Ask anyone in know the know, which is the best restaurant in Whistler and they will all tell you 'Araxi'. Having had several brushes with fame, including written endorsements of their cookery book by both Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay, as well as having the winner of 'Hell's Kitchen USA' working there for a period of time, no wonder Araxi is so well known. But well known, schmell known... I like to make up my own mind about restaurants, so lets see if the hype is worth believing.
The first thing that struck me is that despite being (supposedly) Whistler's best restaurant, the atmosphere is very warm and welcoming and their wine cellar is part of the main restaurant and is quite a big feature with over 1000 labels. The kitchen is also visible to all diners and I'm beginning to wonder if this heightens the fame of a restaurant in today's restaurant scene? Hmmm, food for thought. As Araxi is renowned for it's use of local produce, I wanted to make sure that I got a taste of as many of the wonderful local ingredients as possible.
After chatting with the staff, I am given a cookery book to drool over throughout my meal (a consequence of dining alone) as well as a delicious Amuse Bouche from their 'Raw bar' - Seared Albacore tuna with baby vegetables, shiitake mushrooms, pepper cress and ponzu sauce. A lovely dish perfect for cleansing the palate with the crisp citrus acidity of Japanese Ponzu. My appetite is cleansed, fired up and I am definitely ready for my meal now.
The menu is littered with more seafood than you can shake a stick at; 5 different kinds of oysters, Dungeoness crab and more Albacore tuna makes for a very fishy menu, but it was the Pemberton beetroot salad with Okanagan Goats cheese that got my attention. I love beetroot of all varieties; white, golden, striped, round, long... Get it? I love them all and although simple, this salad was a wonderful mix of several different types of beetroot, from Pemberton (about 30 mins drive away) with a lovely Goats cheese rolled in fresh pepper spicing making it absolutely delicious.
My main course of 'Trio of Paradise Valley Pork' with slow cooked belly, housemade sausage and pork cheek ravioli; a carrot puree, ginger crisps and green beans was a little too busy for my liking. Although not unpleasant, the pork belly was lovely, but I felt the ravioli pasta far too heavy, which coupled with it's dense meaty filling, made it a bit like an anchor in my stomach, sinking to the pit of it and fast. The sausage was slightly bizarre, triangular in shape without the customary casing and heavily seasoned with fennel (a very Napolitan sausage recipe) but the quantity used bordered into overkill. The carrot puree was an unusual but very pleasant accompaniment, which I enjoyed very much.
The dessert was most definitely the thorn in the side of the meal and it's subsequent downfall. I was too full to go for the obvious chocolate fondant and instead opted for the 'Agassiz Hazelnut Financier' a moist hazelnut cake with vanilla poached peaches, vanilla ice cream and apricot coulis. Again, another very busy dish although I was hoping the fruit would be light, the peach was bitter and almost liquoricey in taste; a flavour which I absolutely hate. The staff were very adamant that the dish did not contain liquorice, but the bitter flavour was so bizarrely and unpleasant that I just wasn't able to finish the meal.
I wouldn't write Araxi off entirely; I think I have had to learn to seperate personal preference from lack of culinary ability and in this case it was the former that seemed to affect the meal and not the latter. What I can say is that Araxi's cook book, with recipes courtesy of Executive Chef James Walt, is a fantastic find. I really enjoyed reading the recipes - which incidentally are categorised in 'seasons' rather than 'ingredients' which of course echoes the culinary style of the Chef and restaurant alike.
Whistler is a stunning resort and if you happen to visit, Araxi should definitely be on your list of must-dine destinations.
Araxi - 4222 Village Square Whistler, B.C.