Chandler’s Crabhouse offers the freshest seafood served in a gorgeous watery setting, what’s not to love?
To those familiar with Seattle’s varied and rich food scene, a place like South Lake Union’s Chandler’s Crabhouse, an upscale restaurant serving the freshest seafood in a drop dead gorgeous water view, setting may be old news. To those of us new to this beautiful restaurant that plays homage to the bounty of the sea, eating at Chandler’s Crabhouse is akin to a religious experience.
Chandler’s Crabhouse, a Seattle culinary institution since 1988 serving lunch, dinner, and, brunch on weekends, is perched right on one of the city’s jewels, Lake Union. The soaring windows in its circular dining room give diners grand views of gleaming yachts and floatplanes coming and going on the lake. But the food at this restaurant is so delicious, you’ll soon find yourself ignoring the spectacular views.
When I recently dined at Chandlers, we began with seafood charcuterie, signature selections from the restaurant’s new raw bar, including seared Ahi tuna, sushi of the day, jumbo Gulf prawns, house smoked scallops, mussels, and clams, and creamy smoked salmon spread served with water crackers. The charcuterie is a great introduction to Chandler’s skill with seafood and the quality of the products they use. The tuna, just slightly seared, was delicately mouthwatering. The sushi roll, a combination of scallop and veggies, hit just the right balance of sweet scallop and crunchy, fresh vegetable. But it was the house smoked fish where my palate really began to sing. The mussels, tiny clams, and scallops had just a hint of smokiness that didn’t mask the natural briny, sweetness of the seafood. The generous cup of über-creamy smoked salmon spread had none of the overly salty flavor of many versions of smoked salmon-based dips. Instead, it offered a delicate smoke that allowed the salmon goodness to come through, all in a silky base that had us coming back again and again for another water cracker slathered in the creamy goodness.
Chandler’s is famous for the area’s Dungeness crab, the Northwest’s super sweet and meaty crustacean. They only serve the best Dungeness, beautiful species with all their claws often weighing in at a whopping five pounds each. You can see these beautiful crabs swimming in a large tank when you walk into the restaurant. I am a huge Dungeness crab fan, but the restaurant’s General Manager, Robert Onstad, told us that King crab season had just opened and he highly recommended it, even over their signature Dungeness. Now, my own experience with King crab had been less than spectacular and I wasn’t convinced. The ubiquitous King crab often found on buffet tables is usually frozen and then brined, resulting in a watery, salty, stringy product. Robert assured us this is not the King crab he had in mind.
My Brown King Crab came as two huge legs (18 ounces), served with both drawn butter and a spicy romesco sauce. The crab shells are relatively soft and although crab cracking tools (and bibs) were provided, I found it easy to extract big pieces of the meat easily with my fingers. The first bite, lightly dipped in the liquid butter, was transcendent – a succulent sweetness with just a hint of the sea that literally made me groan. This crab was as good as the fresh whole lobster I’ve enjoyed in New England.
The King crab was served with silken mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus and crusty sourdough rolls. While the side dishes were tasty, I have to admit they were largely ignored because of the spectacular flavor of the King crab. And even then, I couldn’t finish my generous portion of this rich, sweet meat and my server boxed it up for me to take home.
Another dish to try at Chandlers is their signature “World Famous” crab cake. They call it the “filet mignon” of crab cakes and it’s easy to see why. It comes as a chunky 3” x3” round of pure, sweet crab meat that’s been lightly breaded on each side and grilled. The result is a dish that gives you all the flavor and texture of crab without the bread and other fillers too often found in this iconic dish. It’s served with a fresh hearts of palm salad.
Desserts Please Too
Despite protesting that I was way too full, we ordered a sampling of Chandler’s desserts – key lime pie, banana cream pie with caramel sauce, and warm Valrona chocoloate torte with vanilla ice cream. – and I was pleasantly surprised. I admit that I’m not a huge key lime pie fan. Chandler’s key lime was good, tangy with just the right silky texture, but it wasn’t the best of this iconic dessert I’ve tried. The big, fluffy banana cream pie, with plenty of creamy filling, chunks of banana, and piles of whipped cream liberally drizzled with a soft caramel sauce was the kind of homemade version of this classic dessert your favorite grandmother would make. But it was the Valrona chocolate torte, served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream that sent my taste buds into orbit. This torte, with its slightly crispy edges and soft, almost gooey interior, kept me coming back for “just one more bite.”
Throughout my meal, I was so preoccupied with the intoxicating flavors coming my way, I not only ignored the restaurant’s views, I barely took notice of the excellent service. Our waiter provided attentive, friendly service that was so efficient and professional it was practically invisible. Wine, water, and ice tea glasses were filled instantly; big baskets of sour dough rolls appeared and were kept full; our crab bibs were fastened around our necks almost without our taking notice.
Real Bottom Line: If you want the freshest seafood served in a gorgeous setting, you can’t do better than Seattle’s Chandler’s Crabhouse. A meal at Chandler’s doesn’t come inexpensively. However, it’ll be a meal you dream about for years to come and it’ll make you want to come back again and again. I know I can’t wait for my next visit to Chandler’s Crabhouse. – Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor