Whistler is a beautiful place to visit at any time of year although John and I most often find ourselves there in the summer, enjoying the hiking trails, parks, restaurants, and other alpine adventures. We’ve been fortunate enough to dine at some of the best-reviewed restaurants in this resort municipality and some of our most memorable experiences always lead us back to Araxi.
In 2011 we experienced first our longtable event with them in Pemberton at North Arm Farm and it’s one we’ll never forget. It gave a new meaning to “farm to table” cooking as we enjoyed the bounty of North Arm while sitting about 20 feet away from row upon row of crops. Araxi itself is located in the heart of Whistler Village and their outdoor summer longtable series has become an instant classic.
Araxi Longtable Dinner at Lost Lake
Imagine, a four-course meal prepared with local, farm-fresh ingredients served up on colourful platters, paired with Okanagan wines at a table for over 100 people — in the middle of a grassy field at a lake-side community park in Whistler.
It was a hot and sticky summer day, I’d say about 25C with the sunshine beaming down and making me regret wearing a black top. The Lost Lake recreational area was packed with sunbathers, swimmers, families, hikers, paddle boarders, and all those who wanted to cool off in the crisp waters. From the parking lot we walked down a path until we saw white tents on a grassy slope, just off to the side of the main beach area. It was there that we signed in for the dinner and were met with cocktails and canapés.
The reception before dinner featured Okanagan “RR” Ranch Beef Tartare with Peruvian Marinade, Sawmill Bay Oysters featuring Joyce Point Oysters with Ponzu Pearls, Roasted Local Eggplant with Peperonata and Pemberton Distillery Gin Cocktails or the option of Quail’s Gate Chenin Blanc 2012.
I have a slight aversion to gin, even though I love that it was from a local distillery, so I went with the Chenin Blanc to start. Being a big fan of oysters, John went started there and then we both enjoyed our first-ever beef tartare. The staff was incredibly welcoming and Executive Chef James Walt, whom we’ve met at a few events over the years, even stopped by briefly to say hello and welcome up to the dinner.
As bikini and boardshort clad beach-goers looked on from across the roped off area of our outdoor dining room we were called to take our seats. Around that time we started to hear thunder in the distance and were assured that if rain should begin to fall, the white tents waiting in the wings (behind a grove of evergreens) would be moved over to cover our table.
Tofino Dungeness Crab and Cold Smoked Wild Sockeye Salmon rolled in avocado and egg crepe with Saltspring Island tuna tataki, Pemberton green tomato salsa verde and shaved vegetables. Paired with Quail’s Gate Dry Riesling 2012.
Dungeness crab with avocado is my absolute favourite West Coast appetizer and you’ll always catch me ordering it if it’s offered on a menu. Here it was served up in such a way that it was intricately presented with splashes of colours and textures however the crab was still clean, crisp, and pure – it wasn’t masked by all of the (delicious) decorative elements.
We were each presented with our own plate of this appetizer and then the rest of the courses were served family-style on platters.
Local Heirloom Tomato and Buffalo Mozzarella with Rootdown spicy greens, smoked salt and cherry tomato vinaigrette, crispy squash blossoms with Moonstruck White Grace cheese. Paired with Family Reserve Chardonnay 2011.
I clapped my hands and looked at John with big bright eyes when I saw this platter arriving at our table. It was THE squash blossom dish that we had discovered and enjoyed at the Araxi Longtable in Pemberton in 2011! I talk about this often as it’s so tasty with the crunchy panko, sweet and juicy squash blossom, stuffed with slightly salted cheese from Saltspring Island.
The sweet and juicy tomatoes also made our tastebuds dance and the creamy buffalo mozzarella smoothly blended the flavours on our tongues. The Quail’s Gate Chardonnay was a great compliment with its rich, buttery, and yet floral notes.
Taste of the Okanagan from Chef Roger Sleiman of Old Vines Restaurant at Quail’s Gate Winery: North Okanagan Lamb with Swiss Chard, mushroom and pine-nut ravioli with Stu’s sour cherry relish, Suncatcher Farm‘s Paris market carrots, Little Creek beans, and white beets. Paired with Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2011.
As often as I order Dungeness Crab as an appetizer you’ll find John ordering lamb at a restaurant – it’s his “go to” dish so he was rather excited to see it presented here. The platters were stacked high with tender, juicy cuts of lamb sitting on top of the generous ravioli pockets and white beets that had us all taking a bit and turning to each other to ask “What was that? It was delicious!”
It was at about this time in the evening that the clouds had rolled in and the skies opened up. It hadn’t rained in about a month so while the showers were welcomed at the park, we had to get our tables covered. The staff moved quickly to assemble about a dozen white tents and walk them down the length of the longtable, lining them up side-by-side to cover us. There were a few spots where the rain seeped through between the seems but otherwise it was a great fix and all were still in high spirits.
Pemberton Raspberries and Okanagan Cherries with a New Style Black Forrest Cake with brandied cherries and white chocolate with North Arm raspberry ice with toasted pistachios. Paired with Quail’s Gate Optima 2011.
Truly the pièce de résistance! I had not idea what to expect from a “New Style Black Forest Cake” but I knew it would be an exciting treat. The star of the dish, and possibly the entire meal, was the raspberry ice dipped in white chocolate and covered in pistachios. Not only did it look beautiful, it tasted truly divine.
The crunch of the white chocolate shell combined with the silky smooth, tart raspberry ice ruined every popsicle or fudgesicle for me for the rest of my life. I was so enthralled with this cool treat, and the dry ice basket in which it was presented, that I failed to snap photos of the cake that accompanied it, although it too was a sinfully sweet treat.
At the end of the night, sipping the sweet nectar of the Quail’s Gate Optima from our glasses while the rain pelted the tents over our table, the conversation with our neighbours kept coming back to the meal we all just enjoyed. “Can you believe those beets?” or “Wow, that dessert! Just… wow!”
We were booked for the night at Nita Lake Lodge at Creekside in Whistler, a top-ranked hotel with an incredible offering of dining options, amenities, and well-appointed rooms looking out over either Nita Lake or up at Whistler Mountain.
On top of everything that’s included with your stay (complimentary bike, kayak, stand-up paddle boards, in-room wireless internet, and more) they also have a free shuttle that will take you into Whistler Village from Creekside. On the night of the Araxi Longtable dinner we waited just outside of the lobby with three others who all shared our destination so the shuttle driver took us right up to Lost Lake.
To get back to Nita Lake Lodge after the dinner we simply called the hotel and the driver returned to pick up our whole group, at no charge.
In the morning, I met with other media for a tour of the property and John, who had been experiencing back pain for about two weeks, went in to the spa for a massage — and he came out a changed man. Not only was the massage helpful on his muscle pain, he was able to calm down and let go of some stress-related tension. After our wonderful meal the night before, and this completely relaxing morning, it was really tough to leave but somehow we managed to snap out of our euphoric Araxi/Whistler/Nita Lake daze and return to city life.