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Perfect bliss



Rim Rock Café has been providing the best of all worlds for Whistler diners for 17 years

Nirvana: A place or state characterized by freedom from or oblivion to pain or worry and the external world. — Webster’s dictionary

"I knew I had found nirvana when I could work at night and ski all day."

So explains Bob Dawson, co-owner of the Rim Rock Café of why he has been skiing and working in Whistler restaurants for the last 27 years. And no doubt seafood lovers would say they found seafood nirvana when eating at Rim Rock since Dawson and his chef partner, Rolf Gunther, took it over in 1986.

When discussing with Dawson the Rim Rock and his working history, one is taken down a fascinating, fun, mini-history tour of Whistler. Dawson arrived at Whistler in 1976, when, "the village consisted of 300 permanent residents, the skiing village was at Creekside and the main village that we’ve got now was a garbage dump."

Dawson and Gunther got together in 1980 to run the Creek House restaurant, where Dawson says he gained the utmost respect for his partner’s cooking skills.

"This is a guy from Germany, trained in French cooking, who can cook anything. We did everything we could to survive. We did Italian, Mexican, burgers and salads, whatever. And Rolf could cook it all."

When the Rim Rock Café location became available in 1986 the pair leapt at the chance to take it over and set out with the goal that when people asked for seafood in Whistler, the Rim Rock would be on everyone’s lips. And after 17 years, the pair has succeeded admirably in their goal.

A quick peruse of the Rim Rock’s menu had me salivating and wanting to try everything on Gunther’s expertly planned menu of starters and main courses, which was amazing for this diner, not being the biggest seafood fan in the world.

Read and salivate: Spicy sea bass in a sweet & spicy cashew chili sauce, salad mix in a crispy wonton cup; crab & salmon cakes with mango aioli & roasted corn salsa; foie gras pan-seared with an apple raspberry salad; tiger prawns grilled with mushroom spinach garlic risotto & basil tomato roasted pepper salsa.

Such mouthwatering delights had me wondering just what to choose and Dawson helpfully recommend the Rim Rock’s Ahi Tuna, which is marinated in soya sake & mirin, grilled rare and finished with wasabi beurre blanc. The word rare pricked up my ears as most chefs have the unfortunate habit of cooking their fish way too long, a fact that Dawson concurs with.

"Rolf is a master at not overcooking his food. Plus, he’s fanatical about using the best and freshest seafood he can order."

While the above is just a sample of the many fish treats that await at the Rim Rock, you are not out of luck if you are allergic or seafood just doesn’t do it for you. The Rim Rock now offers a nice array of exotic game, like grilled buffalo eye steak, roasted north muskox loin and Arctic caribou.

"We didn’t want to just stick steak on the menu as an afterthought like a lot of seafood restaurants do. We thought adding game like caribou would be different and give people a choice if they don’t like seafood," said Dawson.

Complementing the meats and seafood at the Rim Rock is an excellent wine collection, with more than 300 bottles from around the world to choose from.

"We’ve got a nice, eclectic collection. Our main wines are French, Californian, Australian and Canadian. We have to with our menu," says Dawson.

Aside from his food, one of the truisms of a master chef is the company he keeps and Gunther has a very big alumni in former Rim Rock sous chef, Rob Feenie, the chef-owner/celebrity of Vancouver’s five-star Lumiere restaurant. When Feenie was in Whistler for a Cornucopia cooking class he reminisced about his Whistler days, with a charming story of the power going out and improvising by cooking in the Rim Rock’s gas fireplaces.

"I remember that night!" Dawson exclaimed. "It wasn’t our fault that we lost our power. Half the village was dark. But Rolf and Rob did an excellent job that night. Cooking in a gas fireplace is a lot like a stove, as the flame is the same. The only difference was our customers got to watch the chefs cook in and we had to use candles on the tables."

While the Rim Rock, which gets its name from the neighbourhood, has excellent chefs, food and wine, the capper comes from its warm ambience. Climb past the big lobby rock, under the Bobby Orr granite statue and be enveloped by gas firelight, blond, hardwood floors, snowy white linen tables and eye-catching, Whistler Mountain prints on the walls.

"We underwent a major renovation in ’96 where we moved the washrooms downstairs and got rid of the long bar, which really opened the room up," Dawson said, proudly leading the scribe through the restaurant. "We’ve got a patio off to the side here where we grow our own herbs in the summer and the deck out front is nice too, although it can get a little too noisy if there’s too much traffic."

If one needs proof at how a Rim Rick meal is truly a five-star, Whistler dining experience, be prepared for disappointment if you try and make a lunch or late reservation.

"We have to have an early reservation policy and we don’t do lunch. We’re only open from 6 to 9:30 p.m. That is all we have or need to do," Dawson said with a small smile.