First Call: Buttered Up

Canlis’ Kraken will attack only your taste buds.

The Watering Hole: Canlis, 2576 Aurora Ave. N., 283-3313.

The Atmosphere: As one of Seattle’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 the more interesting shots ever ingested. Even 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 meant for dipping bread, but alas, some of our minds just don’t work that way. When something is that good, it has to be loved, appreciated, and respected. So I drank it. But let’s be clear: Downing a shot of butter sauce does not a true First Call make. Therefore it was only fair to 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 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’s strange, he may ask you to consider that Bailey’s is basically fermented milk. MacWilliams knew a Manhattan would be the perfect pairing for Canlis’ lamb and steak. But not with any old ingredients: MacWilliams makes his with a startlingly sweet, nutty, house-made green walnut wine. He 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, MacWilliams masterminded its perfect companion: The Kraken. Made of Aperol, Plymouth gin, Cocchi Americano, freshly 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 scent of the Kraken is refreshing and its taste pleasantly sweet with just a hint of tartness—sort of like Puget Sound on a foggy morning. Then the Kraken lets loose, pummeling the taste buds with tentacles of pungent yet mellow bitters. Made to pair with shellfish, the acid in the Kraken makes prawns sweeter and cuts into the fat in the butter sauce, while the bitterness 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.