First Call: On the Sauce at Canlis

The Watering Hole: The Lounge at Canlis. 2576 Aurora Ave., N. 206.283.3313.

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Buttery goodness.
The Atmosphere: As one of Seattle's, not to mention the country's, most renowned restaurants, Canlis inspires visions of bow-ties, high heels and haute food. But the Lounge at Canlis, while still a fashionable foray (no zippy hiking pants, mandals, or North Face parkas, please), allows diners looking for a more casual experience to sample the food - and view - that has made Canlis a local staple since 1950. And this casual sampling is what brought about one of more interesting shots ever ingested. After a comment that the sauce blessing the Peter Canlis Prawns was so good one could drink it, the last thing our table expected was to be presented with a beautiful cup of this lovely sauce of butter, vermouth, garlic, red chilies and lime. I believe it was for meant for dipping bread in, but alas, some of us just don't have minds that work that way. When something is that good, it has got to be loved, appreciated and respected. So, I drank it.

Let's be clear here: Taking a shot of butter sauce does not a true First Call make. Therefore, it was only fair to embrace the bad manners brought on by the sauce (ahem) and give the actual bar at Canlis a chance to respond to this magic sauce from its kitchen.

The Bartender: James MacWilliams is a Seattle native who has sharpened his impressive skills in favored spots across the city, from Salty's on Alki to Jimmy's on 1st. James likes his whiskey but when he gets home at night he drinks an ice-cold Pacifico. He's tasted a Russian liquor made of fermented deer blood and if you think that is strange, he may ask you to consider the fact that Baily's is basically made of fermented milk. When James wanted to make a drink to complement Canlis' lamb and steak, he knew a Manhattan was the perfect pairing. But not with any old ingredients; James makes his with a startlingly sweet, nutty house-made green walnut wine. James is also inspired by mythology. Which brings us to...

The Drink: Keeping in mind that the original, unintended, "drink" was a warm butter sauce meant to accompany a famous prawn dish, James masterminded its perfect companion: The Kraken. Made of Aperol, Plymouth gin, Americano Cocchi, freshy-squeezed grapefruit juice, and a tincture of Madagascar Vanilla and 100 proof Rittenhouse Rye, the prawn-colored Kraken doesn't look as scary as its mythical namesake. Garnished with a twist of grapefruit rind, the smell of the Kraken is refreshing and the taste pleasantly sweet with just a hint of tartness--sort of like Puget Sound on a foggy morning. Then, the Karken lets loose, pummeling the tastebuds with tentacles of pungent, yet mellow, bitters. Made to pair with the sweetness of shellfish, the acid in the Kraken makes prawns sweeter, cutting into the fats in the butter sauce, and the bitter cleanses the palate in preparation for the next bite.

The Verdict: Put on your fancy pants and prepare for pampering in the Lounge at Canlis. It's a less formal, yet still time-perfected experience. You may wind up drinking something you never thought you would. And if you order the Peter Canlis Prawns, be aware there's a mighty talented barman just waiting to unleash his Kraken on you.

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