Whistler Blackcomb Food & Beverage operates 17 restaurant outlets on the mountains and at the base. Most of them are awful.
Even though executive chef Wolfgang Sterr has made great strides in sourcing better-quality raw products – local produce and meat, sustainable seafood, more protein choices for vegetarians – kitchen execution has much to be desired.
Last summer, I had the distinct displeasure of eating overcooked brisket, gummy pulled pork and rotten avocados at Dusty’s – on the same weekend that it hosted the Canadian National BBQ Championship. Then, there was the saddest mountaintop barbecue buffet in the history of barbecue buffets. Forget about the sludgy salads and factory-quality fudge brownies. This so-called barbecue didn’t even offer any traditional barbecue – the main course was slow-roasted prime rib.
So, I honestly wasn’t expecting much from the new and improved Christine’s, a fine-dining lunch restaurant in Rendezvous Lodge at the top of Blackcomb Mountain.
The grand reveal in December was part of a multimillion-dollar renovation that turned the entire bland, beige 2,500-square-metre bunker into an all black-wood, boldly modern showpiece by Michael Green Architecture (Rennie Gallery, North Vancouver City Hall).
Before the renovation, Christine’s was a typical alpine-rustic chalet with A-frame ceilings, stacked-stone accents and white-linen napkins. Much like Steeps Grill, its sister restaurant on Whistler Mountain, it served hearty sandwiches and upscale poutine with red-wine gravy.
The new Christine’s is a sleek stunner with drop wooden-slat ceilings, vintage Edison lighting and trendy black-linen napkins. Comfortable leather booths on two levels provide panoramic views from the mountain’s picturesque north face overlooking Pemberton. They actually had me right from the brushed-copper-clad coat check outside the restaurant (which is closed off from the rest of the lodge). Yes, a coat – and helmet – check. Such a smart amenity.
I did not research the new chef de cuisine before visiting. I didn’t even know his name. But his menu rang a bell, even at first glance: hamachi with horseradish, apple, dill and crunchy fennel; soy-braised beef short rib with napa cabbage and peanut; seared scallop with carrot, cucumber, fried chickpea and Indian-spiced vinaigrette.
It read light, bright, vaguely Asian and very familiar. “Was David Hawksworth a consultant?” I wondered aloud.
No, Mr. Hawksworth was not. But before Steve Ramey began helming Christine’s, he spent 4 1/2 years working as the lunchtime sous-chef at Hawksworth in downtown Vancouver. No wonder.
Although Mr. Ramey’s cooking isn’t exactly original, he is doing a pretty terrific job of bringing cosmopolitan flair to a mountaintop ski chalet. And it’s all the more impressive when you consider that he’s doing about 200 covers a day in a very tight, three-hour lunch window (reservations are highly recommended), and that all his food supplies have to be hauled up to the lodge in the gondola (to the mid-base) and then delivered overnight by snow cat.
The BBQ duck salad features chewy, soft morsels of duck that have deep, dark flavour soaked up from a two-day marinade in ginger, star anise and hoisin sauce, before being slowly simmered sous-vide for 12 hours and fried to order. It’s served with green-papaya salad that is bright with citrus, tight with black pepper, funky from fish sauce and textured with crispy taro. We devoured it very quickly.
The excellent Christine’s burger is a grain-fed lamb burger that makes a juicy, gamey, taste-gripping departure from the same-old, same-old beef burger. A fluffy, toasted sesame-seed bun is generously stuffed with pungently sour raw-milk feta, sweet sultana relish, thinly slivered cucumbers and fresh bibb lettuce.
Crispy-skinned char, with its caramelized sunchoke, silky smoked tomato purée, sour crème fraîche and lightly wilted greens flecked with intensely licorice-y tarragon, was another standout display of complementary flavours and contrasting textures. This is a chef that (mostly) gets it.
Dungeness crab risotto with jalapeno butter and sea asparagus didn’t have the creamy depth that one expects from a good risotto (perhaps a problem with technique, it didn’t taste like the grains were heated thoroughly before being hit with sizzling stock). And the hand-rolled pasta dish – whole-wheat maltagliati with slow-cooked beef and roasted mushrooms – was stodgy. The pasta was thickly cut and the sauce was flat.
But kudos to our server, who removed the pasta from our bill. The service was excellent all around.
Even with dessert (superbly flaky banana-chocolate crostada) and a couple of drinks, the bill wasn’t prohibitive. At least not when you consider that a bowl of lacklustre chili in the regular dining room costs about $15.
Christine’s offers fresh, light sophisticated city-style dining in a place where you least expect it. After a fairly large lunch, we were still able to ski out and do a couple more runs.
The Whistler-Blackcomb restaurants at the base of the mountain could learn a lot from this bright new beacon at the top of the hill.Report Typo/Error