orange zest and some Grand Marnier. Well-worth the half-hour wait, the soufflé has a cloud-like texture and is flavored with orange.
Canlis just announced a change in menu, switching to a prix fixe format. But here's another lesser-known fact about Canlis: You don't have to go for a formal dinner. In fact, it can be more fun to simply stop by for drinks in the lounge. You can order off the lounge menu which includes any of the desserts on offer.
About the author: Jay Friedman is a Seattle-based freelance food writer who happens to travel extensively as a sex educator. An avid fan of noodles (some call him "The Mein Man"), he sees sensuality in all foods, and blogs about it at his Gastrolust website. You can follow him on Twitter @jayfriedman.