Araxi's winning ways continue.
As it has for 15 of the past 16 years, the resort's premier fine dining establishment took home top honours at the Vancouver Restaurant Magazine Awards last week, beating out all other Whistler restaurants.
Now in its 27th year, a panel of 18 expert judges in some 48 categories decided on the prestigious awards. And while there were more than a few surprises, including the first Asian restaurant in more than 20 years to be named Vancouver's best (the Kitsilano Thai joint Maenam), the Whistler winner has become as much a certainty as death and taxes at this point.
The same, however, can't be said of Executive Chef James Walt's ever-shifting approach to his food.
"We're always trying to get better and the one thing about Araxi is that we're always evolving, we're always changing," he said. "We keep evolving and that's always been the key to this place, even before I came as well."
Judges praised the restaurant's attention to detail and quality, and commended Walt for "perpetually reimagining classic dishes, pushing boundaries and surprising palates. "With all this, however, the food is always approachable, never intimidating. Equally impressive is the depth of service and knowledge brought by the front of house."
Although he's happy with Araxi's continued dominance, there is one restaurant that Walt would be happy to relinquish his longheld title to: the Spanish-inspired Bar Oso, which opened its doors in the fall.
"I'd like to see it at the top of the list to be quite honest," he said of Araxi's sister restaurant. "If they were to do something like that, then that looks just as good on me as winning it in my eyes.
"It's a win-win either way."
In only its second year cracking the list, Alta Bistro's seasonally inspired French cuisine nabbed the silver from Bearfoot, which has held the No. 2 spot since 2009, when the luxurious Listel Hotel location stole a rare win from Araxi.
"The food has become more mature over time, but the price point remains low ($25 for three courses) and the quality is consistently excellent," judges wrote of the Main Street bistro. "It's the casual, fun atmosphere, the fantastic wine list (all naturalist or sustainably grown, with many available by the glass) and the comfort-driven menu that makes it a draw for both locals and visitors."
Having opened in 2011, Alta Bistro is a relative newcomer to the resort's culinary landscape, and Executive Chef Nick Cassettari said the recognition is testament to the restaurant's fierce commitment to sustainable and seasonal eating.
"From the beginning, we had a mantra and we stuck to it," he said. "The whole ethical, sustainable thing, it really means a lot to us. We do it from our heart because we don't want to do anything else. It's difficult for us because we're pushing our very, very expensive organic produce and not making good margins on it, but I wouldn't do it any other way. Our customers believe in that."
Over at Bearfoot, judges highlighted the unrivaled "experience of opulence" that is underpinned by Executive Chef Melissa Craig's "rich and elegant" cuisine.
"The biggest draw, however," according to judges, "is the hospitality extended by owner André Saint-Jacques and his team. Bohemian luxury at its finest." (A representative for Bearfoot declined to comment.)
Honourable mention this year went to the Mexican Corner, which dishes out traditional, regional and contemporary Mexican fare, along with Creekside staple Rim Rock Café, Whistler's go-to spot for upscale seafood and game for 30 years.
To view the full list of 2016 winners, visit www.vanmag.com/best-of-the-city/vancouver-magazine-2016-restaurant-awards.