Story by Adrian Brijbassi
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — 1,640 glasses.
480 shucked oysters
144 bottles of wine.
Five great chefs and one unforgettable evening.
Those were some of the components of the Araxi Longtable celebration at Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach in August.
The Araxi Longtable Dining Series has been a summer staple for chef James Walt in recent years but this year’s dinner — which featured 62 eight-foot tables and hosted approximately 270 diners — accomplished a couple of notable firsts. One, it was held on the site of the city’s annual Shakespeare production — among the best in the country — and second, it included Walt’s peers in the Toptable Group of restaurants.
You could call Toptable the west-coast equivalent of the Oliver & Bonacini group, the Toronto-based corporation that contains a number of notable fine restaurants, including Canoe and Auberge du Pommier. But O&B also has a couple of other restaurants that fail to dazzle. That’s not the case with Toptable. Each one of their five properties is a treasure, with Araxi being the leader. West and Blue Water have also ranked among the Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada while CinCin is an Italian standout in downtown Vancouver. Thierry offers some of the best pastries, macarons and coffee selections in the city.
The Bard on the Beach dinner at Vanier Park was the first of three in August, with the others in Pemberton and Whistler, home of Araxi. This one in Vancouver, which took place on a glorious and hot summer day, was the largest service yet for the dining series.
For Walt, the Longtable Dining Series is an opportunity to showcase the products of British Columbia that adorn his menu. This time it was also about collaborating with Frank Pabst (Blue Water), a leader in serving Ocean Wise sustainable seafood dishes, Quang Dang (West), Andrew Richardson (CinCin) and Thierry Busset (Thierry Cafe).
The diners were treated to a surprisingly diverse menu, served family style. The Dungeness crab sausage from Pabst was the most inventive dish. The flavour of the crab didn’t lose any of its distinctiveness (or decadence) when packed into the casing. Among the notable facts of the meal was the amount of sausage consumed: 80 feet in total.
Other dishes included salt-baked sockeye salmon, Okanagan Valley beef served both as a grilled fillet and as an ingredient in Walt’s beef-cheek ravioli, and a charred octopus salad.
In a nation where culinary happenings have become noteworthy calendar events, the Araxi Longtable holds a special stature. The reason why is because of the quality of the service, the sophistication of the wine and spirits program, and the dependability of Walt to not relax on his standards in order to feed a large group in an outdoor setting that can pose challenges.
This isn’t an event where celebrity chefs show up to lend their name in order to sell tickets and maybe grill up a few dishes that are not indicative of their talents. These chefs’ skills were on full display and that ensured the meal delivered on its promise to match the Bard on the Beach setting with flavours that suited the moment.
MORE ABOUT THE ARAXI AND THE LONGTABLE DINING SERIES
Araxi Location: 4222 Village Square, Whistler, BC (see map below)
Reservations: Telephone 1-604-932-4540 or book online through OpenTable.com.
Menu price range: Dinner entrees range from $23.50 to $42.50. Executive chef James Walt is a leader in providing vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free choices that are just as carefully prepared as the primary menu options.
You must order: Saffron-crusted halibut caught in Haida Gwaii ($36.50), featuring a seafood and herb foam with chili oil.
Vacay.ca Top Restaurants in Canada Rank: No. 42 in 2014; No. 25 in 2013; No. 12 in 2012.