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Alta Bistro: a sustainable new culinary experience


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There's nothing like a little local flavour to get the tastebuds tingling, and local flavour is just what an up-and-coming Whistler restaurant has in store.

A small, 43-seat restaurant dubbed Alta Bistro is getting ready to open for business in Whistler, and its owners, Eric Griffith and Edward Dangerfield, have been working around the clock, taking a very hands-on approach to getting their business venture off the ground. They took a few minutes out from overseeing construction last Friday to sit down and fill me in on what they have planned for the exciting new space.

Griffith is a long-time resident, born and raised in Whistler, while Dangerfield has called Whistler home for about eight years (he's originally from the UK). Both have worked in the local food and beverage industry for years, doing stints at restaurants like Apres, La Bocca, the Rim Rock Cafe and Il Caminetto Di Umberto. The seed for Alta Bistro was planted back in 2006, while the two worked together at Umberto's.

"Eric and I managed the bar for a year, and then Eric got promoted to restaurant manager there," Edward recalled. "So then I worked on the bar with Eric in the restaurant, and it was at that time that we realized we were probably going to work together in the future."

For almost two years, they've been looking at potential spaces for their restaurant, visiting at least 15 locations before finding the right one: they've taken over a former office space in the Pinnacle building, near Quattro, and are in the process of transforming it into a restaurant, complete with an open-concept kitchen, wine cellar, bar and dining room.

"You have to feel something for the room, you have to feel something for the space," Eric mused. "But underlying that is sustainability of food, wine, everything. So our goals are to work with local suppliers and we're going to be responsible."

That fundamental principle of sustainability is a theme that will be prevalent with Alta Bistro, their Canadian bistro concept. They've brought Guillaume Gissinger (aka Gigi), a French-Swiss trained chef who also worked at Umberto's for a season, on board as Executive Chef.

"When we saw this space, 'bistro' was definitely what we saw in it," Eric explained. "A more casual atmosphere, more casual, approachable food. Things that are ultimately very tasty, but at the same time, not complicated."

They plan to keep the menu small, but offer plenty of daily specials, depending on what seasonal produce avails itself to them from suppliers that are close to home. Expect to see lots of fresh and cooked seafood, pate, charcuterie, cheeses, baked items like quiche, as well as braised, slow-cooked dishes.

"The food is driven by flavour, it's driven by the seasons," Edward explained.

"Locals know exactly how good our Sablefish is here," Eric added, "and they know exactly how good halibut is, and what salmon species you should be eating at what time of year in the summer. But visitors have not always been privy to that. You can sell pretty much anything on a menu to your international guests, because they're not really sure; they'll eat orange roughy from New Zealand because it's just fish on the menu! That's what they're given."

Scot Curry from Araxi has come on board as their bar manager, so you can be assured that their cocktail menu will be classically-inspired and innovative, borrowing the same sustainable and locally-sourced philosophy from the food menu. Expect to see housemade infusions and bitters, as well as Schramm Vodka, Okanagan Spirits and Victoria Gin on the drink menu.

Griffith is directing their wine program and explains that they're not just offering B.C. wines; rather, they're focusing on offering a range of sustainable, organic and biodynamic options.

"I feel that wine is such a thing of place that you don't want to be one-dimensional," he said.

They've also installed an Enomatic wine serving system at the bar, which means that people can have any wine by the glass.

While the new space wasn't quite finished when I popped in for a visit, it's pretty clear that these guys are carrying the sustainable theme from the menu over into the decor and design of the intimate, bright dining area. Space is used very cleverly, with lots of banquette seating. The bar, tabletops and finish work are done with a salvaged Ponderosa Pine that was transformed into beautiful planks of blue-stained wood by nefarious pine beetles.

Both Eric and Edward seem to be well aware of the challenges that Whistler restaurateurs face, and feel that the key to their success will be their ability to tap into the local market. And, of course, you can't forget about the tourists!

"You need both! If you have a busy place that the locals enjoy, the tourists are going to want to find that, because that's going to give them something about Whistler that they can take away with them," Eric points out.

They hope to hold a soft opening before Christmas, and I personally can't wait to check out what these local boys are bringing to the table.