The Canlis Experience

As I veered off Aurora into the driveway at Canlis, Seattle’s most venerable eating establishment and one of the very few places in this town where jeans are not acceptable, my 1984 Saab loaner’s engine made a serious fallingapart noise. It wasn’t until I’d wrestled the car up to the door that I realized that valet parking is not optional at Canlis, but de rigueur, and that I was about to give the impeccably mannered valet a car whose engine sounds like a prop plane and whose front seat was at the time occupied by one extremely wet, muddy, and slightly smelly dog. To his credit, he brushed aside my excuses as easily as I brushed the heating vent right out of the droopy dashboard and onto the floor of the car with my purse, and off they went, the valet and the broken heating vent and my dog.

Canlis has been operating for more than 50 years, and it shows. In a good way. The bar and main dining room ooze Eating Institution, in the same way I imagine Manhattan dining rooms like Le Bernardin and Peter Luger do. I had a fabulous glass of pinot noir (how passé of me). From the small bites menu, we passed around the semolina-crusted calamari (fried spot-on and well seasoned), a mango, prawn, and avocado salad (perfect portion, bright flavors), some tenderloin kebabs with a sticky, unctuous teriyaki sauce, and a poke that was fresh and tender enough to remind me that I have to return to Hawaii, soon.

But this isn’t about the food. I was eating with an employee, so of course the food was perfect, and I expected nothing short of utter deliciousness. It’s about the service. Eloise would have been quite impressed.

As we said our good-byes, the hostess magically appeared with my coat . . . okay, it was a fleece (you can take a girl out of Idaho . . .), but anyway, sure enough, the jalopy came coughing around the corner and into the driveway the second I looked at the exit door. The car was warm, which in this case means they must have anticipated my departure by at least five minutes, and the door was open so I didn’t have to spend more than a millisecond traveling from the door to my seat. I think they even dried the dog off.

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