– Words by Joanne Peters
Whistler Blackcomb is well known the world over for its epic, extensive terrain. The powdery winter playground makes skiers and snowboarders believe they really have reached seventh heaven. But there’s another side to the village of Whistler, and the secret is starting to get out: with a vast menu of dining experiences, it has become as much a draw for food lovers as it has for powder-hounds.
Some of the earliest restaurants to open in Whistler are iconic today. There’s the upscale Rimrock Café, which has been specializing in fish and game since it opened in 1987, and Araxi Restaurant + Oyster Bar, a farm-to-table restaurant launched in 1981 by Jack Evrensel (who named it after his wife) that’s now owned by the Aquilini family’s Toptable Group.
Whether brand-new or well-established, upscale or casual, several other restaurants are elevating Whistler’s culinary offerings to glacier-level heights.
The latest addition to the local scene is one of the most exciting and anticipated restaurants in all of BC. Wild Blue Restaurant + Bar comes from a team of industry superstars, including Evrensel, a BC Restaurant Hall of Fame inductee. At Wild Blue, he’s joined forces with classically trained chef Alex Chen, an Iron Chef Canada champion with numerous other honours to his name, and veteran restaurant director Neil Henderson.
The room is elegant but warm and comfortable, with a refined but approachable style that’s reflected on the menu. Executed at the highest level by executive chef Derek Bendig, the dishes favour substance and purity of flavours, not unrecognizable ingredients or esoteric techniques.
Wild Blue’s focus is on food from the ocean—think oysters, geoduck and littleneck clams, kelp, seaweed, caviar, halibut, sablefish, salmon, prawns—and, to a lesser degree, the land, with items like foraged wild mushrooms, Pemberton organic produce, Alberta elk and Japanese A5 Wagyu beef. Bar manager Zack Lavoie’s cocktails are a draw (try the French 75-inspired Beretta, with limoncello, citron vodka, Italian herbs, lemon and Prosecco), while wine director Chris Edens offers thoughtful, playful pairings to make a meal a multilayered experience.
“Experiential” is an apt descriptor for a visit to Bearfoot Bistro, a Whistler classic helmed by award-winning chef Melissa Craig. Discerning diners can order premium BC seafood and wild game, as well as discover coveted global ingredients ranging from Wagyu beef to Périgord truffles. This is also where guests can rest their glass of Champagne along a pewter bar’s rail of ice so it stays perfectly chilled, or try a hand at sabering a bottle of bubbles.
Then there’s the dazzling Ketel One Ice Room, where people can pop into sub-zero temperatures to sip on a flight of four vodkas. The walls are literally made of ice, and the bistro provides parkas to keep guests warm for the coolest tasting in town.
If there are chefs and then there are culinary artists, Nick Cassettari falls into the latter camp, coming up with daring, creative dishes at Alta Bistro. The menu is ever-changing, in keeping with its focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients, but count on finding inventive takes on everything from elk tartare and tuna crudo to glorious boards of cheeses and cured meats. Winter visitors might find cassoulet and tourtière on the menu. Also making appearances when the time is right are spruce and fir tips, wood ear mushrooms, elderflower, and pickled everything.
Fairmont Chateau Whistler is a must-experience, with its unbeatable views and location at the base of Blackcomb Mountain, and its four on-site restaurants. The intimate Grill Room prioritizes chops, steak and seafood. The Wildflower offers refined family-friendly dining, offering everything from an alpine breakfast buffet to à la carte dinner entrees such as beeswax-aged Fraser Valley duck and crispy-skinned king salmon. The Mallard Lounge is quintessential Fairmont—sumptuous chairs, a soaring ceiling, a commanding fireplace, excellent cocktails and top-notch shareable plates. There’s a vast selection of Scotch, too.
Portobello’s casual counter-style service, meanwhile, belies one of the most well-executed menus in town, which stands out for a few reasons: there’s the decadent waffle selection (from berries to buttermilk-fried chicken); meats cooked to juicy perfection in a rotisserie oven, including a hard-to-find, perfectly crackly, consistently excellent porchetta; and house-made pastries, muffins and doughnuts.
Over at Four Seasons Whistler Resort and Residences, the newly renovated Sidecut Steakhouse, with its magnificent central fireplace, excels at premium, perfectly cooked meats and a level of superlative service for which the hotel name is known. Goa-born executive chef Sajish Kumar Das has curated selections that range from Wagyu Black Label flat iron steak from Idaho’s Snake River Farms, to High River, Alberta’s Chateaubriand centre-cut tenderloin. Guests can enhance any of the steaks with one of Sidecut’s signature rubs, like the zesty Sergeant Pepper. A stop in at the adjacent Braidwood Tavern is where adults can enjoy spiked hot chocolates from around the world.
An altogether different culinary journey happens at the unfussy Barn Nork Aharn Thai. The newish restaurant is tiny, but takeout is an option, and it has quickly won over locals with items such as pad thai, beef massaman curry with roasted Pemberton potatoes, hand-made spring rolls, and gang kiew waan (spicy green curry with eggplant, Thai basil and bell pepper).
Sushi Village Japanese Restaurant has long been a Whistler favourite among locals and visitors alike. Opened in 1985, it’s a go-to spot for birthdays and a must-visit eatery for touring pro skiers and boarders. Udon, donburi and teriyaki dinners are all popular, and the restaurant has a section of the menu dedicated exclusively to tofu. We love the freshly made rolls, especially Pete’s Beet (with mango, cilantro, ginger, avocado and house-made chili oil) and box-shaped sushi topped with flame-seared salmon, lemon, jalapeno and rare black tobiko (flying fish roe).
Whistler, finally, is home to Purebread. With locations in the village and at Function Junction, this is the place to find a huge, jaw-dropping assortment of freshly baked and simply but gorgeously decorated squares, loaves, cakes, bars, cookies, pies and other forms of baked goodness. Look for the lineups out the door. They’re worth it.