As our "Best of Whistler" voters will attest, we seem to have plenty of Japanese (sushi) restaurants to sate our appetites; hell, we even have a Korean grill and two Chinese options. But we lost our only Thai restaurant a few years back, and our robust dining scene is sorely lacking Malaysian and Vietnamese flavours to tantalize our palates. The Pan Pacific is now looking to fill that void, introducing Nochi Pan Asian Bistro, an intimate new eatery nestled into their Village Centre location, which is just next door to Earl's. (Nochi is the phonetic translation of the French word après to Japanese.)
Prior to this season, that hotel's restaurant had been open to their own guests only, but in the face of a troublesome economy, management decided it was time to shake things up a bit with their dining concept, fusing elements of Thai, Japanese, Malaysian, Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine into one entirely new menu.
"We wanted to create some connectivity to Pan Pacific and we also wanted to create something that we felt would work in our space, because we've got a small kitchen," explained Jim Douglas, the general manager for both Pan Pacific Whistler locations.
They wanted to offer Whistler residents and visitors something totally unique (so don't expect your standard sushi, here). No, Executive Chef Tane Maxwell has developed plenty of dishes that you definitely haven't seen before.
Originally from Plymouth, New Zealand, Maxwell has lived in Whistler for two and a half years. He originally came here to snowboard, and ended up working at the Dubh Linn Gate Old Irish Pub, where he met Douglas. He was just about to leave Whistler when Douglas approached him with the idea for Nochi, and asked for his input and expertise.
See, Maxwell has a background and passion for Pan Asian cuisine, working in similar kitchens for 15 years. He learned many traditional aspects of Asian cuisine from kitchen hands he worked with during a stint in Australia, where Asian fusion seems to be a staple in the culinary scene.
"I'd just get them to show me dishes from their hometown, something their mom may have shown them how to cook," Maxwell explained.
But he also mixes these traditional elements of Asian cuisine and blends them together with other flavours and influences.
"For me, I like to just test people's taste buds and take the best parts from each and mix them all around and come up with new things!" the experimental chef explained.
At Nochi, Maxwell seems to have managed to create a balanced but innovative menu, which includes a few classic and safe dishes, like Pad Thai ($15) and "Fish n Chips Nochi Style" ($14), alongside more "out-there" options, like the Szechuan-coated pineapple-cut squid ($11) and lychee lollipops stuffed with goats' cheese, served with a beetroot aioli ($10).
"It's a lychee, which is an Asian fruit, stuffed with goats' cheese and then we put it into a tempura (and deep fry it) so it's got a nice crisp, batter," Maxwell explained, "So you get the crisp outside, then the fresh of the fruit on the next bit and the melted cheese in the middle."
The price point for the food menu seems quite reasonable, as well, ranging from $7 starters to $22 share platters, which are billed as suitable for two to four people. Mains range from the $14 Fish n Chips to the $18 Shichimi-coated Angus beef strip loin steak. I'm also quite keen to test-drive their desserts: the mango crème brulee and the banana spring roll (both $8).
"The more time I spent with Tane and ate his food and the more I listened to him talk and looked at his examples ... the more I felt convinced that this could be the way to go!" Douglas added.
To complement the food menu that Maxwell has developed, Nathan Ponder, Nochi's manager, spent a considerable amount of time cultivating a similarly unique crafted cocktail menu, focused on utilizing fresh ingredients and house made syrups. He has included a few classic favourites, like the martini, Manhattan, sours and Negroni (all $12) alongside a series of fresh and intriguing Asian-inspired signature cocktails, like Timmy's Thai, Nashi Flakes and Tokyo Iced Tea. Personally, I can't wait to belly up to the bar and test-drive the Zen Mojito ($12), a concoction that includes muddled basil and ginger, sugar syrup, lime, Havana Club and sparkling plum wine. And for the grand opening on Jan. 17, Nochi will be rolling out a much more extensive drink menu than they're currently serving, adding a few sake cocktails, warm drinks and cocktails by the pitcher ($26).
While Nochi has been quietly operating since the beginning of the season, they're bound to get quite a bit busier once they step out of the shadows later this month; swing by and check them out if, like me, you've been craving a fix of Thai.