Whistler, BC – Alta Bistro

Restaurant: Alta Bistro
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest/Seafood/Fine Dining
Last visited: July 20, 2012
Location: Whistler, BC
Address: #104 – 4319 Main Street
Where I stayed: Four Seasons Resort (Walking distance)
Price Range: $30-50+ (Mains $18-26)

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 4.5 (Based on what I tried)
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 4
Overall: 4.5
Additional comments:

  • Since 2011
  • Pacific Northwest menu
  • Casual fine dining
  • Local ingredients
  • Seasonal menus
  • Mostly organic
  • Organic/sustainable meats/seafood
  • Cozy/intimate/sophisticated
  • Hidden gem
  • Local favourite
  • Limited menu
  • $29 3 course price fixe
  • 43 seats
  • Premium Enomatic wine-serving system
  • Cocktail program
  • Wine program
  • Mon-Sun: 5:30pm to midnight

**Recommendations: S&T cocktail, La Niña cocktail, Splash non-alcoholic cocktail, Alberta Elk Tartar & Duck Liver Parfait, and I didn’t try the short rib, but have heard good things.

This was one of those restaurants I wanted to pluck and bring down to Vancouver, BC. However at the same time it might lose its charm in a bigger city and it was unique to Whistler. The restaurant was tucked away in Whistler Village and I would have overlooked it walking by. It was one of those insider gems likely known to local food and wine enthusiast, but it’s not well recognized by tourists yet. It only opened January 2011 so it has some time before it becomes a well established brand and name, but it has a lot of potential and a well deserved growing buzz.

As a Vancouverite who is rather new to Whistler I had many pre-assumptions. Being that Whistler is a resort town and tourist destination I wanted to find less “touristy restaurants”. I like to visit a couple famous eateries, a couple hidden gems, some hole in the walls and then some fine dining restaurants. I like to go all across the board and cover a bit of everything to get a better grasp of the city’s standard and what is available. Alta Bistro ended up being the “hidden gem” of Follow Me Foodie to Whistler.

On this occasion my itinerary was set and I was invited for cocktails and appetizers at Alta Bistro before dinner at Araxi. Therefore I only tried some cocktails and a few appetizers which doesn’t tell me much about the restaurant, but it was a great teaser and I left wanting more which is always a good sign.

I don’t want to keep relating things back to Vancouver because this is Whistler, but it’s hard to leave my biases aside especially when home is just 2-3 hours drive away. I want to make sure there is something special in Whistler that you can’t really get in Vancouver. Of course many of you won’t be going to Whistler just for the food, but if you’re on this site then you actually might.

To put things into perspective (and this is more for Vancouverites), I found Alta Bistro the “Yang” to L’Abattoir’s “Yin”. I know. What the… ?! But yes, it’s the only way I can put it. It totally suits being in Vancouver, specifically in Gastown, and it was the white version of L’Abattoir. And by “white” I’m not referring to race, but to the white side of the Yin and Yang symbol. Heck, even the owners have blond hair here versus the brunette haired gentlemen at L’Abattoir. I just couldn’t help but to draw comparisons and I wasn’t even looking for them.

To be fair it wasn’t the exact same, but there were parallels in terms of style, feel, and even concept. The owners, sommelier, bartender and chef at both restaurants are all males and considered very experienced in their industry. All of them come from upscale and fine dining restaurant backgrounds, so together at their respective restaurants they make a strong team and solid foundation for any upscale restaurant.

Both restaurants have an eclectic wine program, innovative cocktail list, and build on the idea of French bistro with West Coast flavours and an emphasis on local and sustainable ingredients. (L’Abattoir isn’t a bistro, but they use French techniques). Perhaps all the things I’m mentioning are just typical of restaurants today, but if you’ve been to both restaurants I think you’ll understand what I mean. If anything the food and style of chefs are quite different (L’Abattoir being seemingly more refined and formal, although the kitchen is almost triple the size), but if you like one, you’ll probably like the other.

Alta Bistro is opened by Eric Griffith (former wine director and manager at Umberto’s Trattoria and il Caminetto) and Edward Dangerfield (worked at Après restaurant, the Rim Rock and La Bocca). The Executive Chef is Nick Cassettari and the head barman is Scot Curry (former bartender at Araxi). The concept of the restaurant is local, sustainable, ethical and organic and it does come across as very Canadian and West Coast.

The restaurant is supposed to be approachable and casual fine dining, but I felt like it was fine dining and it was trying a bit hard. Some things just felt a bit pretentious like the “Whistler water that has been filtered by our in-house Vivreau filtering system and bottled on site”, or the premium Enomatic wine-serving system, or smaller portions of food that are daintily presented, or 3 course $29 menu with supplementary costs for better options, which could easily lead to a $40-50 3 course. All those characteristics are consistent, but not with the original philosophy and it just stopped feeling like a bistro or a casual neighbourhood spot. It felt like a special occasion place, but the space didn’t suggest it.

I do respect and value their initiatives and support for local and sustainable ingredients, but it just came off a bit unapproachable and it didn’t have to be to deliver the same message. Nonetheless despite my opinions, the wine list and cocktails were all very impressed and my teaser experience was convincing enough for a revisit. I enjoyed myself. It was actually an unexpected highlight in Follow Me Foodie to Whistler and since I haven’t tried a full dinner there, I think it’s only fair to recommend it for pre or post-dinner occasions.

On the table:

They are the first in Whistler to use the premium Enomatic wine-serving system which protects the wine from oxidation so that every glass is as good as the first. The photo above shows their finest wine selections and you can order two-ounce samplers before the 6 oz glass. They offer more affordable wines by the glass too and their offerings would impress wine enthusiasts. They include both BC and international selections and believe in serving organic, biodynamic, or sustainable wines.

**S&T5/6 (Excellent)

  • Double of locally made Schramm gin served long on the rocks with cucumber and lime zest, Fentimans tonic on the side $14
  • And good night. This was my drink.
  • I said “I prefer gin” and this is what he gave me from the cocktail list. It was strong, especially since I forgot to add the tonic at first.
  • I had just come from visiting the Schramm gin distillery too, so I was just soaking in the local ingredients, which happened to be gin from Pemberton.
  • I must say that Schramm gin is the gin of choice in Whistler.
  • Almost every gin drink I ordered was made with Schramm, which is a good thing because it’s an excellent gin that is locally produced.
  • Schramm gin is one of the few certified organic gins out there.
  • There are only 8 botanicals and herbs in this gin and I could taste the juniper berries, rosemary and even rose hips.
  • It’s sweet, citrusy and a bit floral with a nice spice and it was a gin you could sip on.
  • I actually forgot to add the tonic in it at first and I was drinking it on the rocks. Obviously it was very strong, but I could do it… just very slowly.
  • I don’t have a high tolerance so I had to stop early on in the game, but it was an excellent drink served with the right brand of tonic.
  • Fentimans tonic is all natural and it’s very crisp and almost bittersweet with Juniper berries. It’s tonic water that was made for gin.
  • This cocktail didn’t require much preparation besides the presentation and garnish because it let the Schramm gin speak for itself – as it should.
  • A great gin shouldn’t require any squeeze of lime and this one just used a lime peel spiral. They called it “lime zest”, but it wasn’t.
  • It was simple with great presentation and very well hand selected components.
  • If you’re a gin lover, then you’re probably drooling already and it’s a great drink for tourists to experience because it’s a unique gin special to the area.

Endless Summer #2 – 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • Bourbon, house made peach syrup, fresh lemon and Scotty’s bitters served on the rocks $11
  • It was a good summery drink and it wasn’t too boozy.
  • It seemed more acidic than sweet to me and I forgot to ask what kind of bourbon he used.
  • It was a fruity fresh take on an Old Fashioned and I actually would have liked a peach garnish and a sprinkle of cinnamon to just top things off.

**La Niña5/6 (Excellent)

  • Dark and spiced rums, molasses, fresh lime, chilled chai, orange bitters and ginger beer served long on the rocks $10
  • I really loved this and it could have been a meal on its own. There was a lot going on, but it worked.
  • It was sweet and spicy and I could taste a hint of cardamom and the ginger beer was there, but not dominating the rum.
  • There was heat, but it wasn’t necessarily spicy and the squeeze of fresh lime just made all the spices pop.
  • It was a nice Indian inspired drink and I wanted to eat it with a fresh bowl of ripe mangoes.
  • If you’re in Vancouver and you like these spices and exotic flavours I also recommend the Beldi.

The Pemberton Cocktail – 4.5/6 (Very g00d-Excellent)

  • Muddled blueberries, Schramm vodka and Okanagan raspberry liqueur served straight up with sparkling wine $12
  • This drink sounded the “girliest” and I did have my eyes on it.
  • It was expectedly fruit forward without being too sweet and if the vodka was replaced with champagne I could have had this for breakfast.
  • There was a lot of foam which was unexpected and the Schramm vodka was a solid choice.
  • Again, I had just visited the Schramm distillery and tried their vodka and gin and their vodka actually has flavour.
  • I’m not really a vodka person, but this was a good sipping vodka with unique qualities.

Cross Pollination (Non-Alcoholic Cocktail) – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • Cardamom honey, fresh citrus, pressed apple, egg white, shaken hard and served in a coupe with a dusting of maple sugar $6
  • Non-alcoholic cocktails are becoming “a thing” and they’re not comparable to alcoholic cocktails, but I appreciate them for what they are.
  • Gone are the days are Shirley Temples and I enjoy these innovative non-alcoholic cocktails.
  • This one sounded amazing to me, but the description kind of beat the flavour.
  • It tasted more like lemonade and I forgot there was pressed apple. I could only taste it if I looked for it.
  • It was quite tart and the egg white foam was my favourite part. I don’t care if it’s an old trend, I think it had a purpose to this drink.
  • It was frothy and not dessert-like and the foam added richness to a tart drink.
  • I couldn’t taste the cardamom or the honey very much, so although it didn’t quite match the description it was still good.
  • It would have been amazing with a maple sugar brûlée crust, but again that apple flavour needed to shine to support it.

**Splash (Non-Alcoholic Cocktail) – 5/6 (Excellent)

  • Vanilla syrup, lime, grapefruit and ginger beer served long and on the rocks $6
  • Again, non-alcoholic cocktails are becoming “a thing” and they’re not comparable to alcoholic cocktails, but I appreciate them for what they are.
  • I could have had 10 of these.
  • It was sweet and acidic with a good amount of ginger beer and the vanilla gave it a floral flavour and made you want to take another sip.
  • I wish the vanilla syrup was made with actual vanilla beans though.
  • This drink had that “what is that?” element and the vanilla and ginger combo were so playful and unique that I found it addicting.
  • It was a very aromatic drink and I’m sure he could turn it into an alcoholic drink easily.

Farmhouse Goat Cheese and Buttermilk Mousse with Heirloom Tomatoes – 4/6 (Very good)

  • Upland cress, freeze dried green olives, violet mustard, thyme and garlic oil
  • It was a very simple looking salad with good colour, but there was more than meets the eye.
  • The only thing is that I didn’t see the purpose for the freeze dried green olives besides being a neat experiment.
  • I actually would have loved those olives to be pistachios even if the idea is more common.
  • The goat cheese and buttermilk mousse balls were rich and creamy, light and fluffy, and nice and salty.
  • I almost wanted those crusted with pistachio crumbs and herbs and served warm.
  • The violet mustard was a sweet and fruity mustard and I think I tasted vanilla in it too.
  • It was a fragrant mustard, but if I didn’t know it was violet I wouldn’t have guessed.
  • It was a pretty experimental sauce and I’m not sure if it worked, but at least it was interesting and it tasted fine.
  • The tomatoes were good quality with good flavour and it was a very West Coast play on a Caprese Salad.

Chilled Smoked Albacore Tuna, Local Mussels and White Prawn Cocktail – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • Salted cucumbers, lemon preserve, English peas, black radish, iceberg lettuce, young basil (+$6 to $29 3 course)
  • Being from Vancouver I’m quite spoiled with smoked albacore tuna so this wasn’t my favourite preparation for it.
  • I loved almost all the ingredients on the plate and it was truly Canadian and West Coast (would be even more so if BC Spot Prawns were in season).
  • I’m a bit picky on the knife skills on albacore tuna and these were a bit thin and inconsistent in size.
  • Even if it’s smoked tuna I still like the seared grill marks on the outside for presentation’s sake. It also enhances that smoky flavour.
  • It was a very fresh salad and the prawns were all chopped up and I would have preferred those whole.
  • I wasn’t keen on the iceberg lettuce either and I actually haven’t seen iceberg lettuce on a casual fine dining or fine dining menu in a long time.
  • I did really enjoy and appreciate the contrast of black and red radish though and texturally the dish was very pleasant.
  • The black radish is firm with a bite and peppery without being as sharp and spicy as the red radish.
  • It had a light dressing which was very fresh, vibrant and seafoody in flavour and I think it could have been made with the mussel and shrimp shells.
  • It tasted like a seafood stock based sauce and it was also a bit sweet and buttery.
  • The sauce was very good and a nice change from soy or yuzu, which would be considered more typical.
  • Th dish was almost like a “beefed up” West Coast interpretation of ceviche.

**Alberta Elk Tartar & Duck Liver Parfait – 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • Parsley and Red Belgian endive, rye and molasses toast, smoked shallots, cocoa nibs (+$4 to $29 3 course)
  • Give it here. Seriously it’s been over a week and I still can’t stop thinking about this. I honestly wanted to buy jars of it home… or order 10 more.
  • I loved this so much I almost want to cry and it was “go get your own” good.
  • This was convincing enough alone to get me through the door again. It was freaking amazing.
  • I love dessert, but this parfait was the perfect dessert for savoury eaters and carnivores.
  • One little complaint though – it’s Alberta Elk… what happened to all local ingredients? It wouldn’t bother me if it wasn’t stressed. I consider Alberta a bit far, but the dish overall was very Canadian.

  • I’m a fan of foie and the description for this dish was so inventive and the flavours actually translated properly. It tasted even better than the description.
  • I’m also a fan of elk tartare. It is a game meat, but it’s not gamey in flavour if it’s properly processed.
  • It’s actually a bit sweeter and milder in flavour than beef tartare. If you didn’t know you might think it was beef.
  • The duck fat powder actually tasted like duck fat and it was incredibly rich. I hate when powder doesn’t taste like what it is, so this one was great.
  • The powder was a bit crispy and salty and it tasted a bit like bacon bits. It enhanced the flavour of the foie gras pâté.
  • It wasn’t melt in your mouth powder and it gave the parfait texture like granola and it wasn’t there for random decoration.
  • The bottom layer was the foie gras pâté and it was rich and creamy and it just sauced the silky texture of the sweeter elk tartar.
  • The pâté acted as the aioli to a typical tartar, but I would choose foie to mayo or vinaigrette any day.
  • The next layer was Parsley and Red Belgian endive so there was a nice palate cleanser of herbs and slightly bitter endive to cut the richness of the pâté and elk.
  • The rye and molasses toast was the crostini and although it was kind of the “filler”, it was called a “parfait” so I expected a bread like layer (sponge cake aspect).
  • I would have preferred the bread to be toasted brioche, but I’ve also had foie gras with upside down pineapple cake (see here) and that was amazing as well.
  • If I’m going to have a “filler” layer of bread, I just want it to be worth it and this one was just good.
  • The smoked shallots and cocoa nibs added a smoky sweet layer of flavour and the cocoa nibs gave it crispy texture too.
  • After all those layers and other ingredients I could still taste the foie and it wasn’t dominated.
  • There wasn’t even too much going on and it was satisfying in texture and flavour.
  • If anything I wouldn’t mind a fruit layer to enhance the umami in the foie gras.
  • It was an absolutely wonderful dish and it was one of my favourite foie gras dishes I’ve had all year… and I’ve already had at least 15. That’s not to “brag”, but just to emphasize how much this one stood out.
  • It was kind of a play on Chef David Chang of Momofuku’s foie gras parfait at Ko which I tried a version of at Fraîche – see Nitro Foie Gras, Brioche, Amarena Cherries, Apple Mostarda.

If my finger could reach the bottom I would have wiped up that last little bit. I felt like Joey on Friends eating jam, but I never brought the jar to my face although it was tempting. If I wasn’t headed to Araxi for dinner after this I would have ordered another one for sure.

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