Restaurant: Araxi Restaurant
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest/Seafood/Fine Dining
Last visited: July 20, 2012
Location: Whistler, BC
Address: 4222 Village Square
Where I stayed: Four Seasons Resort (Walking distance)
Price Range: $50+ ($25-35 mains)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 4 (Based on what I tried)
- Executive Chef James Walt
- Four Diamond Award 2012
- Multiple award winning restaurant
- “Best Restaurant in Whistler”
- Fine dining
- Pacific Northwest menu
- Local ingredients
- Seasonal menus
- Award winning wine list
- Long Table Dining Series (event)
- Restaurant 5pm – 11pm
- Raw Bar 5pm – midnight
- Bar 3pm – midnight
- Summer Lunch 11am – 3pm
- Sunday Brunch 10am – 2:30pm
It was my first time at the highly raved about Araxi in Whistler. I’m rarely in Whistler, but for Follow Me Foodie to Whistler, this was expectedly going to be on the itinerary. It’s part of the Top Table Restaurant Group, a very well recognized brand with four award winning fine dining establishments in Vancouver. This is their one and only in Whistler.
It is located right in the heart of Whistler Village and it’s part of the top 3 most popular upscale restaurants there. It has won multiple awards and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is one of the most recommended by concierge. It battles alongside Bearfoot Bistro as “the best fine dining restaurant in Whistler”. There are only about 10-15 options for this calibre of dining in Whistler, but I would say Araxi is the one everyone knows regardless of being tourist or local.
The front of the restaurant features a raw bar with sashimi and sushi, but the cuisine is Pacific Northwest. The ambiance and style is similar to their restaurants in Vancouver (West, CinCin Ristorante + Bar, and Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar) and it has a polished look and feel. It’s fancy, but I wouldn’t say it’s formal and it’s approachable white table cloth dining.
Since Whistler is a resort town, the majority of diners seemed like tourists. It’s not a tourist trap and it’s not necessarily a “tourist restaurant”, but it can be a tourist destination. A lot of my food and wine friends from Vancouver will visit Araxi, but there’s also the group that likes something that is more off the beaten path. The ingredients are local, but it just might not be quite as unique to Whistler.
Since Araxi comes from a recognized brand there’s an element of corporate control that you know is there. It’s not really a bad thing, but sometimes it can feel like a safe experience and brand building starts to feel like it takes priority. I don’t have anything against Top Table restaurants, but most successful restaurant groups run in a formulaic manner. There is a certain level of service, quality of food, and ambiance that is associated and expected with the brand and every restaurant has to follow through. In a way it ends up catering to a broader market and generally it’s how I felt about Araxi and I know they are probably capable of more.
I had just come from appetizers and cocktails at Alta Bistro and was invited to try the chef’s 3 course tasting at Araxi. It was a very good restaurant, but it left a memory as a Top Table experience more so than it did as Araxi. I actually preferred their Long Table Dining Series more which I experienced the following day – see here.
The restaurant is so busy and with such a wide spread clientele from all over the world it just plays on the safer and expected side of fine dining. Since this was only one experience where I tried a few dishes I can’t speak for the whole menu, but it does represent Pacific Northwest flavours and it is consistent with the Top Table name. Chances are you’ll have a satisfying and reliable experience, but it just might not exceed higher expectations.
On the table:
- The bread and butter can tell a lot about the restaurant.
- The bread was served warm, but the exterior was a bit hard although the inside was soft and chewy. I’m not sure if they bake them in house.
- Instead of butter it was hummus made and extra virgin olive oil.
- The hummus was pure and simple with chick peas made from their dry state and good fruity olive oil.
- I can eat hummus by the spoonfuls and for me it’s all in the olive oil and this one was very good and well seasoned.
Markus Huber 2011 ‘Hugo’ Grüner Veltliner 2010 (Niederösterreich, Austria) – It was a very dry white wine with lots of acidity from lemon, lime and tart green apples. It went well with the fish course and it really helped enhanced the yuzu in the dish and cut the richness of the risotto. It also had an unusual asparagus flavour which played right into the asparagus in the dish.
- Quinoa and chive risotto, crispy green asparagus and summer vegetable powder, yuzu olive oil and chive vinaigrette.
- It was a nice Asian twist to a very Canadian ingredient – salmon.
- It was considered a small plate and it could have been easily a main if it was a bigger portion, but I enjoyed it as this size.
- The risotto was creamy and al dente, but the quinoa seemed a bit random and it just played a role visually. Texturally and flavour wise it didn’t really do anything.
- It was very rich and cheesy with Parmesan, but I could have used more summer vegetable powder.
- The vegetable powder has good umami (savoury flavour), but there was too little to make an impact on the dish.
- The asparagus was treated as tempura and it was crispy and added texture, but I wish they had a condiment or the batter was sprinkled with vegetable powder for more flavour.
- The yuzu olive oil and chive vinaigrette was a bit thicker than expected and I would have liked more of that too.
- A drizzle of herb oil around the risotto and grated grapefruit zest would have helped stretch the flavours of the vinaigrette and yuzu.
- I was pleased that the salmon came with the skin which was crispy and well seasoned.
- The only thing was that the salmon was a bit too cooked for my standards.
- It was flaky and moist, but it wasn’t creamy and melt in your mouth tender.
- It likely kept cooking over the heat of the risotto and although most would consider it perfectly cooked, I like mine with that buttery silky texture and creamy consistency.
- I still had 2 bones in my fish which isn’t a big deal, but it was a detail that was missed.
- The salmon was also brined in well layered aromatic flavours and it tasted a bit citrusy and a bit herby and it worked really well with the wine.
- Due to the the stacking presentation I ended up relying on the risotto as a sauce for the other items.
- It was a good dish, but I almost wanted it to taste more Japanese and Asian because the description kind of hinted it. It’s probably not the direction of the restaurant though.
Joie Farm Pinot Blanc, 2011, Okanagaan, BC – Joie Farm does wonderful wines and it’s a local favourite for BC wines. The first dish was a complementing wine pairing and this next one was a contrasting wine pairing. I prefer complementing to contrasting, but in this case the contrast worked really well.
It was a very clean and crisp wine with flavours of apples and it was quite acidic and not very sweet. Of course apples and pork always go together, but with the acidity in this, pork belly was calling its name. This is a bit picky, but I would have loved if this course came with 2 half glass wine pairings. A richer complementing red for the tenderloin and then the citrus contrasting white for the belly. Double wine pairings with one course is an early “trend” that I hope picks up.
- Slow cooked pork belly and roasted pork loin with corn and herb salsa, ricotta gnocchi
- The dish featured pork in two ways.
- For the last 2 years pork belly has been on every menu, which isn’t a bad thing, but it wasn’t a very challenging ingredient.
- The tenderloin was sous vide and very tender and topped with sorrel leaves.
- The pork belly was likely braised and incredibly tender as well.
- Since it had more fat it was melt in your mouth creamy and naturally more moist than the tenderloin.
- It was well sourced and it wasn’t all fat and I like my pork belly to have a good meat and fat ratio which this did.
- It was sliced quite thinly so the belly was a bit crispy like bacon and the wine just cut through that richness.
- The belly sat on a corn, tomato and cilantro salsa and it was intense with smoky aromas which played nicely with the pork.
- The tenderloin just seemed a bit more ordinary next to the pork belly and it would be great to dress it up with a purée or condiment.
- I wasn’t a fan of the ricotta gnocchi though and it was really dense, doughy and chewy.
- The sauce could have been a bit more reduced, but it was savoury, sweet and tangy without overwhelming the natural pork flavour.
- The dish was good, but more rustic than I expected and it was a safe concept.
“Liquid raspberry heaven” and it was so true. It was fresh and tart and tasted like real raspberry puree without being too sweet and syrupy. It had a low percentage of alcohol (16%) for a fortified wine, but it was still pretty dangerous. It was paired with a raspberry dessert which was an obvious pairing, but I actually wish it was paired with a dark chocolate dish. It was good, but a bit redundant and I’m not sure if it showcased the fresh raspberries on the plate, or just smothered them.
- Fresh raspberries, sable biscuit, honey-lavender pastry cream, raspberry coulis and chantilly cream
- The dessert was gorgeous and it had summer all over it. It was effortlessly beautiful.
- The mint garnish was nice, but it would be better as a chiffonade because I like garnishes to look like they are meant to be eaten.
- The dessert was bursting with fresh whole raspberries from Pemberton and it’s exactly what I would want a “raspberry Napoleon” to be like.
- The sable cookie was tender and buttery and nicely sweetened and it was a nice change to an old fashioned phyllo pastry.
- The cookie was made with some vanilla beans and it was a very good cookie with a soft crumb.
- The honey-lavender pastry cream could have used more vanilla bean to enhance all the other flavours, and I could taste the subtle infusion of lavender, but it wasn’t too floral.
- There was a nice sweet and tart contrast and good textures, but personally I would have loved some almonds, pistachios or hazelnuts to dress it up a bit more.
- Some lavender baked into the cookie would have been nice as well, but the dessert was still enjoyed and I ended up eating everyone else’s unfinished plates.
Complimentary Petit Fours – Petite Madeleines and Macarons - Every fine dining restaurant should finish off with them, but it’s not always the case. The petit madeleines were moist, syrupy and sweet and rich in almond flavour, but the macarons were inconsistent. Some were soft with a bit of chew and a crisp shell, and then a couple others were dried out. Nonetheless I prefer these to pâte de fruits.