Truth be told—Cafe Juanita and Canlis aren’t too bad at starting or continuing a meal either, as I discovered in research for my review of both restaurants in our December issue. The former has streamlined its space, the latter has hired a new chef—and in so doing, both remind us that perhaps the thing that befits a legend most is knowing when to evolve.
Of course, a stunning dessert chef helps. Check on both counts. At Cafe Juanita, that chef is Junko Mine, a Japan native and Blaine Wetzel (Willows Inn) alum, who is so interested in yeast she’s studied it with a geneticist. When you’re dining at Cafe Juanita, however, you’ll be much more interested in Mine’s practical understanding of the stuff—its effect on Mine’s pillowy breads and pastry crusts. Off a dessert menu starring innovations like shio koji gelato, or passion fruit curd and burnt meringue with milk chocolate, cocoa crumb, and roasted blackberries—gorgeous platings both—I steered into a relatively familiar nectarine crostata with olive oil gelato and had my expectations blown away by some of the finest pastry I can remember tasting in a restaurant, ever.
Across two lakes at the venerable Canlis, pastry chef Baruch Ellsworth mines his experience under mentors far and wide—including Mamnoon’s Garrett Melkonian—to create desserts marked by whimsy and, like Canlis’s new exec chef Brady Williams, Japanese inclinations. So the classic bananas-and-chocolate foray will feature a miso-shortbread cookie, and will be plated like modernist art. A strawberries with Devonshire cream dessert—mystifyingly called “Buckwheat” on the menu—has the substance to save it from preciousness, along with strawberries in nearly every conceivable creamy permutation. Fun.
And I’m not the only one who thinks these two are notable. Next week both will be honored as two of the 24 chefs, pastry chefs, restaurant owners, and other industry professionals named this year’s StarChefs Seattle Rising Stars. Tickets are on sale for a gala to honor them on Tuesday night at McCaw Hall.