Whistler, BC V0N 1B4
Tastiness Factor: 9/10
Locavore Approved: Enthusiastically YES- Their dedication to all that is "local"is apparent in every aspect of the dining experience at Alta. From the wall of preserved vegetables and fruits, picked at the peak of their season, to our server's knowledge about the origin of components of every dish, to the menu's mention of the farms that source the ingredients, this place is the real local deal. Heck, they even have a tribute to local locavorism in the women's washroom! (see below)
Alta Bistro is a place that I just keep wanting to keep coming back to. Although a part of me wanted to try two new restaurants on our recent weekend in Whistler, I just could not bear to be in the town and not visit this wonderful restaurant that is so dedicated to all that is local and sustainable.
We had been to Alta for the first time the year before during the first Wanderlust Yoga Festival in Whistler (I did Yoga, Hubby played golf) and we had so much fun that we planned a return trip for the same weekend this year. We made a reso at Alta several weeks in advance for Friday night to avoid disappointment as Wanderlust weekend is insanely busy. The restaurant was packed but with our reservation, we were promptly shown to our table at the back of the restaurant. The room is quite small, with tables that are packed fairly close together, but I quite enjoy the intimate atmosphere that is true to its title as a "bistro". The atmosphere is quite relaxed, and guests come dressed in all kinds of attire, from sweat pants, to shorts, to jeans, to shirts and tie (the latter being much less common). There are a few tables outdoors as well which were occupied on the cool night that we dined there.
Service is friendly yet very attentive. Our server's introduction to the restaurant was music to my ears- locally sourced, sustainable, Oceanwise, preservative and hormone free. You know right away that you are in good hands! The staff are obviously passionate about the local cuisine that they are serving and are more than happy to take the time to explain the origin of the ingredients and the details about their preparation. When our server was unsure of one of my questions, he took the time to go back to the kitchen to ask the chef even though he obviously had his hands full with restaurant being so busy. This was certainly much appreciated!
The menu at Alta has changed slightly since our visit last year, when it was a 3-course prix-fixe menu composed of 2 appetizers and a main. This year, we were told that has been changed to an a-la-carte menu for the summer so as to "lighten things up" and allow the choice of just ordering one dish if they so choose. As someone who always orders an appie and a main sans dessert, a liked the old prix-fixe menu but this new a-la-carte menu worked just fine for me as well and I appreciate the fact that it offers more flexibility for diners. Of note is that they are offering a $33 prix-fixe menu before 6:15 which includes an appie, main and dessert (what a deal if you can eat that early!).
Cocktails are not just an afterthought at Alta. The bartender, Scott Curry, makes all of his own syrups (nothing artificial here!) and uses old-fashioned bitters to create depth of flavour. Curry's knack for flavour building really came through in our cocktails. I happen to love all that is rhubarb and therefore chose the "Ruby Tuesday", made with rhubarb syrup, vanilla, black pepper and citrus. Although the rhubarb flavour was lovely as expected, the best part was the spiciness of the peppercorn that added a little zing right at the last moment when you least expected it. Because I do not enjoy overly sweet cocktails, I asked them to cut some of the sweetness, to which they gladly obliged. Hubby chose the Kentucky Peach, one of the evening's special cocktails, made of bourbon, peach syrup, egg white, amaro averna and citrus. This "manly" fruity cocktail had just a hint of sweetness and was very well-balanced.
After our expertly-prepared cocktails, we could not wait to discover what wonderful delights Executive Chef Nick Cassettari had to offer. Like the restaurant itself, the menu is small but obviously very well conceived, with dishes to please everyone's tastes. The summer menu, full of light flavours, had quite a number of meat entrees (2 pork dishes and a beef short rib dish), as well a fish entree and, to my delight, a vegetarian option that changes nightly (can you guess what I ordered?). There were also a number of appetizers, including a Charcuterie plate that changes nightly, as well as cheese and deli boards meant for sharing.
Here is what we enjoyed for our pre-yoga/golf weekend at Alta:
Bread with white bean puree, fennel and star anise- Hubby (aka. carb lover) just had to have some of this homemade baguette, made at the nearby Nita Lake Lodge, to start off the meal. The accompanying savoury spread was quite unique, with a hummous-like consistency from the white beans. The flavours of the spices were subtle but certainly more interesting than your average oil and vinegar.
Side Stripe Prawn and Scallop Crudo- Because I was going with a vegetarian main, I chose a seafood appie and was certainly pleased with my decision. This was the ideal summer starter- incredibly light and refreshing. The freshness of the seafood, the creaminess of the avocado, the smokiness of the eggplant- absolutely divine. With so many different flavour components, there was a new surprise in every bite!
"Two Rivers Meats" Charcuterie- Two Rivers Meats (check out there informative website here) makes there products using meat supplied by partnering local farms are free of hormones and preservatives. On the night of our visit, the board featured salami and speck, which were both delicious and obviously of high quality. Hubby equally enjoyed the accompanying house preserves, including the cutest little pickled radish shoots (they look like mini chili peppers!), a relish and lavash bread.
Je Suis Vegetarian (changes nightly)- I just love restaurants that have nightly vegetarian specials. It is a rare phenomenon but makes a whole pile of sense considering the fact that the availability and quality of seasonal veggies varies from day to day. It obviously means more work on the chef's part, so kudos to you chef Cassettari! On this particular night, I was treated to fingerling potatoes panfried with cauliflower, summer squash, green beans and onions, that were all sauteed with the most delectable salsa verde (a bit creamy while still being light and herbaceous). This is what true vegetarian is all about- a plate of nothing but veggies, that was unmistakenly a complete and substantial dish in and of itself. It takes a very talented chef to pull this off!
Maple-glazed pork cheeks- Hubby, in contrast to my vegetarian fare, went for the pork cheeks and he thought they were "awesome". The meat was tender and moist, then kicked up another notch with the just-sweet-enough maple glaze. It was served with spaetzle, hazelnuts and puffed quinoa, making for great textural contrast. This was a real winner in Hubby's mind!
After finishing our meal, all I could do was thank my lucky stars that I returned to Alta on this return yoga/golf weekend in Whistler. Although I do love testing the waters and trying new places, there is no way that I can spend any length of time in Whistler and not pay a visit to Alta. Their food philosophy is completely in line with everything that I believe in (locally-sourced, sustainable and seasonal), they are passionate about what they do and they readily acknowledge the farmers that supply them with their top-quality products. And finally, there is no denying that their food tastes mighty good!
Thanks for an amazingly local dining experience Alta. Next time I am in Whistler, I will be back with bells on:)