Local Specialities

March 29th, 2007
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When some young thing in the service industry addressed me for the first time in my life as “sir”, I admit suffering a narcissistic Boomer-ish episode of feeling old before my time. That’s a long time ago now, and since then I’ve found that the opposite is far more annoying: Sitting down with Mrs. K. in what we each take to be a nice restaurant, and being addressed by a slovenly-attired, gum-chewing, multifariously pierced youth as, “You guys”. Over and over.

In resorts such as Whistler, despite their self-professed positioning as “high-end” operations, it’s remarkably difficult to uncover establishments with truly professional waiters/waitresses. The permutations of post-modern casual seem limitless. But that wondrous combination of skill, politeness, attitude, attire and demeanour that results in a truly enjoyable dining experience, and that one might expect would come with the stunningly high prices and clear self-love, is in short supply.

Imagine my anguish, then, when the one culinary haven that I knew would meet these exacting but not unreasonable standards turned out to have shut its doors: the Restaurant Val d’Isere. The Val d’Isere was modelled on the classic French petit-bourgeois railway station restaurant, a place where a weary traveller – a salesman far from home, say – could get a reliably solid meal – maybe a steak-frites and a bowl of onion soup, simply but tastily prepared – at a reasonable price in a familiar environment of black-and-white tiled floors and sturdy wooden furnishing.

This being the 21st century, and Whistler, the Val d’Isere certainly turned everything up a notch – décor, menu, staff and of course price – so perhaps the term “inspired by a true story” rather than “copied faithfully” would be suitable here. In any case, it was executed fabulously.

Last time Mrs. K. and I were in Whistler, we’d enjoyed a lovely evening and a genuinely memorable meal – steak tartar and steamed mussels to start, a rich bourgignon (but with buffalo the meat rather than French boeuf), a fine red wine, biensur, and of course fitting desserts, crème brule with berries. (My mouth waters merely editing this text.)

The service stood out. Our waiter was no child, and clearly a true professional, dignified of bearing, correctly turned out in white-and-black linen, respectful but not cloying, always available but not omnipresent, and well-spoken. No “you guys”, just “Madame” and “Monsieur” – delivered without a hint of condescension.

Perhaps these characteristics made it simply too good to last in Whistler. The same space is now occupied by something calling itself “Seven”, with a cuisine described as “Asian-American fusion”. Wow – who’d have ever thought of that motif? I guess that’s what counts as a local speciality on the West Coast these days.

The menu looked OK, but my friend Kevin D., a longtime crony and Whistler local, steered me towards something called the Mountain Club. As it turned out, the food was nearly as good as the Val d’Isere’s, and the waitresses were more than merely fetching. But it just wasn’t the same.

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