Last week, a group of local food media were invited up to Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler to dine at Aura (formerly Jordan’s Crossing), the 3 year old resort property’s newly revamped fine-dining restaurant. The lodge, having recently changed ownership just after the 2010 Winter Olympics last March, has quietly been ushering in a series of promising changes and upgrades that are worthy of note.
The restaurant’s new kitchen talent is big league. Executive Chef Tim Cuff (formerly of West, Wickaninnish Inn, Mission Hill), along with Restaurant Chef, Owen Foster (former Bearfoot Bistro, Market by Jean Georges, Mission Hill), have some serious kitchen chops and it shows all over their ambitious menu.
Sourcing directly from local farmers, foragers, ranchers and fisheries, the team is committed to bringing the freshest and highest quality products into their kitchen. And they have even taken it one step further by planting a massive roof-top herb and vegetable garden, which is lovingly serviced by both gardeners and cooks. More plans to expand are in the works with a greenhouse being built in the next few weeks.
Our first bites are in the lodge’s impressive presidential suite where we are presented with a variety of charcuterie, all made in-house. Drawing on much of Chef Foster’s butchering skills and experience (he did a brief stint at Market by JG as their butcher), the variety of salumi is impressive, and what is more impressive is they started us off with a beer pairing of Kriek Cherry Lambic served in wine glasses, very clever considering the room was filled with mostly wine nerds.
As an aside, much of the restaurant’s delicious charcuterie will be featured at the Crush Gala at Cornucopia this November.
Once seated and after a nice start with a cherry tomato amuse bouche to liven our palates, we dove into this multi-course wine-paired marathon of culinary delights. Here is the play by play:
First dish is a mixture of seafood and fruit that has many subtle and soft flavours, along with a citrus note blending in the mouth, fairly complex and interesting.
Next up is a bit of surf and turf with some Artic Char and Veal Cheek Pastrami that has some of us perplexed. With the meat, lettuce, bread crisp and horseradish it evoked a deli sandwich but one bite of the Artic Char and we are thrown off completely. Not a big fan of cold surf and turf to begin with. This dish was a big swing and a miss for me.
The next dish brought table service, which is always a nice touch to any dining experience. The warm consomme is a perfect change of pace for the palate.
The Porchetta dish, which uses fresh artichokes from the roof-top garden, is tasty but also a bit busy on the plate with the hazelnut oil and capers and pine nuts and could have benefited with a little more focus and a couple less ingredients.
The next course of bacon wrapped quail was incredible and perfectly paired with the evening’s only BC wine, the highly quaffable reserve Pinot Noir from Naramata’s La Frenz Winery.
Perhaps, it’s because I prefer meat to fish, but this course of bison and melt-in-your-mouth Wagyu short-rib was by far my favourite dish of the evening. Just enough meat, balanced with a variety of interesting and colourful textures, and further elevated by a big red cabernet from Washington. Excellent.
By this point my palate is starting to red line and the Foie Gras and freeze dried fruit salad is hard to appreciate. While the techniques are admirable, this dish is lost to me.
But dessert is not finished! An incredibly rich Chocolate Ganache flown in from Belgium with smears of squash toffee and pumpkin streusel arrives to pound my belly into submission. I wince and ignore the gingerbread fudge and coconut macaroons that arrive shortly after.
A final glass of port is a welcome digestif and a perfect ending to this epic meal. The wine program is headed by Ryan Dyck (also formerly from the Wickaninnish Inn) and is a nice mix of mostly B.C. and new world wines along with a few excellent old world selections.
All in all, I was very impressed with Aura. The kitchen team is very talented and it is great to see a new fine restaurant stepping up in Whistler, and giving Creekside another dining attraction worth seeking out.