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Making The Brass shine

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Something a little different is going on beneath the signature yellow awnings of La Brasserie des Artistes, more commonly known around town as simply “The Brass.”

Modeled after the traditional French brasserie (a café that double as a restaurant, serving meals at more informal hours than a full-fledged restaurant), The Brass has been a long-standing fixture on the local dining scene, particularly with the busy après crowd.

But these days, there’s a new man at the helm of the kitchen — Shane Christoffer has just left Summerhill Estates Winery in Kelowna and taken over as Executive Chef, totally revamping the menu, and taking The Brass to a whole new level with his fresh, simple cuisine.

They have successfully infused the menu with innovative items, like an assortment of flatbreads and hors d’oeuvre that will please just about anyone’s taste buds. And don’t worry, the menu isn’t intimidating, and they haven’t eliminated the timeless Brass classics, like brioche French toast, and rich poutine. Breakfast is served from 8 a.m. until noon, and everything else is served until midnight.

The pear and brie flatbread ($10), for example, features poached pear, bits of brie, caramelized onion, a hint of chive cream cheese, topped with a red wine reduction, creating a sweet and savory dish that’s perfect to share — or keep all for yourself!

The diver scallop ($12) isn’t something I would have normally picked off of the menu, but as it turns out, I would have been missing out. A large, pan-seared scallop was neatly nestled in a bed of cauliflower and nutmeg puree, and drizzled with pan jus. Now, before you cringe at the idea of pureed cauliflower, fear not — it looks like smooth mashed potatoes, but has a nicer texture, and a similarly delicious flavour.

For the meat-lovers out there, dig into a dish of the braised beef shortribs ($11), which arrives tender and perched atop polenta with melted applewood smoked cheddar. This healthy helping is filling for a starter, and personally, I could probably make a meal out of it and a flatbread or a salad.

The entrée menu boasts chicken, lamb, beef, and seafood options, ranging in price from $17 to $22. I sampled the provençal braised lamb shank, which featured tender pieces of succulent lamb on a bed of risotto infused with Salt Spring Island goat cheese and rosemary.

To finish on a sweet note, we tried the tarte tatin ($8), which is an upside down apple tart, carmelized in butter and sugar, individually prepared and served piping hot, served with homemade vanilla gelato. The white chocolate bread pudding ($8) served with dark rum toffee sauce and whip cream is a much richer option for those out there with a serious sweet tooth.

Even the drink offerings are varied and impressive. My dining companion — a former bartender — was pleasantly surprised to see a bartender’s root beer (Kahlua, Galliano and cola) listed on the menu, while I opted for the Lynchburg lemonade (Jack Daniels, Triple Sec, lemon lime juice).

But what’s most exciting about this new menu is something that I haven’t even tried yet — Christoffer’s new take on après. Rather than offering the traditional pub fare, like nachos, potato skins, chicken wings, and poutine (which are all classics, don’t get me wrong), The Brass now presents a selection of meat, cheese, vegetables and fresh-baked bread on a cutting board, which is brought to your table to be shared amongst your friends. Christoffer explained that he wanted The Brass’s après experience to stand apart from others, offering great quality, fresh ingredients at a reasonable price.

Grilled chorizo, cured salami, smoked salmon, bocconcini, stilton, artichoke and asiago dip, and sautéed mushrooms are just a few of the après options, which range from $2 to $6 apiece. How very European!

Alongside some of these more innovative dishes is a selection of classics — pastas like penne, spaghetti and lasagna, offered in half and full-size portions, burgers, soups and sandwiches, as well.

Just from looking at the menu, it’s clear that a lot of thought and effort has been put into revamping things in the kitchen. In fact, Christoffer actually visited 91 restaurants to check out their menus and sample at least one dish when he first arrived in Whistler, noticing that the menus around town, apart from at the fine dining establishments, were extremely similar.

I guess this just proves that doing your homework pays off. While Christoffer admits he still has his work cut out for him, transitioning into this entirely new menu — “failure is not an option,” he said with a laugh — sales are already up 25 per cent, and on Thursday at around 2 p.m., people were still streaming in and out of the restaurant.

I know I’ll be back for après.

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