Araxi may have opened on Halloween in 1981, but the original menu was by no means spooky at the very first cog in restaurateur Jack Everensol’s empire. His Top Table Group now includes West, Blue Water Cafe and CinCin in Vancouver, but Araxi came first, named for his wife.
Araxi occupied the very first Whistler Village Square lot and initially sold wood-fired pizzas, burgers and 140 beers, seemingly a winning combination. However, Everensol eventually upgraded to local, seasonal cuisine, and started working with chefs like James Walt, who’s been with the restaurant, on and off, for over 14 years and literally wrote the (cook)book on Araxi’s cuisine.
The interior held some appeal, but we sat on a patio with marble tables, yellow umbrellas and views of the square. Since it was just about summer, that meant mud-splattered mountain bikers instead of skiers. We also spotted a ragtag group of wacky “cyclists” on a charitable 20-person “tandem” bike.
Araxi was my first food stop on a two-day tour hosted by Tourism Whistler. Our meal started with some soft house-made honey oat rolls served with a scoop of white bean puree partially submerged in olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and light garlic.
Asparagus Salad ($15.50) was pretty much a study of the vegetable, with an assist from Pemberton’s North Arm Farm. The stalks featured contrasting textures, with firm green, melt-in-my-mouth white and thin, bushy-topped wild asparagus, all tossed with tangy sherry vinegar dressing, hard cooked quail’s egg, spinach leaves and snipped chives. The only element that threw me off was a sprinkling of my culinary nemesis, truffle oil. Luckily it was light.
The menu had a lot of interesting options, but after two days of indulging on Vancouver Island, more produce seemed like the way to go. The chef plated Shaved Local Mushrooms ($9) – cremini – with salty shaved Parmesan, arugula and olive oil. The salad was fine, but fairly uninteresting.
Still, no meal is complete with just salad, as No Salad As a Meal knows so well, so we moved on to heartier dishes. Seasonally-inspired Spinach + Nettle Gnocchi ($17.50) were good and green on their own and taken the the next level with crisp Angus beef cheek croquettes. The colorful plate also featured a smear of roasted piquillo pepper sauce, crisp shaved fennel, arugula and a sharp shower of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Araxi is a member of Ocean Wise, a Canadian seafood conservation program led by Vancouver Aquarium. They sourced Pacific Squid ($13.50) from the west coast of Vancouver Island and prepared them as steaks, cutting from the “cape” to produce my day’s favorite dish.The grilled, tender sheets came with a flavorful mince of chorizo and garlic, chickpeas, greenbeans, gem tomatoes and toasted pine nuts that all soaked up the saffron and chile vinaigrette to great effect.
BC Spot Prawn Risotto ($16.50), caught during a 34-day window, is named for the white spot on either side of naturally sweet, silky shrimp from Sunshine Coast. The summery risotto also hosted firm English peas (markedly better than mushy canned peas), sweetness from mascarpone cheese, a hint of lemon juice and mint, and a topside thatch of fresh pea greens.
My drinks included an amber hued Okanagan Spring Pale Ale and one of Araxi’s many mocktails, made using rosemary pear syrup, pear juice and lime on the rocks. The balanced drink was garnished with a lime slice and rosemary sprig. Both beverages were refreshing, but if I was going to get only one, it would be the beer.
The Peak2Peak gondola beckoned, so we had to skip Aaron Heath’s desserts, which was unfortunate, but also fine. We were already sated, so we gladly moved onward and up the mountain.
Note: My meal at Araxi was complimentary, as part of a tour hosted by Tourism Whistler.