The fried oysters are crusted with blue corn meal and topped with cilantro cream.
We have whittled it down to a science: 6:30 – leave home. 6:45 – arrive and park.
6:50 – enter restaurant and speak to hostess. 6:55 to 7:35 – huddle into the cozy bar area and order the signature Prickly Pear Margaritas. 7:35 to 7:50 – get seated. And by approximately 8:00pm (a very agreeable dinner hour for us) - dig into a fabulous meal.
Canyon, a tiny, candlelit café on Sunrise Blvd. and US 1 in Fort Lauderdale is one of our favorite places to go for a special dinner. I always dress up, and we always order the Prickly Pear Margarita while we wait patiently for a table because Canyon does not take reservations. I don’t know why they make dining here such an unpredictable experience – Will it be a two hour wait? Will we ever get seated? – but I do know that it hasn’t hurt business.
That must be because the food is creative and consistently good. Canyon serves contemporary, gourmet Southwestern fare. This has never been our cuisine of choice, but nothing Canyon sends out of the kitchen is my idea of typical Southwestern food. The first meal I ever had there was the chef’s special of halibut with a puttanesca sauce and a sticky rice “tamale.” The fish was cooked to such a luscious firm-tender texture, and the tamale on the side was so original, I was won over straight away.
Although we always have to be careful not to eat too much at Canyon, appetizers are not to be missed. One of my favorite dishes ever is their take on chiles rellenos, a poblano pepper stuffed with goat cheese, coated in a cornmeal batter and served with a New Mexican red chile sauce and black bean salsa. The tangy, herb-inflected goat cheese is the perfect creamy accompaniment to the spicy sauce and toothsome black beans.
The tequila and jalapeno-smoked salmon tostada with goat cheese, grilled scallions and scotch bonnet tartar sauce is built like a pizza with a crispy fried tortilla as the crust. Big enough to be an entrée, the seemingly disparate flavors of the salmon, cheese and spicy tartar sauce marry flawlessly in every bite.
For a lighter appetizer option, go with the crispy blue corn fried oysters. The corn coating adds a firm crunch to the fat fresh oysters, and the spicy cilantro cream is a fresh alternative to tartar sauce.
Mike has ordered Canyon’s filet mignon a few times, and it always has a velvety rare center, as requested. It gets some Southwestern style with poblano pesto, goat cheese (they seem be fans of goat cheese in this kitchen, but I can't say I mind) and a zinfandel reduction. On our last visit, Mike tried the roast chicken with mole, instead of his usual order of steak. He enjoyed it and thought the mole was particularly good, but I found the meat a bit too dry. It is the only complaint I have ever had with the food here.
I often get the special at Canyon. There is usually some fresh fish on offer, and I like to think the chef puts special attention into these creations. The latest winning order was grilled trout with sautéed spinach and escarole and a port wine reduction. I balked at the combination of fish with port, but decided to see what the chef could do. It turned out that the trick was the bitter escarole that acted as a perfect foil for the intense oak and berry flavors of the port. It was a surprising and inspired choice to pair with the slightly oily fish. The citrus skirt steak with prickly pear-marinated onions is another lovely entrée that actually originated as a special. This kitchen has a way with both beef and fish that make it a particular pleasure to work your way through the entire menu.
I have eaten desserts at Canyon, but in our most recent visits, we have given up on the lofty goal of saving enough room to enjoy them. I seem to remember that the pecan pie was spectacular, but I’ll leave that territory for you to navigate on your own.
Not being able to reserve a table is a bit frustrating, but our timeline has never failed us (knock on wood). With that, and a menu that rarely disappoints, maybe Canyon is not so unpredictable after all.