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Canlis or Herb Farm = the hype?

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I'm planning a birthday dinner, mine! I have to admit, I was thinking about Mistral since it's been a while since we've dined there but the Lampreia/Mistral post has me second guessing now that I know there's new staff in the kitchen. In trying to think of other "special occasion" type places that I haven't been to yet and I came up with Canlis and Herb Farm for starters. I have to admit I have not eaten at either restaurant yet because for whatever reason I pegged them as well marketed and well hyped but not really delivering fine food. So I have to ask, are either of these two establishments really worth a visit if you're an anal diner who fully expects the food to equal the pr ink that's been spilled over these two?? Thanks in advance for your .02!

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  1. I haven't been to the Herb Farm, but we did go to Canlis for our anniversary dinner this last year. I really, really enjoyed it. They started us off with a little sample of an apple and celery (I *think* it was celery...I can't remember now!) soup that I thought was delightful. My boyfriend wasn't too hot on it, but I suspect it was because of the cinnamon and nutmeg that was sprinkled on top. We followed it with a beet salad and calamari. The calamari wasn't anything more special that what I've had at most restaurants, though. For our entrees I had a wagyu steak (I can't remember what type of cut although I remember it being rather large, but not a ton of fat) and a lamb dish. Both were incredible. The meat was cooked to perfection on both plates and the mushroom side dish I ordered was sooooo wonderful. We did order a panna cotta dessert and while it was very good, it was just too rich for me so I could only really eat a few bites (it was BIG panna cotta, too).

    The highlight of the evening was the sommelier...a truly delightful Alton Brown-lookalike who was very keen on finding us some very cool and unique wines that *I* could enjoy (I don't do well with reds...instant migraine). He found us a truly fantastic white made in Austria out of a really rare grape. My boyfriend wrote it down and I have the name somewhere, but unfortunately I don't know what it was called off the top of my head.

    Anyways, we had absolutely wonderful service and the view...sooooo wonderful. Personally I thought it was a great romantic restaurant and I hope to go back someday.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mariannas

      My husband and I are frequent visitors to your city. We haven't been to Canlis; but have been to the Herb Farm and thought the food, wine, ambiance, and service live up to it's "hype". It truly is a special event night of dining; however, I add this cautionary note...we ate at a communal table and had wonderful company and conversation which added to the fun of the night. If you dine at a communal table, your tablemates can make or break the evening. If you choose a table for just the two of you, be prepared for a very long evening alone at that table as the dinner is an entire event/night lasting (at least when we went) four hours.

    2. I think we've written lots about Canlis if you search...I was there a few months ago and while I enjoyed the experience overall, the food didn't blow me away. Our non-foodie friends loved it, but I wasn't impressed. We did the tasting menu and that might have been the mistake-perhaps if you order tried and true standards, they might do that better. Or if you are going with a group that is not that into food, it would be a good pick (my parents would love it).

      1. if you go to Herb Farm be sure to check before you reserve that the main chef Jerry Traunfeld is in that night, otherwise i would wait until he is. Also Sundays are better since dinner starts earlier on Sundays, you can do the organized garden tour outside while it is still light out (if it isn't raining), and get home earlier. if you haven't been it's worth going at least once. the communal table can be a lot of fun.

        1. Canlis is a very expensive version of Sizzler. As a Chowhound, you can do much better in Seattle. I suggest Rovers or Le Gourmand.

          1. I think my dislike of the Herbfarm is pretty well documented so I won't add to that.

            I've been to a couple of dinners at Canlis recently and while they were good, they weren't interesting in any way. And the sommelier that marrianas talks about is no longer there.

            I've had good meals and bad meals at Mistral, but it's been a while since I've been. I need to go back to get a current feel for the place.

            Le Gourmand is a great suggestion. I always love that place.

            1. It is very hard to beat Rovers for an exceptional evening.

              1. Food wise i found Rovers and Le Gourmand to be less interesting/creative than Herb Farm, but more interesting than Canlis (which is mainly worth going to for a great Wagyu steak). Ambience wise, i found Rover's and Le Gourmand to be uncomfortably quiet and boring (think Lampreia) compared to Herb Farm and Canlis, which are more lively (but depends what you are looking for)

                1. I haven't yet been to Canlis, but the building is beautiful, and I've heard good things from foodies and non-foodies alike. It's expensive, and perhaps it won't blow you away with anything too challenging or innovative, but I'm sure it'll be a nice meal in a nice environment, and they've got a great wine list.

                  For me, the atmosphere and showy-ness of the herbfarm was a turn-off. The food and service was excellent, but the spiel at the beginning, where the host mumbles in false-humbleness, and introduces everything, was a little too staged for my tastes. The decor is stuffy and french country frou-frou, which isn't my style (I feel the same way about Rover's atmosphere). You certainly must go there once (and i'll likely return), but just know what you're getting into from the start. Also, try and pick a menu that sounds interesting to you, and shoot for nice weather!!

                  Lampreia was very dry atmosphere-wise, but the quality of the meal we had there more than made up for it, and the chef was very friendly with us.

                  1. I cannot speak of the Herbfarm Restaurant, I've not had dinner there as of yet. But I'll speak on Canlis, for sure. I don't understand the reputation for being expensive and over the top. I didn't find it either. My food was wonderful, and priced accordingly. Sure, there are some very expensive steak selections, just like there are very expensive wines on the list, but that doesn't make it so across the board. Honestly, I didn't find it out of line with most of the better restaurants in the downtown core. My food was fresh and delicious. I had oysters, foie gras, spicy prawns, salad, duck entree, Gran Mariner soufflet, a Manhattan made with Japanese bourbon, Banyuls with the duck, espresso with dessert. Everything was nicely portioned, much of which I shared with my date. Service was top notch. Most of the clientele was at least 20 years my senior on the night that I went, not sure if that's standard or not, maybe The Sunset Club was closed (hahaha). The view, an interesting angle of the ship canal and bridges. While I did ring an impressive tab, I could have also had a satisfying dinner for under $50. I say, don't fret the cost (especially if you already frequent downtown restaurants) but get yourself out to Canlis for a great dining experience. I think comparing Canlis to a Sizzler is ridiculous.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: TruDiner

                      TrueDiner, how was the Japanese bourbon?

                      1. re: TruDiner

                        TruDiner, that sounds pretty darn tasty. Like I said, I've never eaten there, and was only echoing the expensive comments based on what others had said (since I'm not cost-conscious when it comes to good food!) and based on how much of the menu I'd want to try if I did go there!

                        It's certainly on my list of places to visit.. Certainly I drop as much money at lots of random places on random nights around town, but there's always been something about Canlis that's made it seem especially "special occassion".

                      2. If you don't mind having a meal take 4 hours or the show biz presentation you may enjoy the Herb Farm. My memories (somewhat painful) are of the length and of the self hype. I don't remember much about what I ate. Had an anniversary dinner at Canlis some years back, thought the food was just average and the atmosphere very weird, haven't been back. For special occasions I like Rovers (though it is quiet) but the food is memorable.

                        1. Canlis receives its intermittent share of bashing around here. I've been a few times and had one very good meal (might have been the company) and a couple of adequate meals. I would tend to speak up for it when it gets bashed, as I think it has its place. But for a special meal out without the elderly parents, I'd have to pass at this point.

                          My only meal at The Herbfarm was many years ago in their temporary location at the winery, and I thought it was simply fantastic. I've been wanting to go again for some time, but haven't pulled it off. However, I have heard multiple times that it is now a pretty over-the-top show, and that turns many people off. I liked the 'show' I saw that one time, and thought the food was simply fabulous.

                          Lampreia is a cold turnoff for some people, although the food can be great; this might be a risk for a special night out, unless you know you like it there. I thought the food at Le Gourmand was good, but not great. Many people feel differently and love the place and the small atmoshphere, so this might be for you.

                          I would put my money down on Rover's for this event. I have been a couple of times recently, and have been very impressed. This guy is not resting on the laurels of his reputation--the food is excellent as a whole (a couple of minor exceptions only), and for two people to get two tasting menus (big and small) seems to me an almost over-the-top indulgence. And I like the little house setting. I'm not a formal person, but was very comfortable each time while dressed moderately casually. I think definitely an 'event' place.

                          1. I must chime in about Canlis and the Herbfarm, having dined at both fairly recently.

                            Canlis is certainly well-marketed, but for a *safe* option you can’t go wrong. The menu is pretty standard (steak, lamb, crab cakes, foie gras, et al) but for the price you get great service, ambience and a tasty meal. Can you find a menu like this at other restaurants in Seattle or for that matter any major city in the US? Probably.

                            The Herbfarm on the other hand feels more uniquely NW, but with plenty of French/Italian/Asian influences. Sure it has a dinner-theater vibe – at times – but the food over shadows all that in my mind. Chef Traunfield was at the helm on my first and only visit last spring. He was very soft-spoken and humble in his presentation of the ingredients and menu. He and the sommelier tag-teamed the presentation - both were very informative and shared some great incite into their menu & wine selections. Bottom line – the presentation only lasts 15-20 minutes, so it isn’t all that painful in the long run.

                            The service throughout the meal is exceptional. All the servers – and the owners – kind of work the room. Wine is refilled upon request, questions (even the dumb ones) were answered and they encouraged guests to take a walk in the garden or to the wine “cellar” between courses. My only complaint was that the owners try to up sell you on cookbooks, soaps, lotions, rooms at Willows Lodge, etc. The décor is sort of over-the-top baroque, but it is comfortable and absorbs a lot of the noise (who hasn’t heard complaints about plywood banquettes and the noisy, cavernous dining rooms of some of the newer restaurants in town?)

                            My mother and I went as a treat to each other for our birthdays. We had our own table, and if one can sit with their mother for four hours and enjoy it – any of you should be able to manage that with your spouse! Maybe that was the key to our enjoyment of the meal. We could make snarky remarks about the conversations we overheard in the ladies or if we got annoyed by the sales pitch of the owners. We both love to cook - and she gardens - so nine courses of mostly local ingredients gave us lots of inspiration and ideas to talk about too. Mom and I used to plan an annual night out to attend an opera or musical and have a nice dinner. For not much more money, we have decided to try and return to the Herbfarm every year or two. Canlis is still my mom’s default for a special occasion in the city (that is her generation and scene), but I would rather return to Nell’s, Tilth or Crush. For the all-out, over-the-top, once-in-an-occasional-while experience though, I vote for the Herbfarm.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: LFP

                              I like canlis. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/410010

                            2. Wow, thanks for all the great informative responses to my post. I have to admit I'm feeling iffy about either restaurant after all the comments since the negative ones at jive with what I've been told about about both restaurants so far from folks that are not even foodies. We're pretty new to Seattle still so it's good to get input from folks here who've dined around town for a while and know the ropes. I've been to all the other places mentioned here like Le Gourmand and Lampreia which are two of my favorite splurge restaurants in town, just trying to find something new and exciting for my B-day. Lampreia is starting to sound good but while I love the food have to admit it's not really an atmosphere where I expect to feel compfy letting loose for my birthday. Hmmm..

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: landguy

                                For somethign different you can always do the chef's omakase at Nishino (the omakase that needs to be reserved in advance, rather than the one you can walk in and order). Maybe supplement it with some foie gras, unagi-avo harumaki w/ spicy miso & ankimo (must request in advance) or new style sashimi w/ uni inside etc. Or tell Union a couple days in advance that you want to do a tasting menu, they may be able to whip something special up for you.

                              2. Not sure what others are telling you, but the "new" staff in the Mistral kitchen is the "old" staff in the kitchen. True, the former Chef De Cuisine, Charles, has left. But that only means that William is now in the kitchen cooking more than ever. For a "splurge" type meal, I'd rather have William in the kitchen than any of the other aforementioned chefs hands down!

                                1. Memo to Herbfarm: If patrons were interested in gift shops, they would drive to the Cracker Barrel in Centralia.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Peteandem

                                    i never experienced any sort of upselling or pressure-marketing at Herbfarm, and was never particularly bothered by their spiel about Herb Farm history, despite having heard it several times now (it's entertaining the first time around)...the herb garden tour is fun on a good-weather day

                                  2. and the winner is, in my opinion & from my experiences at all the aforementioned places: MISTRAL for food. CANLIS for ambience, service, decor, view and simpler, yet high quality ingredients-based reliable food.... fyi:no need to order the pricey steaks if you do go there.

                                    1. I visited the HerbFarm this past Nov with that one someone special....we found it to be quite charming and romantic despite the number of other diners and communal tables. If you request a private table for 2 when you make your reservations, they are extremely accommodating and we had a wonderful evening.