Whistler, BC – Bearfoot Bistro (Tasting Menu & Wine Pairing) – Part 1/3

Restaurant: Bearfoot Bistro – Tasting Menu & Wine Pairing – Part 1/3
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest/International/Fine Dining
Last visited: July 21, 2012
Location: Whistler, BC
Address: 4121 Village Green
Where I stayed: Four Seasons Resort (Walking distance or cab)
Price Range: $50+

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

Food: 5
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 3.5
Overall: n/a
Additional comments:

  • Pacific Northwest menu
  • “Best of Whistler”
  • Multiple award winning
  • Fine dining
  • Executive Chef Melissa Craig
  • Modernist techniques
  • Seasonal menus
  • Largest wine cellar in Western Canada
  • Extensive wine list
  • Extensive Champagne list
  • Belvedere Ice Room (Vodka tastings)
  • Popular to tourists
  • Special occasions
  • Cooking classes
  • Piano bar
  • Reservations recommended
  • Mon-Sun 5pm-late

**Recommendations: Tasting menu: Albacore Tuna Tartare, Grilled Pacific Octopus, Seared Quebec Foie Gras, Veal Cheek Tortellini, Nectarine and Olive Oil, Peanut and Milk Chocolate Bar.

It has the largest underground wine cellar in Western Canada…

… the few thousands of dollars bottles of wine…

… the lessons in sabering champagne

… the memorabilia from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver…

… the piano man…

… the proper fine dining flatware that fit the curvature of your hand…

… the theatrical tableside nitrogen dessert….

… and the coldest vodka room in the world.

It had all the elements of a destination restaurant located on a resort like Whistler, but I questioned if all the novelties were what made it a “must try”. What did it really have to offer past the obvious attractions? The multiple award winning fine dining restaurant Bearfoot Bistro isn’t so much of a hidden gem or secret, but there was something beyond the given. For me, the real show was in the kitchen.

And this is Executive Chef Melissa Craig. She was the core of the restaurant. While all the other features of the restaurant may have been fun and entertaining, this part captured my interest. It is not only because I’m more of a food person either, but it was the most endearing aspect of Bearfoot Bistro and what gave it its honest charm.

I was invited the night before to experience some of the attractions like the vodka roomsabering lessons and nitrogen ice cream, but stopping there would have been a shame. While some might consider those the highlights, I considered it scratching the surface. Luckily there were impromptu plans to actually try the food here and we were invited back the next day.

My first impression of Bearfoot was good, but it did feel slightly like a touristy restaurant. Being that it was fine dining I expected a luxurious experience, but this one felt bordering pretentious. It had all the characteristics of an old fashioned fine dining restaurant, which is what most like to get away from nowadays. The carpet, stiff and heavy upright chairs, white tablecloth, and many novelties just made it feel a bit tense, although the special features of the restaurant suggested otherwise. It was supposed to be a fun place and while I enjoyed the restaurant’s activities, it wasn’t something I would personally buy into. On the other hand, the chef’s tasting menu is something I would highly recommend for locals and tourists. That is something worth experiencing more then once and what I valued most.

“Let the food speak for itself” seems a bit cliché, but in this case the food also speaks for the quiet and confident Chef Craig. She truly embodies the meaning of the quote. If I didn’t know I would have assumed it would be a standard upscale restaurant with approachable Pacific Northwest dishes much like Araxi. Both are considered in the top 5 for fine dining in Whistler, but they cater to different crowds. Although I enjoyed the offerings at both, I preferred Bearfoot Bistro due to its modernist techniques and presentation.

I was able to chat with the very behind the scenes Chef Craig and I was in awe with her experience. It was beyond what I have seen published. She has eaten at the Mecca el Bulli six times (fine dining royalty), and has travelled around Europe wining and dining at 3 Michelin star restaurants on a daily basis. She has eaten at “the best” world renowned restaurants led by the greatest chefs, so it was no doubt that their influence would spark her own culinary creativity.

The food she creates is intricate and delicate and they were interesting without being too gimmicky or foreign. I appreciated her elegant style and originality and the ingredients were forward in thought. The plates were challenging and each one had me on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what she could possibly do next.

Unfortunately I have heard and read that the service can be on and off, which can no doubt leave a bad taste. Everything also adds up quite heavily and it is resort pricing, but in terms of a gastronomical experience, it was my highlight in Follow Me Foodie to Whistler. It delivered in a global context and it was refreshing to see such a highly raved about chef still experimenting with flavours, ingredients and textures. Each plate just danced with colours and the various components were well thought out. It was food that made an impact and I would even go as far to call in a culinary treasure in BC.

The Bearfoot Bistro may house some of the rarest wines, one of the world’s finest champagne collections, Western Canada’s largest underground wine cellar and the coldest ice room, but what truly made it a unique and memorable experience is Chef Craig and her culinary creativity. I really wouldn’t have valued it as much without trying her tasting menu and her talent is the heart and soul of the restaurant.

I have to give credit to the very knowledgeable sommelier who gave beautiful wine pairings as well. Bearfoot Bistro has Canada’s 4th largest wine cellar and quite the selection to work with, so it is worth exploring. If you’re a wine enthusiast you will appreciate it. This dinner featured local and international wines served in their proper glasses and it complemented the menu without overwhelming it.

It is the combination of the high quality local wines and ingredients, experienced sommelier and chef, and being in the context of Whistler that really made me proud of what BC, let alone Whistler or the Bearfoot Bistro, has to offer.

Menu pricing: 3 course menu $58, Chef’s 5 course tasting menu $108, sommelier’s wine pairing $78. There are optional courses which require supplements (additional charge) and an average bill per person with wine pairings could be easily $200.

On the table:

Tasting Menu & Wine Pairing – Part 1/3

Complimentary Bread & Butter

  • The bread was served warm but surprisingly standard for this restaurant although still good.
  • It was a soft and chewy baguette with a crispy crust and then a multigrain baguette.

Segura Viudas Cava Brut Vintage, Spain Segura Viudas is known as a wine leader in Spain and major producer of Cava (Spanish sparking wine). It would almost be taboo not to start off with some sort of bubbly here whether it be champagne or not. This brut vintage is a blend of 67% Macabeo and 33% Parellada. It was a dry and crisp brut with bright acidity from apples and the aroma of  toast in the nose. It was quite bubbly and would pair well with seafood or even cheese.

**Albacore Tuna Toro Tartare6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • Watermelon rind ‘kimchi’, jalapeño purée, edamame, sesame yuzu vinaigrette
  • This was one of my favourite courses and I even remembered it after 10 delectable plates.
  • It was a play with Asian flavours which is very representable of the Pacific Northwest.
  • The only thing better than toro (tuna belly) would have been o-toro (lower belly of the fish towards the head on a Blue Fin tuna).
  • I enjoy this precious cut of tuna best as sashimi or nigiri, so seeing it chopped up was a bit of a heartbreak, but I could still appreciate it as a tartare.
  • A high quality toro is certainly good enough to stand on its own, but as a tartare it melted in my mouth like butter even more.
  • The toro was marinated in sesame yuzu vinaigrette, shallots and green onion and there was a nice acidity and savouriness to it.
  • The sesame oil just enhanced its buttery flavour and texture and I could taste the grapefruit from the yuzu.
  • The compressed watermelon rind was a modern twist to pickled ginger and it actually tasted like oshinko (Japanese pickled yellow radish).
  • It was quite salty and I wouldn’t consider it really “kimchi” (even with the quotations) because it didn’t taste particularly Korean at all.
  • The cubes of fresh watermelon were the sweetness to the dish and that was something I’ve never seen done before with tuna, and I loved it.
  • I loved the refreshing crunch it had with the creaminess of the toro and the duo could be the “prosciutto and melon” of the West Coast.
  • The edamame was simple, but green peas might have been better just due to portion of the toro, although it would take away the Asian aspect.
  • The jalapeño purée was a modern substitution for wasabi and I liked that the spice was on the side.
  • It was a nice change from expected chili oil and it gave a nice back palate heat.
  • It was texturally pleasing with crunchy tempura bits, however they would have been better seasoned.
  • Puffed rice would have also been a great alternative and given more flavour than tempura bits.
  • It was salty, sweet, tangy, fruity, savoury and carried heat. It was everything I wanted in a dish despite my suggestive comments built on personal tastes.

Kato Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2009, New Zealand – The Marlborough area is known for their Sauvignon Blanc, but this wasn’t representable of most Sauvignon Blancs from that region. It was supposed to taste like melon, passionfruit and citrus, but I got some mineral notes and it wasn’t as acidic for a Sauvignon Blanc. I could taste passionfruit, but it was also contrasting with musky flavours of olives and straw. It would be considered acquired, but I enjoyed it a lot more with the featured course.

Pemberton Summer Vegetables4/6 (Very good)

  • Marinated avonlea cheddar, olive oil mousse, tempura zucchini flower
  • This was a very dainty and delicate vegetable salad made from local Pemberton produce which is just half an hour away from Whistler Village.
  • This “Pemberton Vegetable” salad had so much more significance than I realized.
  • Thanks to FMF reader Bow for commenting here and informing me that the produce from Pemberton is unique due to a lack of diseases common to many vegetables in that area.
  • All plants are reviewed and therefore Pemberton produce is pure, clean and healthy and some of the finest around – GMO free.
  • It was just a tasting course, but I wanted more of everything.
  • The Avonlea cheddar (little piles of minced cheese on the bottom right corner) is a clothbound cheese from Prince Edward Island.
  • It was a hard, salty and earthy cheddar and almost like a Parmesan. I considered it the salt to the dish.
  • The cheese was phenomenal, but I wish I could have tried it with the marinade and also without.
  • I didn’t even pay enough attention to the marinade, but it was very mild and dressed in fruity and herb infused olive oil (?).
  • I’ve never even really seen marinated cheese like this before and it enhanced the richness and creamy flavour of the cheddar. It was interesting for sure.
  • The tempura zucchini flower was battered and deep fried, but I found it so small that all I could really taste was the batter instead of the zucchini. It was nice for textural contrast though.
  • Another great tempura zucchini dish I had up in Whistler was at the Araxi Longtable Series – see Tofino Dungeness Crab in North Arm Farm Squash Blossoms.

  • The vegetables included sweet peas, summer squash, crisp green beans, shaved beets, crunchy white and green asparagus, parsnips, carrots and shoots.
  • Each vegetable was executed with basic preparation and simplicity.
  • I could appreciate that since the point was to showcase the natural flavours of the local high quality Pemberton ingredients anyway.
  • The sweet pea was really the star vegetable for me though. It was a premium quality young pea.
  • It was presented as shown in the photo and each pea was the same size and not starchy and the shell was not fiberous.
  • The dressing was a lemon yogurt dressing that seemed almost like buttermilk.
  • It was creamy without being heavy and it worked well with the richness of the Avonlea cheddar too.
  • It was very thin and light, but it just brightened up the flavours of the dish.

  • The olive oil mousse was my favourite part of the salad.
  • The mousse sat on a thin layer of potent herb gel and the combination was incredibly aromatic.
  • It was creamy rich and fruity olive oil mousse and the herb gel just gave it so much more body and intensity.
  • Although it went with all the other ingredients and flavours on the plate, it seemed like a separate component and I wasn’t sure how or what to eat it with.
  • I could have eaten another 10 of these alone though and a bite of this and a sip of the wine really worked.
  • It might have been a small component to base the wine pairing on, but if I thought “olives” when drinking the wine, then I could easily appreciate it with the vegetables.
  • Dessert versions of this concept I’ve tried is the Avocado Marquise at Diva at the Met and the strawberry gelée with green almonds and white chocolate gianduja at La Belle Auberge.

Scarbolo, Pinot Grigio, Italy – It was acidic and fresh with flavours of apples and citrus. There were some spices and floral undertones and it was flavourful enough to be paired with a main or creamy pasta.

Heirloom Tomato Salad – 5/6 (Excellent)

  • Charred tomato gazpacho, smoked fresh mozzarella, aged balsamic pearls
  • Although different, I would chose this Heirloom Tomato Salad over the Pemberton Summer Vegetables. (I’m just trying to help narrow down the selection.)
  • I loved the various ways she showcased the summer tomatoes and it was effortlessly fresh and colourful.
  • It was a play on a caprese.
  • While burrata would seem like the obvious choice of cheese to showcase nowadays, I did appreciate this mozzarella.
  • The smoked fresh mozzarella was local and made from a cow’s milk. It was smoked in house.
  • The mozzarella was a wedge and it was still wet and moist, and I have no idea how they smoked it without it melting.
  • The smoke was very subtle and I could only taste it in the nose.
  • The aged balsamic pearls made for colour and presentation, but I actually lost their flavour and therefore its purpose.
  • The tomatoes were beautiful and those just spoke for themselves. It’s the right time of the year for them.
  • I would have liked more olive oil powder though which was just portioned in a very small pile on the side.
  • I loved the panko crusted deep fried cherry tomato which was injected with what tasted like lemon vinaigrette.
  • This component amazed me because to deep fry an injected tomato without blistering and popping its skin is truly talented.
  • It had a crispy exterior and when I bit through the skin it was a warm burst of tomato juice followed by a fresh lemon flavour at the end.
  • A spherification of the tomato would have been great as well, but instead the liquid portion of the tomato was showcased as gazpacho.
  • The gazpacho was almost like a Caesar and even presented like a cocktail or I guess shot.
  • It was a thick and potent tomato soup that was tangy and savoury with a celery salted rim which really brought out the umami in tomatoes.
  • I couldn’t really taste the smokiness of charred tomato in the soup, but I did enjoy it and it was a great component to the smoked mozzarella.

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