Restaurant: Bearfoot Bistro – Tasting Menu & Wine Pairing – Part 2/3
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+
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- 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
… the theatrical tableside nitrogen dessert….
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 room, sabering 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 2/3
Laughing Stock “In the Pink” Rosé, Okanagan Valley, BC – $2 of every bottle sold went to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. I’m usually not keen on Rosé, but I didn’t mind this one. It was 69% Malbec and 31% Syrah. It had flavours of strawberries, rhubarb, cranberries and tart crabapples. It was tart and acidic yet juicy. I expected a red wine with this next course, but the rosé was a fantastic pairing and every bite made me crave another sip.
While on the topic of wine and “wine trends” there was a discussion of whether the proper wine glass made a difference. Part of me considered it a bit overrated, but it was until I really paid attention to the difference that I noticed there was one. The shape of the glass helps to direct the flavours to the right part of the mouth so that you taste what you’re supposed to taste. Of course taste is all personal anyway, but the difference was noticeable and sometimes I liked it better in the non-proper glass. Quite often you won’t have that back to back comparison, but it’s a neat experiment to try at home.
I tried the rosé in a white wine glass and then a big red wine glass and I actually preferred it in the red wine glass. The smaller white wine glass concentrated all the flavours to the tip of my tongue. I could taste a bit more oak in the bigger glass, but the flavour was also rounder and more open since it had more room to air.
- Farro wheat salad, wild boar lomo, lemon jam, chili-infused olive oil
- I felt like I was in Spain with this dish. It was reminiscent of a paella, but it also had aspects of Italy and it was unique and modern.
- The octopus was sliced thin and tender and it had a subtle smokiness to it.
- It was perhaps seasoned with some paprika and I could still taste the octopus flavour.
- The farro wheat salad was warm and lightly tossed in chili-infused olive oil, parsley and herbs it was very light, nutty and mildly spicy.
- There were also some puffed farro bits for crispy texture and I loved that attention to detail. The only thing better might have been pine nuts.
- The boar lomo is a Spanish cured pork tenderloin.
- It’s a highly prized cured meat and is considered a delicacy.
- It was a nice change from an expected chorizo and I liked that it was served as is. I wanted to try its natural flavour.
- The lomo was not just salty, but savoury and it was actually quite lean.
- The flavour was intense from the curing and it was the salt to the dish.
- There was also a single fried caper berry, crispy fried basil (?) and a large crunchy sourdough crouton for textural contrast.
- The textures were very well thought out and I could have ordered this as a main.
- The lemon jam was sweet and almost like a lemon curd and it reminded me of a lemon sorbet.
- I could taste fresh lemon rind and it was slightly bitter which just cut the richness of the dish.
- I would have liked more sweet and tangy lemon jam though because its sweetness enhanced the umami in the pork and also brightened up the smokiness of the farro and octopus.
- It was a rather dry dish and a touch more olive oil wouldn’t be bad, but the flavours were beautiful and it had wonderful aromatics.
Tantalus Riesling, 2010, Okanagan Valley, BC – This is a stunning wine. It’s probably one of my favourite Rieslings and it was the assumed mystery wine at the Gold Medal Plates this year. It’s a very dry wine with a good acidity and the flavours of apples and lime really come through. It was nice and crisp and I could easily drink it alone. I was lucky enough to get it twice in one day too and had it after this dinner at Sidecut Modern Steak – see here.
- Atlantic lobster dumpling, brown butter soy emulsion, carrot ginger purée, lily bulbs $8 supplement
- It was a very Asian inspired dish and it reminded me of Chinese vegetarian stir-fry.
- It was a little late for Hawaiian Swordfish, but it is a premium fish that is highly prized.
- I prefer it sashimi or grilled and in this case it was seared, however still fully cooked.
- I would have loved that crispy seared crust on the exterior, but it didn’t have the caramelization or texture yet.
- The sear looked like it was single sided and I prefer an even sear on both sides, although most just kiss the other side with a slight sear.
- It is a firm and mild fish and this one was flaky and very moist.
- For being fully cooked it was surprisingly juicy, nice and oily and the quality was very good.
- The fish had flavour and it was well seasoned with salt.
- The carrot ginger purée was the sauce which gave the dish rich texture.
- It was smooth and creamy, salty and sweet with a ginger heat the gradually increased, but was still subtle.
- The choice of vegetables like lotus root, lily bulbs and daikon were Asian so I was more familiar with them and they weren’t as exotic.
- I appreciated the experimentation with Asian ingredients and they weren’t used randomly.
- The lily bulbs were tender and the flavour is similar to a mild and delicate shallot or sweet onion.
- The fava beans weren’t starchy and the lotus root chip was crisp, but my favourite was the daikon.
- The daikon was tender and well marinated with some combination of dashi stock, sake or soy sauce.
- It was juicy and savoury and tasted like it was slow cooked in broth all day.
- The lobster dumpling was almost like a wonton and the skin was nice and thin and translucent.
- The skin was still al dente and it was filled with chopped lobster marinated with lemon juice and herbs.
- It was a very light plate with many Asian flavours and I probably would have enjoyed it even more if I wasn’t as familiar with the ingredients.
Perrin & Fils Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, Rhone, France – A dessert wine was next, but dessert wasn’t the next course. Foie gras was the next course which made Muscat a great choice. Personally I enjoy a classic Sauternes with foie gras, but this is an affordable alternative that works beautifully. It was a very sweet wine with flavours of peach, mangoes and honey and there was only a little bit of acidity. It didn’t fight with the plum featured with the foie gras and I liked that it was very sweet because the plum wasn’t as much.
- Black pepper brioche, umeboshi plum purée, compressed black plum, spruce tip oil $16 supplement
- I was really crossing my fingers this would come out and it did!
- While I can appreciate the creative interpretation of foie gras, my favourite way to have it is simply seared as is.
- The plums were a nice change from strawberries, but since strawberries were coming to an end I wasn’t really expecting them anyway.
- A fruit component is classic with any foie gras dish and it was the first time I tried it with plums. Fruit enhances umami in foie.
- Preserved plums and duck is very common in Chinese cuisine though.
- I liked the plum in three ways and the spruce tip oil was a nice Canadian detail and current culinary trend.
- Since I was so close to Pemberton I expected local organic fruit and I’m pretty sure that’s where the black plum was from.
- The compressed black plum was a bit tart and acidic, but the wine didn’t fight it.
- Next to it was a confit minced plum and I could actually taste the meatiness of the duck in it.
- Lastly was the Umeboshi plum purée which helped cut the richness of the foie.
- Umeboshi plum is a Japanese salt plum or pickled plum and while I’ve had it dried, I’ve never had it puréed like this.
- It tasted like a fresh black plum reduced with some vinegar and it had quite the tang.
- The savoury and tangy umeboshi plum purée worked as a gastrique (caramelized French sauce made with sugar, wine, fruit and vinegar) which is commonly served with meat and especially duck.
- The spruce tip oil gave the dish a freshness and it almost enhanced the fruity flavours.
- I think there was also some Muscat wine used to make the sauce and that just worked effortlessly with the wine pairing.
- The foie gras was gently seared and placed on top of a black pepper mini brioche.
- It was perhaps the most perfect mini toast I’ve seen.
- I couldn’t taste the black pepper, but it was still a perfect brioche.
- The combination was delectable and it was everything I wanted in a foie gras dish.
- There wasn’t anything particularly new about the flavour combinations, but there was a play on ingredients without striding away from tradition.
- Another interesting foie gras dish I had was the Seared Foie Gras with Honey Foam Black Pepper & Pineapple Upside Down Cake.
Agricola Punica Montessu Isola dei Nuraghi IGT, 2009, Sardinia, Italy – It was a blend of 60% Carignano and 10% each Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. It was a very rich wine with lots of black fruit and flavours of black plums. There was a smokiness and ashy notes and round tannins which smoothed it out.
Meyer Family Vineyards Okanagan Valley Pinot Noir 2010, BC – BC has a good reputation for producing great Pinot Noir and I found this a good sign of it. It was fruity with red berries and dark cherries, earthy and a bit spicy and it had a long finish. It was a bit oaky and intense for me, but giving it some air and time helped. It would probably work with the grilled octopus dish too.
I tried the pinot noir in a red wine glass and then a proper pinot noir glass with the extra flared lip, and I liked it better in the proper glass. However others liked it in the red wine glass and it was really personal preference. The extra lip keeps your nose away from the alcohol and it maximizes the fruit flavours in the wine. The other glass gave it more air and it didn’t seem as concentrated when I drank it.
- Chanterelle & lobster mushrooms, bacon foam, egg yolk purée, rapini $5 supplement
- This course featured 2 wine pairings: Agricola Punica Montessu Isola dei Nuraghi and the Meyer Family Pinot Noir.
- Personally I loved the double wine pairing and hope they start to happen more often.
- I liked the pinot noir pairing better because I found the Agricola Punica Montessu a bit aggressive for me.
- For a tasting course the pinot noir worked and the pinot noir glass helped intensify its flavours anyway.
- Just reading the description I knew I would love this. The ingredients in this dish were luxurious.
- Mushrooms, bacon and egg… I could have eaten this over the mini brioche toast (above) and I would have been happy.
- There were 3 kinds of mushrooms and 2 forms of bacon wish is a heavenly flavour profile to work with.
- It was almost like a deconstructed pasta carbonara with the bacon and egg.
- Chanterelles are one of my favourite mushrooms and those were pan fried and browned.
- The lobster mushrooms are actually parasitic ascomycete that grow on mushrooms and not actual mushrooms.
- They look like lobster meat and have a seafood like flavour. They were sautéed and browned here.
- There weren’t many in the dish, but I liked the addition since lobster mushrooms are rare to come across.
- Instead of truffle oil it was topped with shavings of Australian summer truffle which were effortlessly beautiful.
- They didn’t skimp on the shavings either and it was so much better than parmesan curls although those are good too.
- There was also a nice piece of braised (?) and seared Sloping Hills pork belly or bacon which was unfortunately still a bit chewy.
- The salty smoky bacon foam was a bit runny, but it had that savoury umami factor that just played right into the beautiful egg yolk sauce.
- I’m not sure if there was a purpose to have the bacon as a foam though and texturally it didn’t really do anything for me.
- The 68º sous vide egg yolk just coated my mouth like a hollandaise and it was slightly chilled.
- It was almost like an egg yolk puree rather than a sauce and the consistency just enhanced the rich tortellini and pork belly.
- It was more creative and better than a truffle cream sauce and since I’m a fan of runny egg yolks, I was a fan of this.
- The rapini was simply sautéed, tender and naturally bitter which helped cut the richness of the dish.
- I already had an absolutely mouth watering Agnolotti of Beef Cheeks and Shortrib the night before at the Araxi Longtable Series, but this one was also very good.
- This tortellini was slightly drier, but the bacon foam and egg yolk fixed that easily.
- The pasta skin was firm and al dente and not too thick and was nicely stuffed with shredded veal cheek.
- Since it was veal cheek it was naturally going to be fatty, tender and flavourful.
- The fat and collagen was well broken down and while it was moist, it just wasn’t as juicy although still good.
- It was a very rich and meaty dish and it had several savoury flavours that worked together nicely.
- Each ingredient could stand on its own and it seemed a bit hearty for Chef’s style, but it did no wrong and was a fantastic last plate before dessert.