Monday, December 15, 2014

FoodTrek: Get Whisked Awhay to Whistler for a Wheekend!

Whistler for a weekend?! Don't forget Wil Wheaton and Wheat Thins! It's rare that I get to use the so-often underused letter "W," so pardon my enthusiasm. Last week, I tantalized with a recap of this year's Cornucopia food/wine festival in Whistler BC, but, as promised, I wanted to share some truly wonderful dining experiences that are available year-round, as well as the overall charm of this lovely resort town in the Great North. Whistler - ONWARDS!

An apple white chocolate mousse that tastes like clouds, from Alta Bistro - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Good heavens, Whistler is beautiful. Downright enchanting, especially in the fall. Forget for a moment the restaurants, shopping, and overall vacation/resort-vibe of Whistler -- you can't help but stop dead in your tracks to admire what an alpine wonderland this place is, and how its natural beauty has, for the most part, been thankfully preserved. And I live in the Pacific Northwest, it's not like we don't see evergreen trees and snow-capped mountains -- I was agog at how stunning the surroundings are. The dramatic sharp peaks of the Canadian mountains gave me a Middle Earth moment, where I wanted to see if I saw any wizards and halflings scurrying along the trails.

Gorgeous views between Vancouver and Whistler - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Most people drive directly to Whistler -- yes, bring your passport -- but for those who are flying in, you'll land in Vancouver and then take a coach or smaller shuttle van for a two hour ride to Whistler. Not a bad idea to plan an extended trip, staying a few days in Vancouver, enjoy the city, then hop on one of the buses that regularly shuttle people to Whistler, to spend the weekend. It's a beautiful drive -- I know you want to see food photos, but c'mon, take a gander at the views!

Hello, Gorgeous! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
That brisk nip of winter's chill in the air is a perfect appetite-starter for all the great food in Whistler-town. There's a mix of places, from casual pub-style taverns, to white tablecloth sit-down restaurants, and you can run through them all in an extended weekend -- I'll prove it to you in this post, because everything here was jammed into a Friday-Monday whirlwind.

Four Seasons Whistler - fireplaces, views and wine tastings! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Before you can really get the party started, you have to get settled, and there's no comfort quite like the Four Seasons. People automatically go "ooh," when you say you're staying there, and they've definitely earned the "oohs." Amenities galore, roaring fireplaces everywhere you look, there's a small art gallery, they have a heated pool, free yoga classes, a spa, and yes, Virginia, there's fuzzy comfy robes. There's even a game room with air hockey -- WINNING.

Four Seasons is where it's at - even for well-dressed pups - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Four Seasons Whistler is located a little outside of the main Whistler Village hub, along Blackcomb Highway, a short car ride (the hotel has shuttles which run until 11pm) and an easy enough walk to all the main shops and activity. An ideal spot if you want your stay to feel a little more like a retreat. Admittedly, it's hard to leave the coziness of a warm bed and a peaceful view of misty mountains, but it's even harder not to be enticed by cocktail hour in their lounge, the Fifty Two 80 bar, right next to Sidecut, their elegant chophouse-style restaurant.

Delicious salmon roulades at Four Seasons Whistler's 5280 bar - Photo by Wasabi Prime
They have complimentary wine tastings in the lounge on weekends, where you can sample local wines, and you can work your way up to cocktails. I imbibed a Caesartini -- an evening version of the Bloody Mary (Caesar in Canada -- they add a splash of clam juice, which is so very nice). For all the "Don't Eat/Drink at the Hotel" advice-givers, I give you permission -- it's totally worth spending one relaxed cocktail hour in the hotel bar, to unwind from a day of travel. It's the civilized thing to do.

Let's be civilized and have pretty drinks and teeny, beautiful bites of food - Photos by Wasabi Prime
It's also worth perusing their breakfast buffet, where everything is perfectly miniaturized to where you don't feel bad that you ate both a croissant AND a danish, along with eggs and bacon and an adorable little yogurt parfait. Not that I did that...

Breakfast of champions at Four Seasons Whistler - in perfect individual-sized portions - Photos by Wasabi Prime
One of the places you should put on your dining-out list is Alta Bistro. A charming restaurant perfect for an intimate meal, make sure to reserve a table for dinner. Their dining area is decorated with what makes this bistro unique; it has great appeal to those who value farm-to-table dining, and it's a restaurant that values sustainability. When you see the walls lined with a rainbow of preserved fruits and vegetables, they proudly show they practice what they preach the second you walk in.

A local feast of BC at Alta Bistro - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The menu is small and seasonal at Alta Bistro -- whatever's fresh is what's on the plate, as it should be. I had a dish piled high with steamed mussels over snapper, in a smoky, rich sauce, almost like a curry. I wished for a larger stomach as I admired the braised pork cheeks with potato and apple, and the parsnip bread pudding with a caramelized crust.

Start a meal right with small plates and wonderful wine selected by wine director Eric Griffith - Photos by Wasabi Prime
It's always good to dine with a group, you have more opportunities to taste different things on the menu. They had a comfort food-perfect boudin noir with pickled cabbage over bacon and borlotti bean cassoulet, and the one staple on Alta's menu that you must, must get: elk tartare and duck liver parfait. Meat parfait, what's not to love?? It's a rich layering of flavors and textures; they balance the elk and duck with preserved plums, apple, shallot, and cocoa. It's served with a rye lavash that's crave-worthy on its own.

Elk tartare and duck liver parfait - my favorite kind of dessert! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
And don't forget ACTUAL dessert -- Alta had a cloud-like apple mousse in white chocolate, paired with celery ice cream, and a Christmas cake brownie with ginger sorbet and fruit. A treat for all the senses, and not overly sweet, their desserts sing the praises of the ingredients they use. Their desserts are worth saving room for, they finish the meal beautifully. And general manager and wine director Eric Griffith won't steer you wrong with wine pairings -- they have a beautiful selection of local wines that you'll enjoy getting acquainted with.

Dessert and cocktails, an intimate, cozy evening at Alta Bistro - Photos by Wasabi Prime
What about more casual fare, but you don't feel like a burger and fries? Sushi Village is perfect for lunch or dinner. I had heard from several people to check it out, and it's right in the main Whistler Village, so a perfect stop if you've been wandering around all day. The food is delicious, plenty of seafood options, but it's got a fun party vibe that's unlike typical sushi places. When you see Sake Margaritas offered on the menu, and house special rolls with names like KFC Roll (chicken karaage with avocado) and Super Hiro Roll (Spicy tuna with avocado, topped with crunchy tempura batter crumbles), you know you're in for something different.

But don't think it's all silly gimmick -- Sushi Village is TASTY. They use sushi rolls to play with textures and temperatures, layering cooked with raw ingredients -- the KFC Roll is totally worth getting! We had two orders of it. And they do a deliciously spicy riff on traditional agedashi tofu, fried cubes of tofu, typically served very simply, but they have a version drizzled with a pepper sauce that's reminiscent of Korean-style, spicy/sweet gochujang. There are traditional Japanese dishes that pay respect to the cuisine, and they leave plenty of room to have fun with the food, which compliments the tavern/party atmosphere you don't typically expect in a sushi bar.

East meets West meets Partytown at Sushi Village - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Let's say you're looking for a fun night out, but you still want to have an elegant, sit-down dinner... and maybe you want your bottle of Champagne to be opened with a saber? Two words: Bearfoot Bistro. This place is total yin and yang -- high-end, sumptuous dining, but with the spirit of someone who truly wants to get down with their bad self.

Black truffle dessert anyone? Dessert tasting menu at Bearfoot Bistro - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I had the sweet pleasure of enjoying Bearfoot Bistro pastry chef Dominic Fortin's dessert tasting menu.  I'm becoming more of a dessert person now that I see how creative people are -- it's not just about the sugar rush! Perigord black truffle ice cream with brown butter, chestnut streusel and shaved white truffle, and a glass of Champagne? Don't knock it till you try it -- we're so used to sugar being overpowering, but sweetness can be nuanced and balanced with savory, unctuous flavors.

Sweet creations by Chef Dominic Fortin - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Desserts that leave your tastebuds wondering what will happen next, that's the kind of sweets we had at Bearfoot. An orb of mandarin dessert with a creamy center, a rustic Peruvian chocolate mousse that looks excavated from nature, a contrasting architectural pecan and black raspberry tower -- my notion of dessert got a serious overhaul.

Winter Olympic memories and disco ball dreamz - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I had to check out Bearfoot Bistro's wine cellar, where if you order a bottle of Champagne, they will dramatically saber the bottle open, which therefore makes you feel like a rock superstar/big house/nice cars. They should be quite good at it, they were Guinness World Record holders for the most consecutive bottles of Champagne being opened at a single time. It's floor-to-ceiling wine in that cellar, and they even have one of the torches from the Winter Games when Vancouver was the host city in 2010.

I don't always do shots of vodka, but when I do, they're in a room made of ice - Photos by Wasabi Prime
As if all that isn't a good reason to party, Bearfoot Bistro has an ice room. Yes, you heard me right -- a room made of ICE. Well, more like it was a cigar room, but when smoking was banned in bars and restaurants, they now had this empty space, so they got creative. They furnish you with sub-zero parkas, whose pockets are way too easy to forget your cel phone in (guilty), so keep your wits about you. The wits are harder to keep about when you're sipping chilled shots of vodka in a neon blue room of Let-It-Go Frozenland. Also, along with an ice room, there's a disco ball, and a lounge adjacent to the dining room that gets wild and crazy even on a Sunday night, so you literally can have your fancy dinner, wear a parka to do sub-zero shots of vodka, and get your groove on, all under one roof. Bearfoot Bistro -- mike-drop/walk away. 

Frozen, but I'm not Letting It Go - Photo by Wasabi Prime
All this food and drink... make time for a cleanse. When  you feel like you're ready to just sweat cholesterol and wine, book some time at Scandinave, an outdoor spa retreat that's in Whistler, but feels like you're at the top of a mountain. They have massages and body therapy work like other spas, but their hydrotherapy pools are where it's at. It's a process of heating your body up and then sharply cooling it down, and then various intervals of rest. They have steam and sauna rooms, as well as heated pools, and a few pools of icy-cold water that quite literally shocks the system, but is incredibly invigorating. Best part of Scandinave is that most of this is all outside, so as you're soaking in a hot pool with steam pouring out of it, you're watching the sun set over the mountains.

Scandinave Spa - I felt like one of those Japanese snow monkeys soaking in hot springs - Some Photos by Wasabi Prime

Also -- it's a No Talking Zone. I'm serious -- pie hole = shut it. The silence is conducive towards relaxation, which I totally get. But we figured out our own silent sign language of "Whew, too hot, let's cool down," and "OMFG - I can't believe I'm jumping into freezing water, my head is literally going to explode." Admit it, you want to do this.   

So, the game plan is set, when to go? Winter is Whistler's high season -- if you're into skiing and snowboarding, head on over -- just plan accordingly, it's busier. That's probably a better time to take advantage of the shuttles between Vancouver, they run more frequently in the winter months. Once you're in town, you don't really need a car. If you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy more of the laid-back local scene, Autumn is your best bet. I'm not much into snowboarding anymore, so personally I'm for off-peak times of the year, just to be able to enjoy a place at my leisure.

The off-season visit during fall really won me over. Whistler has a fun, quirky nature that might get overlooked in the winter rush. And if you're a dog nerd like myself, it's a very dog-friendly city, with most of the hotels welcoming your fuzzy friends.

Weird, wonderful Whistler - bring your pup. And Leo DiCaprio. - Photos by Wasabi Prime

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