by Louis and Annette Bignami

When in Seattle it's time to eat! Seafood and wild game fueled the traditional Native American culture long before Portland's James Beard emphasized the quality ingredients and simple preparations characteristic of the area in his seminal cookbooks. Add a strong Asian influence, and fold in skilled European and American chefs and you cannot go far wrong in Seattle's best restaurants. Canlis Bar Seafood tops menu selections, although wonderful local lamb, game. Boutique cheeses, domestic and wild mushrooms, and carefully selected produce compete for attention. Seasonal favorites include salmon, whether Copper River or Alaskan, that run up into their natal rivers from spring to winter. Wonderful Dungeness crabs, like splendid local oysters, deserve attention in the fall and early spring when the wild mushrooms stack up with the fresh produce in the Pike Street Market. Given the last ten years sampling Seattle restaurants, it was not easy to select six restaurants from the dozens we have sampled on frequent Seattle visits. Still, for traditional treats consider Canlis and the Georgian Room. For ethnic food try the Italian delights of Il Trattoria di Carmine and Southern French food at Compagne. Two fusion choices, the Dahlia Lounge and Etta's Seafood, both from the tricky culinary imaginings of Chef Tom Douglas, reflect the combination of cultures that make Seattle succulent.


Beautiful dark wood paneled rooms, superb table presentation and superior, but unobtrusive, service fill the Canlis parking lot with Mercedes and BMWs. Canlis reflects it is nearly 50 years of history and, until recently, the Asian influence of a sister restaurant, Canlis Broiler, the best restaurant in Honolulu for decades.

You can make a case that "Pan-Pacific" food really started here long before philistines started putting lemon grass in ice cream. The surroundings are perfect. You cannot fault the view of Union Lake, and the furnishings display sophisticated taste with an eye on the guest's comfort. Their 1,500 item wine list ranks with the best in the US -- Canlis won one of only five Grand Awards from Wine Spectator.

Meals like the subtly toned substitutes for the old formal Kimono's worn by "wait persons," continue to evolve. Greg Atkinson, the Executive Chef, adds touches like Dungeness crab cakes with an orange butter, and raspberry and hazelnut salad with goat cheese fritters that reflect his apprenticeship with Roger Verge at the Michelin three-star Moulin de Mougins. Our favorite start is the perfectly presented Canlis Shellfish Indulgence, a raw selection in the half shell that varies seasonally. A Canlis Salad, long a standard, is a hearty relative to Caesar?s Salad with mint added. Entrées of choice include Dungeness crab cakes cooked crisp on the outside and moist within with fresh ginger; onion and red pepper topped with orange butter sauce. Everyone in town copies these. Canlis does them best.

The lamb shank slow roasted with aromatics and thyme arrives with, but not overpowered by, both garlic and mint purees. It is big enough for two should one be dim enough to share. Given traditionally larger than average portions you need the signature rhubarb and ginger sorbet before splitting on of their formidable deserts -- Chef Atkinson, admits "Sorbet is made outside the restaurant to our specifications by specialists. We alternate between chocolate lava cake with its molten interior and authentic Grand Marnier Soufflé with real crème Anglaise" each deservedly on the menu for decades.