Marry the Pear
Sweet French Surrealism at Can Can Kitchen & Cabaret
The server's bosom is pushed up as far as humanly possible, and not staring seems ruder than doing so, given the invitation of her Dresden-blue corset. The subterranean former home of Patti Summers's deeply weird, campy, jazz(ish) club has been transformed into the deeply weird, campy, French(ish) Can Can, where the waitresses double as cancan dancers, performing midmeal in a stroke of surreal dinner theater.
It's Saturday night, and a bachelorette party shouts and squeals; two birthday celebrations are in the house as well. Eventually the principals of these affairs (all women, oddly) are called up on the tiny stage, where they writhe on bentwood chairs while a male dancer creates an approximation of provocation around them. He's shirtless under a vest and wearing stripey felt ears. The song is about kissing a tiger.
"You picked a great night to be here," the server says ruefully. But with its location in Pike Place Market and its gimmick, tourists and parties are probably Can Can's destiny, at least at dinnertime. The rose-colored dimness, though, makes everyone look better than they have a right to, and live accordion music imparts an exciting sense of impending chaos. As for the food, it's better than it has to be; Justin Lyon, veteran of kitchens in Italy, France, and New York (one of Jean-Georges's, even), is acquitting himself well as a first-time head chef here.
A diner proclaims love for a pear—a pear wrapped in prosciutto, lolling in Gorgonzola cream sauce, sprinkled with crushed walnuts. This pear's qualities encapsulate Can Can: It is cheesy, voluptuous, proximately French, stupid-decadent, purposefully nutty, stupefyingly in-your-face. It is a $10 pear—pricey, but it is a Comice pear, creamy in texture, rotund, juicy, abundantly sweet, oft considered the apex of peardom. A 150-year-old variety from France, properly called in full Doyenné du Comice, it surely was named in honor of a Frenchwoman's breast. Perhaps inspired by the bachelorette party, the eater of the pear declares his intention to marry it.
The menu tends toward the fulfillment of dairy and richness; arancini ($6), an Italian answer to the pear, are luxurious deep-fried risotto balls oozing with smoked mozzarella. Their red sauce merits praise for actually being spicy, as billed, with lots of fresh basil to soften the edge. Creditable pan-seared scallops ($14) with fennel and citrus oil stand out as the lightest, simplest starter other than a fine salad of mixed greens ($7), tarted up with roasted beets and candied walnuts.
In the entrée arena, red wine–braised short ribs ($19) win most lovable; the meat is wildly rich and practically cloudlike in texture, the pillow of parsnip purée clearly composed primarily of whipping cream. Penne baked with fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, and meatballs ($15), firmly back in the cheesy realm, satisfies unspectacularly as such a dish should, while pasta puttanesca, properly al dente, is made with fresh tagliatelle that's coated nicely with sauce rather than standing in it. Even the diner who claims dangerously low cholesterol fears the pasta sauced with mushroom/truffle/heavy cream/Parmigiano ($18), which leaves market seafood (market priced), a plate of filet mignon medallions (at $28, hard to wrap the mind around in this setting), and swordfish ($18). The last proves tasty if strange in appearance; the filet, about a quarter-inch thick, curls up at the edges in a manner that's somehow visceral. The fish's chunky tomato sauce carries the salt of capers, again a good dose of promised spice, lots of black olives, fresh mint and orange zest, and tiny, tender clams for interest.
Dessert is just gelato or cannolis, according to the dancer/waitress (a mistake on Can Can's part; something obscenely chocolatey would be a hit with the out-of-towners and brides-to-be). Service is full of little telltales that she's green: She carries things timidly, tries to take a wine glass with a mouthful still in it (which is wrested back by its owner), extends a plate hopefully into the air instead of finding a way to nestle it onto the table. But she has the face of an angel, she's completely pleasant, and she can dance the cancan.
Late night here takes on a Lynchian cast, with the possibility of tap-dancing or dwarves, banjo or twisted torch songs; after the tourists are all tucked in may be the best time to be at Can Can. There's even a late-night menu—but alas, no pear.