The Simple Pleasure of Sharing

The Simple Pleasure of Sharing

Story by Nikki Bayley / Images by Joern Rohde


We’re declaring this the Summer of Sharing and cutting the ribbon right now on indulging in sociable meals on sunny patios, surrounded by friends and family, ordering absolutely everything to share. Oh, how I have missed stealing French fries off friends’ plates and enjoying that wonderful experience of sitting at a busy table! Let’s get back together once more to share the good things in life: Get excited about piled-high platters of seafood, decadent bowls of poutine, nachos with a twist, and so much more.

Seafood Bucket

Executive Chef Melissa Craig

“Bucket” doesn’t really come close to describing the joyful decadence of the heaping presentation of sustainable seafood that Bearfoot Executive Chef Melissa Craig is nimbly arranging for us. Alaskan snow crab and Atlantic lobster poached in a salty ocean-like court bouillon, seaweed-crusted yellowfin tuna, prawns, East and West Coast oysters, clams in a paprika-spiked escabeche, grilled octopus, surf clam, scallops in a Nam Jim ceviche bright with pickled shallots, salmon roe cured in sake with mirin, ginger, and rice wine vinegar: This is no bucket! It’s a cornucopia of ocean-fresh delights!

whistler dining bearfoot bistro

“I’ll be changing up the seafood as the season changes: halibut cheeks, spot prawns, cedar plank-grilled salmon,” she says. Then, we discuss how much we missed dining in big groups through the pandemic. Craig beams as she tells me about a recent trip to Vancouver Island to visit family (“Chinese food, ordering everything and spinning that Lazy Susan! I missed family dinners so much. It’s the best part of eating for me: It’s not the flavours and it’s not the food, it’s the company.”).

Of course, she’s right, but when the food, flavours and company are all excellent, and you also happen to be at the Bearfoot Bistro, well, that’s when the magic happens. I got to experience that first-hand after our photographer, Joern, finished capturing the gorgeous presentation that Craig had prepared for us. As we chatted, other Bearfoot staff joined us at the table. Someone opened a bottle of Champagne (to celebrate a birthday), and suddenly, there it was: everything we’d been missing, the clink of glasses, laughter, and aahs of delight as we feasted — together.

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whistler dining alta bistro

Tappy Hour Selection

Head Chef Alex Reeve

We’ve ordered a selection of Caramba’s Tappy Hour favourites, from house-made ricotta to their justly famous Calamari à la Plancha and a bowl of herb-flecked, marinated mixed olives. As we feast on the garlicky, perfectly cooked calamari fighting over the crispy bits, and nab the prized Castelvetrano olives (“so buttery and smooth!”), Caramba’s bright room is filling up. “This summer’s going to be busy. We’re welcoming overseas visitors again; now it’s easier for people to travel,” says Head Chef Alex Reeve. “The big thing for us as a restaurant is groups, so it’s been great to have more than six people [seated together] at a time again. Now we’re back doing our family-style dinners with a whole bunch of food going out to a group at one time when it’s ready; it’s wonderful to see packed tables having a great time once more!”

“People just love that ricotta,” Reeves says with a laugh as I slather another slice of crunchy sourdough, crisscrossed with griddle marks, with the Lillooet honey-drizzled creamy cheese that has just the right hit of citrus. “The Scotch egg is always a hit too,” says Reeve. “It’s a soft-boiled egg wrapped in Cuban chorizo, breaded, and then deep-fried. We don’t cut it in half; we leave that privilege to the guests so they can enjoy the egg yolk running out!” I match the action to the word and slice it open; it’s perfect, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside and the chorizo is so fragrant and spicy — and yes, the yolk-ooze brings an admiring hit of delight. Forget Happy Hour. It’s all about Tappy Hour at Caramba!

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Seafood Tower

Chef James Walt

Not a lot of people know it, but one of Whistler’s iconic dishes, the Araxi Seafood Tower, has its roots in one of New York’s most celebrated brasserie restaurants. “I first saw a seafood tower at Balthazar in New York; there was one on maybe every second table! Everyone was just drinking wine and enjoying the food; it just looked wonderful,” reminisces Chef James Walt. “But we wanted something taller for Araxi, so you could see that top tier across the room; I liked the idea of getting up to reach over!”

whistler dining aura reataurant

Launched at the same time as the restaurant’s raw bar in 2003, the driving force behind this eye-catching dish was sharing. “It’s a showstopper, right?” declares Walt. “We wanted six or eight people around the table enjoying the towers, which were specially designed so that you can rotate the bowls.” For Walt, sharing plates is the future of food; since the Covid crisis has passed, sales of popular shared dishes such as fondue and the Seafood Tower have soared. “People just want to share again. It’s what we’ve missed the most.”

Whether you choose two or three layers, this iconic tower always has a West Coast focus: local albacore tuna “zuke,” wild smoked sockeye salmon, spot prawns in season, along with other treats such as jellyfish salad ceviche, spicy tuna roll, pops of Ikura salmon roe and a one-pound whole maritime lobster on the third tier. “We never want to complicate it too much,” Walt says. “We like to keep it classic. It’s all about the seafood seasonality and keeping it 100 per cent Ocean Wise.”

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whistler dining il caminetto

What The Duck Poutine

Sidecut Executive Chef Sajish Kumar

As soon as I knew that our dining story in this issue was about the joy of sharing, I couldn’t stop thinking about the superb duck confit poutine at Braidwood Tavern. No ordinary poutine, What the Duck begins with a Brome Lake duck leg cooked long, slow, and low, confit-style to retain all its juiciness. Once cooked to falling-apart perfection, it tops a mountain of crisp fries, pickled poblano peppers, squeaky cheese curds, and a generous serving of gravy with a lacy-edged, soft fried egg perched on top. It’s a thing of belt-loosening, finger-licking, napkin-swabbing beauty. Sidecut Executive Chef Sajish Kumar agrees, “Everyone loves it, and you can share poutine for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!”

New this season, more poutines will be added to the menu, pulling inspiration from the international culinary team. “We have a Tex-Mex version with fried fish, avocado, and a salsa-spiked gravy; an amazing Italian option with a beef ragù gravy, cherry tomatoes, bocconcini, basil, and bacon bits; and for fans of spice we’ve got a poutine with fried chicken and my sous chef’s home-recipe hot sauce mixed in with the gravy — so hot, so good,” exclaims Kumar.

As I indulge in the ooey-gooey, gravy-drenched fries with a punch from the pickled poblano, Kumar looks around the room and says with a smile, “It’s amazing. We’re getting back to where we were again. It’s just so good to see our guests back here sharing their food. It was hard missing that time, but finally, we’re able to be together again.”

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Surf and Turf Platter

Executive Chef Justin Starr

Relatively new to Whistler (but a much-loved downtown Vancouver tradition), Joe Fortes opened in the Village during the pandemic, so for Executive Chef Justin Starr and his team, it’s been tough to have never seen their restaurant at capacity. But finally, all that has changed. “No more plexiglass!” Starr beams when we sit down to talk about their gloriously celebratory Surf and Turf Platter. “It’s been a collective sigh of relief since we’ve been able to get back to being what Joe’s is meant to be.”

whistler dining grill & vine

The dish was only meant to be a Valentine’s special, but guests loved it so much that it’s become a new Joe’s classic. “For me, as part of the Haisla (xá’isla) Nation, growing up on the Kitimaat Village reserve, feasts were the big time to celebrate; whether that’s someone getting a name or getting married, so I love the idea of sharing meals.” Featuring a Canadian 12-ounce New York striploin (“grilled to whatever the customer’s idea of perfection is”), surrounded by seared jumbo scallops, jumbo prawns, a 1.5-pound lobster with melted garlic butter for dipping — accompanied by a mix of oyster, shimeji and cremini mushrooms, decadently roasted in butter, white wine and garlic, a healthy portion of creamed spinach rich with nutmeg and Parmesan, a cloud of the creamiest mashed potatoes, and a brandy-spiked peppercorn sauce: This certainly feels like the most celebratory of feasts!

“It’s a theatre piece,” explains Starr. “The servers come out with the melted butter and the pepper[corn] sauce; then they’ll French-serve a lobster tail, some steak, and prawns. Guests absolutely love it. We’ve had to put it on the menu permanently now — we just can’t take it off.”

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Vegan Nachos

Chef Darren Brown

I’ll be honest: I didn’t have “losing my mind over vegan nachos” on my culinary bingo card this year. Still, Chef Darren Brown has, yet again, dazzled my palate, but he laughingly confesses this binge-worthy dish was a total accident. “I’ve been making lots of different kinds of vegan ‘cheezes’ for our ‘cheezeboard’; I usually set them with agar-agar, but I was making a batch and ran out, so [I] tried half-and-half with kappa carrageenan (both vegan-friendly setting agents made from seaweed) instead and discovered that it melts but, crucially, solidifies again. So, you can have a vegan ‘cheeze’ which melts like regular cheese. This changes everything!”

whistler dining grill & vine

Like all good nachos, these are generously topped, this time with gooey, spicy, chipotle-cheddar cheeze, and you can add crumbled Modern Meats vegan sausage. As Brown explains, he wants the Cure Lounge & Patio to be an inclusive space for everyone: “I don’t want anyone to come into my restaurant and feel left out. My son has an anaphylactic nut allergy, so all my vegan cheezes are nut-free and made from a sunflower-and-coconut base.”

Brown can’t wait to see big groups in the spacious room again. “It’s such a great room for those big occasions, and we have our huge patio overlooking the lake too. Our space is really created for group dining, so our menu has lots of exciting things for people to share.”

My advice? Don’t leave these delicious nachos for the vegans, but maybe order a couple, as they might be too good to share!

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