Seattle's "Most Iconic" dishes

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When's editors went looking for someone to write about Seattle's iconic restaurant dishes, they asked Cornichon. Here's the piece they ran. More than just the Canlis salad, although that's one of them.

Oysters at Taylor.JPGWhen you eat out in Seattle, whether you're a moss-backed native or someone who just happens to live here now, you probably do what everyone else does: you go for pizza or teriyaki or burgers or a steak, right? But when visitors come to Seattle, whether it's your old college roommate or Aunt Minnie from Minneapolis, they probably want seafood. Fair enough. So, first question, what are the Emerald City's iconic seafood spots?

Let's start with oysters on the half shell, which gives us three terrific options right off the bat: Taylor Shellfish, the nation's top supplier of premium shellfish, has opened three outlets of its own to satisfy Seattle's demand for fresh bivalves. The stores (takeout or eat-in, full bar) are in the Melrose Market, in Lower Queen Anne, and in Pioneer Square. Taylor's shuckers are so good, you'd be forgiven if you suspected them of "washing" the oysters. They don't. Treat yourself to a dozen (especially the plump Virginicas, or the tiny Olympias), and a glass of one of the winning West Coast oyster wines like Cedergreen Sauvignon Blanc, and then go have dinner.

(Parenthetically, Elliott's Oyster House and Walrus & Carpenter also have terrific oyster platters.)

If all you want (hah!) is perfect salmon, you'll have great luck with local chains like Tom Douglas and Anthony's Homeport, along with many independent spots. The wide availability of wild-caught fish from the Copper River and Yukon runs has made high-quality salmon a familiar ingredient for dozens of local chefs. Along that line: avoid the temptation to ask for medium rare. "It really does taste better when it's cooked all the way through," says fish guru Jon Rowley.

Steelhead Diner crabcake.JPGWhat about freshly steamed Dungeness crab? The splashy service at Elliott's (cloth napikns, crab crackers) is without peer. Just a crab cake? Don't miss the baseball-size cake at Steelhead Diner or Blueacre. Mussels? Don't stray far from the Market, where Place Pigalle and Maximilien both offer excellent recipes.

Then, on the second night (and there's almost always a second night out), you might want to show your visitors the baddest steak in town. Order the long-bone, bone-in ribeye at Metropolitan Grill. Better yet, order it for your honey-voiced, honey-haired cousin from Texas.

Me, I go to Le Pichet just outside the Market with the crossword puzzle and a glass of Beaujolais, and nibble on the gâteau de foie de vollaile, a smooth-as-silk chicken-liver pâté, served with a baguette, Amora mustard and cornichons.

If it's a weekend and the sky is clear (and someone else is picking up the check), you should consider a traditional brunch buffet at Salty's; it's the best waterfront view in town. And if you want the classic Dutch Baby pancake, hot and quivering from the oven, make my way to the Original Pancake House in Crown Hill.

Then there's kazu sake cod. It was Shiro Kashiba who introduced it to Seattle at his first restaurant, Nikko, then picked up by Wayne Ludvigsen at Ray's (and later by Tom Douglas at the original 1904). The concept, simple enough, was to use the lees of sake as the flavoring for steamed Alaska sablefish. ("Black cod is not cod," we are reminded.) The first time we tasted this turned into a transcendant experience. Until then, the most remarkable fish preparation was found at funky, hole-in-the-wall noodle parlors in the International District. Tai Tung would post its daily specials on index cards written in magic marker and taped to the wall; the one you hoped to find would be salmon with black bean sauce.

Canlis salad.JPGIconic? The word is intimately liked to the Canlis Salad at Canlis. This is the ultimate example of an Old School restaurant, a salad prepared table-side by a maître d'hotel. Chilled romaine, olive oil, lemon juice, chopped bacon, a coddled egg, cherry tomatoes, croutons, and slivered green onions, showered with romano cheese, mint and oregano. Canlis has dropped its longstanding à la carte menu in favor of updated three- or four-course tasting menus, but it continues to offers its namesake salad as a first or second course option.

Seattle's favorite "ethnic" cuisine remains Italian, especially if you fold in pizza, but relatively few Italian restaurants make their own pasta. It takes time (labor costs!) and space (rent!), and if you're rolling out a lot of dough you'll want a machine (more expense!) to be sure you get consistent product. Couple of place that roll their own: Spinasse, which was predicated on the great taste of homemade pasta, and whose tajarin with butter and sage sauce has become a classic. There's also a much-lauded neighborhood spot, Mondello in Magnolia, where Mamma Enza assembles several hotel pans of lasagna bolognese every week.

There are to many teriyaki joints to count, and I can't count past five without using two hands. So let's consider, instead, Seattle's other Asian soul food, pho. Sorry my typewriter doesn't make the squiggly diacryticals, but you know what I mean. Pho is the ultimate Vietnamese street food, sold from braziers on every street corner. In Seattle, the Health Department insists the broth be prepared indoors, more's the pity, but thankfully the bureaucrats haven't yet stuck their instant-read thermometers into the raw tenderloin. That said, the best pho I've found is the oxtail version at Ba Bar. A couple of bucks more expensive, but you know the mantra: you get what you pay for.

In Belltown I miss Cascadia. Its owner-chef has returned to the crisply starched & folded fold of the Four Seasons, at the south end of the Market, leaving behind a space that spent a couple of years dressed up as a Spanish grandee (Taberna del Alabardero) and is now a Korean-owned seafood shop called Red King Crab. Cascadia had class: lemon-yellow walls, original Northwest art work, a sophisticated staff. At Happy Hour the kitchen turned out a stream of $1 mini-burgers, three bites and done. The bar offered a half-price "Alpine Martini" flavored with a Doug fir branch.

And finally, if you're the one who's out of town, and you want a genuine taste of home, you could do worse than follow your nose through the nearest mall to the inevitable Cinnabon. Not quite as ubiquitous as Starbucks, but very much a Seattle export, created by Edmonds baker Jerilyn Brusseau for Restaurants Unlimited three decades ago.


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