Since opening its doors in 1981, Araxi Restaurant continues to be a well-loved destination on the Whistler fine dining scene, from Executive Chef James Walt’s farm-to-table seasonal offerings to a multiple award-winning wine list boasting over 1,000 labels.
The indoor/outdoor bar features prominently as we enter the restaurant on a late summer evening. Walk inside Araxi and you’ll notice the busy bar on one side and a marble-topped oyster bar on the other, with beautiful tiered seafood towers and platters being prepared amongst the oyster-shucking action.
Soft lighting, a modern interior, leather seating, and gorgeous floral displays lead to the windowed kitchen in the back. My eyes caught a peek at the pastry chef creating something sinful. On my way back to the patio, I noticed several signed magnums, predominantly BC’s Foxtrot Vineyards’ Pinot Noir, with a gorgeous label featuring a finely-detailed illustration of a bear and a young woman in front of the vineyard.
Chef Walt’s innovative menus have earned Araxi a reputation as one of Whistler’s top restaurants for 13 consecutive years. Wine Spectator has crowned the restaurant with its Best of Award on numerous occasions, and the Vancouver International Wine Festival awarded Wine Director Samantha Rahn Sommelier of the Year at last year’s annual Vancouver wine event.
Additionally, Araxi was included in Maclean’s Top 50 Canadian Restaurants in 2012 and regularly attracts an international clientele.
Last weekend, my husband and me were invited to sample a five-course tasting menu with wine. In addition to the regular menu, tastings can be customized for groups and for special occasions. We began with a single Dungeness crab fritter in a deep bowl, watching our host gently pour BC sweet corn and basil soup to encircle it.
The rich crab and sweet corn was a fine match for Sumac Ridge’s Stellar’s Jay Brut 2008, its bubbles gently breaking up the oils in the soup upon repeated tastes. With Araxi’s proximity to Pemberton’s farms, the chefs have a clear advantage of sourcing the freshest, in-season ingredients.
The creamy goodness of the soup was followed by a colourful, artfully-presented Pemberton beet salad that included Granny Smith apple vinaigrette, Buffalo mozzarella and whipped goat cheeses, pecans, and quinoa, well paired with a glass of Le Vieux Pin ‘Vaïla’ Rose 2013. The crunchy textures of the beets and pecans, soft goat cheese, and pearly quinoa formed a delightful composite of textures on the palate, successfully complemented with a wine produced with Pinot Noir grapes and steel tank-aged.
Seared wild Alaskan scallops atop snap peas, carrots, and crispy proscuitto in a roasted Piquillo pepper sauce was presented together with a glass of JoieFarm ‘En Familie Reserve’ Chardonnay 2011. Just a hint of spice in the pepper sauce to marry with the silky texture of the Chardonnay, its crisp floral notes working well with the crunch of the peas and carrots, while the smoky flavour of the scallops and proscuitto were great together.
My husband was served the proscuitto-wrapped confit rabbit leg with cauliflower, potato purée, and Chanterelle mushrooms in a mustard vinaigrette; I enjoyed a grilled Mahi Mahi filet, a jumbo grilled prawn, pomme Dauphinoise, and broccolini in a lovely broth that complimented the vegetables while accenting the soft mahi mahi flavour and succulent texture of that prawn.
The spicy notes of the Mac Murray Ranch Pinot Noir 2012 formed a great contrast for the prawn’s texture. The rabbit leg was paired with Fort Berens Meritage 2011. I didn’t taste the rabbit though I sampled a sip of the wine, admiring its dark colour and bold, rich black cherry aroma with a hint of vanilla.
Our desserts were no less impressive. Araxi’s Black Forest cake, with layers of dark and white chocolate mousse, a drizzle of dark chocolate soaking up the Amarena cherries, and flourless, gluten-free chocolate cake, was brought out along with a baked lemon curd tart in a sweet pastry crust, served with hand-churned crème fraîche ice cream and raspberry coulis. Both desserts featured a glass of Elephant Island Framboise 2013, a fortified Naramata Bench dessert wine noted for its tart, rich notes.
Each one of the pairings was successful, however our favourite wine was the Mac Murray Ranch Pinot Noir, a wine so good that Araxi often decides to purchase all cases produced at harvest, making this Healdsburg Pinot Noir exclusive to Toptable Group’s wine list. Owner/TV actor Fred MacMurray, star of such classics as Double Indemnity and The Apartment, later starring in the popular American TV series My Three Sons, spent his free time at the ranch and was regularly involved in the local agricultural scene. The winery is now owned by the Gallo family.
Our commanding spot on the outdoor patio provided a non-stop visual feast of weekend revelers, families, hikers, mountain bikers, and stagette parties, making their way along the Village Walk. We recommend Araxi for its careful attention to detail, fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, presentation, and understated elegance.
We were guests of Araxi for the purpose of experiencing a seasonal five-course dinner with wine pairing.