Canlis: A Seattle Food and Wine Oasis
Canlis is so much more than a place to eat and drink well in Seattle. A combination of the scintillating year-old menu rejuvenation driven by ex-Eleven Madison Park Chef Jason Franey and the Canlis family’s sustained approach to warmth and hospitality leaves diners with nothing less than a spa-like afterglow on each visit. Last year I shared some thoughts on Canlis’ renewal and a few evenings ago, I witnessed the venerable institution hitting its stride and kicking the whole experience up one more notch.
Reserving visits to Canlis solely for special occasions, as so many locals do, is an oversight. This recent trip gave me a chance to finally share Canlis with my wife on a beautiful Seattle summer evening before our following morning’s journey to the dreamy and isolated town of Torino, BC on Vancouver Island’s west coast. On a personal note, I pinged Jason Franey in advance to make sure he was in the house to once again offer our deep appreciation to him for helping make our son’s stage at Eleven Madison Park a valuable and bearable introduction to the hard work happening in the best restaurant kitchens around the world. Jason is a poised young chef who used an inner resourcefulness to repeatedly rise to the occasion as a most competent second in command under Chef Daniel Humm, this year’s James Beard Top New York Chef winner. While we planned on eating light this evening and drinking only one special bottle of Northwest wine, Jason regaled us with an innumerable flow of dishes, each one more compelling than the next. Here is an incomplete but impressive pictorial summary of our extended and energetic evening menu:
These creations progressively covered our table for two before our chosen duck, truffled fries, and forest mushroom requests showed up. The last image of the foie gras dish, served with an ethereal brioche, was the show stopper. On a post dinner walk with Jason Franey through his urban herb and vegetable garden located at the edge of the entry driveway, where valet parkers escort your vehicle away on arrival without providing a claim ticket and then discreetly and diligently scour the dining room keeping tabs on your progress to have car awaiting your exit without further prompting, he explained the foie gras was nostalgically “black and white” cookie inspired. A mold is deployed to combine a light white cheese concoction (can not recall the type of cheese, so ask when you go) alongside the creamy foie gras preparation. A mouthful of the two combined, lathered on a hunk of brioche, provides a rush that overshadows any guilt surrounding the artery clogging moment. Do not go to Canlis without trying this dish.
Finally, the wine. I refused to allow the epicurean food induced trance, non-intrusive and welcomed table visits and chats with Brian Canlis and his genuinely content senior dining room staff, the emergent grace from the nearby table featuring his parents discreetly hosting six good looking new staff members to a welcome dinner, a glowing Lake Union, distant regal mountain ranges, and touches of calming Asian decor distract my purposeful hunt for a new and great Washington State Syrah.
This time the really capable cellar team guided me to a Syrah that included touches of Marsanne called 2007 Reynvann Syrah The Contender. They had sold their last bottle of the winery’s In The Rocks which is supposedly more accessible right now, but The Contender showcased more than enough pleasure at this sitting. The wine was packed with power, yet it never danced on the borderline of being an overblown fruit bomb or too heavily extracted. The wine had mass and weight, but remained graceful in its power. And, all that power released a parade of flavor components that became accessible in their own time during the several hour meal. The dominant characteristic that lived with the wine from beginning to end was cooked bacon. The fatty burnt pork aromas were powerful yet harmonious, bringing memories of great Cote Rotie. Also, the rich and chewy black plum fruit was accompanied by an elegant floral perfume, altogether in pin point balance. I actually flashed to the analogous vision of a Sumo wrestler performing perfect tip-toed ballet. This 2007 vintage is Reynvaan’s first, and I have added myself to their mailing list which you can do here as well. If you visit the site, you will note the following description of their vision, vineyard, and resulting wine:
Reynvaan Family Vineyards is a small family owned winery started by Mike and Gale Reynvaan in May 2004 in Walla Walla, Washington. We initially purchased a 37 acre parcel of land on Cottonwood Road at the base of the Blue Mountains. Reynvaan Family Vineyards is dedicated to creating fine wines exclusively from the terroir of Walla Walla Valley.
We have two vineyards planted that represent each end of the terroir spectrum. Our first vineyard has 16 acres under vine that we call “In the Rocks,” to demonstrate where and how they were planted. It was first planted in 2005 with the goal to create wines that would clearly express that vineyard’s unique terroir and minerality. We began planting small 5 acre blocks each year to better understand the terrior and choose the best vines for particular locations. Our first vintage, 2007, comes from that first 5 acres of vines, creating three wines: a Rhone white varietal blend, “Queens Road White”, a Syrah co-fermented with Viognier called “In the Rocks”; and a second Syrah co-fermented with Marsanne called “The Contender.” The vineyard now includes two red varietals: Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon; plus three white varietals: Viognier, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc….The winemaking philosophy is quite simple at Reynvaan Family Vineyards, harvest perfectly ripe clusters that reflect their distinct terroir, guide the wines through a natural upbringing and bottle them only when we feel the true characteristics of the wine have been revealed.
A magical evening awaits anyone at Canlis. It is a place to celebrate a 25th wedding anniversary, but it is also a place to celebrate life on any given day. A Zen infused performance in food and hospitality is played out on this cliff six nights a week. Enjoy, and remember to smile when you are there….everyone else is.