The Hilton has been keeping a little secret from us all, Whistler. See, the Cinnamon Bear Bar & Grille is much more than a laidback lounge guarded by the stoic wooden namesake that the locals have come to know and love.
While the bar is still the go-to spot to go and shoot pool or catch the game and a snack, the dining room, tucked away on the right hand side, is where things have really been happening. To be quite honest, I've been to the CBBG lounge countless times to grab a drink with friends and had never even considered going there for dinner. I don't really know why - perhaps 'out of sight, out of mind'? But after recently enjoying a meal there with friends, I can safely say that I would happily return for seconds.
At the heart of the CBBG's newly-refined culinary program is Executive Chef Julien Owen-Mold, who joined the Hilton's team from Nita Lake Lodge back in November. Annie-Claude, our attentive server for the evening, actually made the move with Chef Owen-Mold from Nita Lake Lodge (which shows that she must really believe in food philosophy, programs and ethics).
The menu, which features a range of seasonal, B.C. produce and high-quality sustainable seafood, was introduced in November and their culinary team has been working hard to fine-tune it in the process.
Pretty extensive options: five starters, five appetizers, nine mains, plus four more "originals and classics," an assortment of sides and five desserts. The price point is very reasonable, as well, with mains priced between $18 and $26.
At the suggestion of Annie-Claude, we raised a flute of Sumac Tribute sparkling wine as we meandered through the menu. After a bit of debate, our group of four finally placed our orders. Then, we sat back to enjoy our bubbles in the relaxed atmosphere of the CBBG's comfortably elegant dining room (really, even though their menu is "fine dining," this isn't a stuffy place: they play some decent tunes, and the wait staff is very friendly.)
To start, we decided to try the Re-Think Poutine ($13), Lemon Pepper Squid ($10), Crab and Salmon Cake ($12) and classic Caesar Salad with pancetta crisps ($12). But before our orders could arrive, we were treated to an amuse bouche of their popular West Coast Style Chowder, a rich and creamy dish featuring smoked black cod, salmon, clams, bacon and sweet corn, topped with a smoked salmon and cheese brioche.
Stomachs officially rumbling, our appetizers arrived soon after. The poutine, a Jenga-tower of crispy, perfectly seasoned Pont Neuf potatoes hid a delicious pocket of duck confit, and the melted pools of Quebec Oka cheese and aged balsamic BBQ sauce were quickly mopped up. The generous portion of crispy-fried squid was tart and flavourful, served with a side of refreshing lime crème fraiche, and had us all spearing cross-table to snag a piece (or two).
Selecting our mains was a bit more tricky: we elected to try the Lamb Shank ($23), 8oz New York Steak ($24) and a "catch of the day" - a saffron tomato bouillabaisse loaded with succulent scallops, mussels, black cod, prawns and even a few generous morsels of lobster ($25). The olive oil-poached lamb was incredibly succulent, topped with a lovely oven-roasted tomato, caper and basil sauce, and was served with a side of fresh herb pappardelle pasta, but I was pretty pleased with my own choice, the fragrant bouillabaisse. The two carnivores were also very content after devouring their steaks, which were served with a spicy peppercorn garlic jus, carrots, asparagus, sautéed mushrooms and a creamy potato purée.
While I can't confirm that they've made a vast improvement from their previous menu, because this was the first time I'd visited the restaurant, one of my dining companions just so happened to be a former server from the bar side and confirmed that the menu has improved "three hundred per cent."
The dessert menu, created by talented pastry chef Karine Dubreuil, was absolutely mouth-watering, so we all managed to make room to try her sweet treats. I opted for the Orange Citrus Tart, served with a mint sherbet, lemon curd and raspberry reduction, while my companions decided to try the Cheesecake with a shortbread crust and rhubarb, vanilla bean compote, the coffee and caramel Crème Brulée and the Molten Chocolate Cake, served with a side of chocolate lavender cream and vanilla bean gelato. All were $9, and worth every penny (and more), as we all reluctantly shared with one another, trying to decide which we would order next time around.