How well did the Top Chef production team familiarize itself with what makes Seattle Seattle? In this recurring column, we gauge how fairly the previous night's episode represented the city - and correct misconceptions viewers elsewhere might form based on the show.
1. In Seattle, we really do call a spade a shapely garden tool.
My favorite quote of the episode (closely followed by John Tesar's terrific pro-journalism put-down, hurled at a fellow chef during an opening scene fight: "You make things up like a blogger") was the salad verdict delivered by a pair of Seattle diners participating in the Top Chef fun. As the judges told us later in the episode, Chrissy's rendition of the Canlis salad was a soggy, slouchy abomination. "It fell flat as a salad," Brian Canlis said. "It fell flat as any salad." But that's not quite how the guests -- an uncredited Chris and Alice Canlis -- described it:
"The salad was different," Chris Canlis allowed.
That's pretty much the quintessential Seattle diss.
I haven't lived here long enough to properly parse the reasons behind the city's passive-aggressive streak. I've sometimes wondered whether the municipal avoidance of confrontation stems from Seattle's immigration history: Scandinavians and East Asians, who settled here in significant numbers, aren't known for their in-your-face conversational styles. But ethnic stereotypes are probably no more predictive of an uncombative society than the weather, educational levels and other explanations cited by equally befuddled newcomers.
What I can confirm for viewers elsewhere is the city's general discomfort with criticism. A drinks writer who lives here once told me being a critic in Seattle is an oxymoron. I've reviewed restaurants in the Midwest, the Southeast and Texas (I'm no fan of secession, but that state's a region of its own), and it wasn't until I worked in Seattle that I was inundated with feedback from readers who objected not to my conclusions, but the very act of drawing them - or at least announcing them publicly. I suspect the production crew had to approach dozens of tables before finding diners willing to voice any ambivalence. Bet that wasn't a problem last season in Texas.
2. Canlis is a can't-miss dining experience.
While its not uncommon for Top Chef to concoct challenges based around important restaurants, I don't recall too many episodes so reverentially devoted to a single restaurant's history and reputation. I'm guessing the show read much like an hourlong Canlis ad in other markets. Obviously, in light of this list's first bullet point, it doesn't mean much that Seattle eaters almost never say a bad word about the place. But the respect and admiration is justified. Should you have the opportunity to dine at Canlis, grab it.
3. But Canlis doesn't serve 1950s food.
The terms of the challenge made clear that the chefs were working from a throwback menu: The dusty copy brandished by the Canlis Brothers looked like it had been buried beneath a wine cellar decades ago. But Padma didn't pause to point out that the current Canlis menu sets a local standard for modernity. Under the leadership of chef Jason Franey - who, as Seattle Met's Allecia Vermillion points out, was conspicuously absent from the show - the restaurant's serving uni panna cotta and foie gras with chocolate and chamomile.