But, a couple of years ago, Jason Franey, took over the reins in the kitchen, and I started to hear good things. Very good things. I finally got to see what it was all about and I was not disappointed. (I should note, that they did google my reservation and knew that I was coming, but I also don’t believe that a restaurant can be better than it is just for someone writing a food blog. And I don’t believe we got any special treatment over and above the special treatment they give all their guests. Or certainly none that I could detect.)
Yes the service was impeccable. Yes the decor was warm, and fine, and modern. The view was sparkly. Yes it had all the accoutrements of the traditional fine dining establishment, but all that mattered to me was the food. We ate, in order, Sweet Potato Soup with Cranberry and Cinnamon, Young Beets with Sheep’s Milk Yogurt Sherbet, Pumpernickel, and Blueberries, Smoke-Cured Salmon with BLiS Maple Syrup, Steelhead Roe, and Caraway Seed, Chicken with Prosciutto, Salt-Baked Celery Root, and Matsutake Mushrooms, New York Strip Steak with Carrots, Curry, and Cauliflower, Pineapple with White Chocolate, Passion Fruit, and Coconut, and finally Creme Fraiche Custard with Oatmeal Streusel, Granny Smith Apple Sorbet, and Spiced Cider. We nursed our bottle of 2000 Clos Du Sarpe from home which was positively lush.
As with any established culinary genre, there are themes and conventions. And a chef’s first challenge is to master those. Picasso could paint a traditional painting with the best of them. But once mastered, he wanted to grow. And when you go to a restaurant that has mastered a refined expression of food, it’s certainly enjoyable in its own way, but it’s not exactly memorable. And often, it’s just boring. Creating your own identity, your own flavor palette is an exercise of constraint and restraint. And it takes someone with vision and security to create that type of signature. One where you can eat the food and know it’s them.
While I’ve eaten extensively across the planet, I won’t claim to be a definitive expert. That said, based on my moderate eating experience, Franey has created a distinct culinary style that I found refreshing, original, deep, and positively delicious. The main theme throughout the dishes was the use of the sweet part of the spectrum. I’m not a big dessert guy, and relish the savory over the sweet. I admit it’s a preference I have. And when sweet flavors are introduced into savory dishes, it can be cloying, overpowering, or just plain distracting. But the flavors I experienced in dishes like the sweet potato amuse, or beets melded sweet and savory in a delicate balance to create some entirely new compound flavor profile. The balance was perfect. And this threaded throughout the meal including the salmon which was served in the most distinct (and intense) salmon consomme I have ever tasted. It’s like I had visited a new planet and was eating food that simply didn’t exist here on earth. Did Franey bring this signature from New York? I honestly don’t know. But I’m glad it’s here in Seattle.
Just when I thought I understood the meal came the sous-vide chicken dish with the mini-mirepoix floating in the center of the plate. The sweet was present in this dish but in more of an emotional sense. To be blunt, this dish almost made me cry. It was home cooking. It was the flavors of home. The smell of family dinner. The taste of warmth, but expressed with this incredible refinement. The dish touched my heart. Just when I thought the meal was all about new flavor profiles and plating that resembled modern art, I was confronted with this dish that tugged at my heart strings.
And dessert? It flipped the equation. The savory and sweet elements switched places and gave me an inverse version of what I’d been experiencing throughout the meal. Sweet was now dominant, but savory didn’t disappear. It was a perfect bookend to the meal.
People were still proposing to each other on the evening we were there. Couples still came there for an occasion. And some of the long time customers were still there as they likely are on a regular basis. The environment seemed preserved from Canlis of old. And tradition is good. But the food was all new and exquisite. Creating something new, and maintaing it thematically to tell a story through the course of a meal is vision+execution at the highest level. And that’s what Canlis is doing right now.
Holy crap. They were unbelievably delicious. Delicate, soft, steamy, the meat inside is a generous portion that’s perfectly balanced ratio-wise with the dough around it. The meat itself is flavorful but not over the top. It’s a clear savory note. These are no frills dumplings. Nothing to hide behind if they get it wrong. Just perfect texture, balance, and flavor served with little plastic cups of soy and vinegar for you to adjust based on your personal saucing preferences. I’m not a fan of heading out to Bellevue, but if you’ve got to go to the eastside, definitely move into Yang’s Dumpling House — you will NOT regret it.
I was worried as it looked a little overly concerned with decor and was situated across from the aptly named Rock Bottom Brewery chainbaremporium. But shockingly, the food is stand out delicious. Solid, creative, restrained. Scallops seared to perfection and the lentils with soft boiled egg are standouts. The Brussels sprouts were great too.
OK. Now that we’ve done our survey, Messr. Levin used to work (as an intern) at St. Viateur’s and brought his expertise to Eltana. Yay! He calls his bagels wood-fired and sells them out of his lovely establishment in Capitol Hill appealing to all the locals with a wall sized crossword puzzle that changes regularly. He can call the bagels eco-friendly, organic, hemp bagels for all I care. Whatever keeps Eltana in business with Seattle folk is fine with me, because these are the best bagels in Seattle. And, I suspect, they are the best bagels in the United States. I’d like to hear of challengers for this crown, but until I try something better I’m declaring default judgment in favor of Eltana.
The bagels themselves are small, almost pretzel-like. They’re made by hand and there are no blueberry or asiago versions. Just the basics – sesame, salt, poppy,
pumpernickel (bad blogging memory), wheat, and plain. (Levin tells me he’s working on Zaatar and Cinnamon Raisin as well.) The flavor is clean clean clean. I was reminded not just of St. Viateur’s bagels but of the Israeli baygelah when eating Eltana’s sesame bagel. And that’s a good thing. There’s a density and chewiness to these bagels that reminds you that you’re eating a food of substance.
A competing bagel maker in Seattle once told me he got his recipe from food consultants in Denver. Denver!!!! I’d set aside my snobbiness at their origin if the bagels were any good… which they were decidedly not. Characterless facsimiles of oversized, novelty New York bagels (cranberry anyone?). The only thing I want from food consultants in Denver is a recipe for chips and salsa that goes well with Coors beer and a Bronco’s loss.
Eltana’s creators’ Jewish/Israeli cultural influences show beyond their staple in their spreads and salads. Thankfully absent are the faux Jewish cultural icons of the Noah’s bagel chain. Instead of “shmear” you get Zhoug Egg Salad (Zhoug being an Israeli/Middle Eastern mix of chopped hot peppers), Crispy Chickpeas and Leeks, Tahini with Cauliflower, and of course the Shakshuka – a savory and satisfying tomato pepper and egg stew. (I was too early to sample it but I’ll be back.) Make no mistake about it… Eltana is really an upscale modern Israeli cafe. The bagels are the least Israeli thing on the menu. And all that delicious food is wrapped in a Seattle friendly, non-threatening package. The owners of Eltana may have a brilliant plan or be crazily winging it. Either way, they are bringing fantastic examples of the food of my people to the Pacific Northwest. Let’s hope the Pacific Northwest realizes how lucky they are to have it.
Portland, Oregon is filled with multiple clusters of street food vendors organized in little parks of vans, trucks, trailers, and shacks. Some of the street food is ok, but a non-trivial percentage of it is fantastic. It’s simple, it’s often cheap, it’s focused, and it adds a dimension of choice in eating across Portland that makes it somewhere you want to be. The best trucks are positively magnificent. And from what I’ve read (feel free to disagree in the comments if you’ve got data) the good restaurants in Portland are not going out of business.
On the other hand… Seattle has essentially none of this.
Seattle… you should be ashamed. Vancouver has incredible Asian food. Portland has food carts. And Seattle… has… well… Ivar’s. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Ivar’s.)
I would have hoped Seattle could do better. I still hope it can.]]>
Kitchen Toolkit – A Cook’s Best Friend, is the first food and cooking related app from TastingMenu and your friends at Jackson Fish Market. It’s available today for Windows Phone 7 Series Devices at the Windows Phone Marketplace for only 99 cents.
Download Kitchen Toolkit (You must have the Zune client software installed on your Mac or PC for this link to work.)]]>