Elevating The Humble Salad

Elevating the Humble Salad

Story by Nikki Bayley / Images by Joern Rohde

Forget basic, simple salads. Summer is for pushing culinary boundaries and dining expectations by exploring exactly what the perfectly composed salad can be, using the freshest, most delicious ingredients available from this season’s bounty.

Think edible flowers and foraged ingredients, heritage varieties and elevated, cheffy touches. Pair that with a well-chosen protein and head to the nearest patio to embrace something new, and lift the humble salad to its rightful place as the star of your meal.

Thai-inspired Lobster Salad

Recently ranked among Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants for 2019, good times are always guaranteed at the Bearfoot Bisto, one of Whistler’s most decadent spots, where you can saber Champagne in the wine cellar, sip vodka in the -32C (-25F) Ketel One Ice Room (the world’s coldest vodka tasting room) and feast on Executive Chef Melissa Craig’s superb seasonal creations.

Impossibly Instagrammable, this Thai-inspired Lobster Salad is almost too pretty to eat … almost, but not quite. Diving in, this next-level salad blends summer freshness of crunchy daikon, cucumber and snap peas with the delicate juicy sweetness of lobster claws from the cold, clear waters of the Îles de la Madeleine. Flown in direct from Quebec all summer long, the claw’s the star in this salad, made bright with aromatic nam jim dressing spiked with lime juice.

whistler dining bearfoot bistro

“I think anything can be a salad,” Craig says. “It’s cold, there’s a protein and vegetables. It doesn’t need to be greens, although we have micro-greens — mint, radish and cilantro — here. It’s fresh!” Inspiration for this dish comes here from a forthcoming month-long trip to Thailand. “We’ve got plans for the first five days, but after that … nothing! I just plan to do a lot of eating.”

604-932-3433 | bearfootbistro.com

whistler dining alta bistro

Salad of Textures
from the Land and Sea

Fresh from winning gold as the Best Whistler restaurant at the recent Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards, it’s time to shine a spotlight on locals’ favourite the Alta Bistro and Executive Chef Nick Cassettari. Salad becomes something adventurous in Cassettari’s talented hands; his modern take on the classic Tuna Niçoise showcases different coastal B.C. seaweeds in all shapes and forms: cured, puffed, fried and pickled; sprouted Canadian green lentils; preserved Meyer lemons; and succulent slices of seared Albacore tuna.

This salad sings with incredible textures: a sweet crispness from the germinated lentils that taste like a peppery pea slaw, a crunch from rice cooked with squid ink, dehydrated and puffed into the tastiest cracker. And then there’s the deep-fried kombu, or “sea bacon” as Cassettari calls it — an instantly addictive umami bomb.

“This is not a boring salad,” says Cassettari with a grin as he sprinkles edible magnolia flowers and shards of miso-cured, dehydrated egg yolk on his picture-perfect creation. “We don’t mess around when it comes to salads — sure, there’s nothing more refreshing than a bitter greens salad with just salt and dressing, and I have that all year — but I love to create an experience. Of course, it has to be delicious and somewhat recognizable as a salad, but I want people to look at this and think, ‘Wow!’”

604-932-2582 | altabistro.com

Italian Burrata Cheese with Heirloom Tomatoes

Blessed with one of the most beautiful views in Whistler, looking out over the mountains mirrored in the stillness of Nita Lake, Aura can also count Executive Chef James Olberg as one of its most impressive assets. Olberg is a Bocuse d’Or alumnus and represented Canada against 23 other countries in one of the most prestigious and difficult cooking competitions in the world in 2017. With his exceptional skills, Aura offers guests a rare chance to dine on the delights of a culinary Olympian.

“I think salads get interesting when you stop thinking about them as just leaves. I get this beautiful burrata from Italy. I have so much respect for it — you cut it, put it on the plate and it looks ...” he pauses, casting around for the perfect word, “it looks elegant.”

whistler dining aura reataurant

This bright salad of sun-ripened tomatoes and ooey-gooey burrata, with pickled onions and Marcona almonds, is dressed with a zesty house-made salsa verde of house-grown herbs and scattered with edible nasturtium and pansy flowers, picked straight from Nita Lake Lodge’s rooftop garden. “I’m not a gardener but last year I felt I understood the passion of gardening — I could pick tomatoes or pansies and then see them grow back a few days later. Amazing!”

604-966-5711 | nitalakelodge.com

whistler dining il caminetto

Roasted Cauliflower Salad

Back in late 2017, celebrated farm-to-table pioneer Executive Chef James Walt of Araxi fame expanded his culinary field to showcase the delights of Italian food at Toptable Group’s newly acquired and renovated Il Caminetto, in the heart of Whistler Village. At the 2019 Where to Dine Awards, Critics’ Choice for Best New Whistler Restaurant, those simple-but-perfect flavours married with the fresh, seasonal ingredients available in Whistler’s backyard scored an instant hit. Now that summer’s here, it’s the perfect time to feast on Walt’s divine, sun-kissed creations.

“I’m inspired by an ingredient — say, the quality of a vegetable — and then I start thinking around that,” Walt says about the origin of his new Roasted Cauliflower Salad. “People are freaking out about this; it’s got a ton of flavour!” This punchy, flavourful salad uses a trio of brassicas; white and purple cauliflower; and the intriguingly fractal-shaped chartreuse green Romanesco — dry-roasted for a caramelized, meaty flavour — on a chickpea purée with a smoked paprika emulsion. No ordinary hummus, these chickpeas and tahini are punctuated with confit garlic and lemon with fried chickpeas sprinkled through for crunch and texture.

“Back in the day, salad just meant one thing,” muses Walt, “but now a salad is all-encompassing, and it can be a whole meal. It’s so much more than just greens on a plate!”

604-932-4442 | ilcaminetto.com

Summer Niçoise

There’s always a buzzy atmosphere at the Grill & Vine, and if you time your visit right, you can enjoy the tempting aroma of fresh-baked Neapolitan pizza wafting from the gleaming Wood Stone hearth oven. But it’s not crisp pizzas that are on Executive Chef Bradley Cumming’s mind today; instead, he’s pondering the question of what makes a salad a salad.

“There has to be a dressing that brings it all together,” he nods, “but think about popular proteins today: quinoa, beans, Buddha bowls. Deep down they’re all just composed salads, really. And they’re making an impact with guests who want lighter, healthier, plant-based meals.”

whistler dining grill & vine

Chef Cumming’s take on a Tuna Niçoise lifts a sometimes-stodgy standard into something bright with a judicious punch of citrus. Skinned heirloom tomatoes add a silky texture to this pleasing plate featuring purple potatoes, pea shoots, green beans and English peas with tender slices of done-just-right Albacore tuna, a perfectly cooked egg, scattered toasted pumpkin seeds for a nuanced crunch and, of course, a delicious yuzu dressing. There’s no pondering what to pair with this summer sensation, though. “I’m all about rosé at the moment,” Cumming says. “It’s such a great summer sipper.”

604-935-4338 | grillandvinewhistler.com