Araxi’s Kendall Jackson winemaker dinner at Cornucopia is my best culinary memory of 2007.
It’s hard for any other experience to compete when you have the winemaker selecting the wines and the internationally renowned talents of executive chef James Walt orchestrating a dining experience that will perfectly showcase the nuances of each wine.
This year’s dinner was more of a “chefmaker” dinner with Walt’s culinary prowess outshining the vintages.
Each course was a starlet unto itself.
Usually when there are seven courses, kind of like a music album, there are some phenomenal hits while others are blasé and unmemorable and are better fast-forwarded.
Not at Araxi. Each course had something really special about it.
It was the seared red tuna with black olives that shone with the smoked sable fish dish; ricotta gnocchi reached godly status crowned with shaved white alba truffles; squab went above and beyond roasted with house-made bacon; and the buffalo filet you could almost cut with your fork. Coco nibs were like fairy dust on the bittersweet chocolate dessert.
Many of the plates showcased something pulled from the ground in Pemberton.
My New Year’s dining resolution for 2008 will be to try the 100-mile menu Walt hosted in late autumn. All ingredients (with exception of the salt) were sourced within 100 miles. This is no easy task, especially when many chefs have the resources to fly in truffles from Italy or palm from California. The challenge of working strictly with spices, produce, meat and fish products in season directly reeled in from Pemberton was one Walt was able to take on because of the relationships he has built up with local farmers over the years in his efforts to practice the culinary arts in the slow food way.
Not only is the food exceptional at Araxi, but the service always blows me away as well. Staff is personable, often addressing guests by name. Every time I got up to take photos, I returned to my table to find my dinner being kept warm under a silver dome and a fresh folded napkin waiting in front of me. All plates for the entire table are placed at once, so food doesn’t get cold while guests politely wait for the rest to arrive.
The biggest serving impression left on me for the night was our server’s wine knowledge. You know you are good when you can answer a question posed by a wine critic — a wine critic that dines with kings and “peshawed” the winemaker’s introductions to each wine because he felt the information was common knowledge.
The wine education program at Araxi, taught by Mark Davidson, made its mark that night. By investing in the education of its staff, Araxi has also minimized staff turnover.
We all want to be exceptional in whatever we do and these sentiments were clearly evident in the smallest details, even if it meant explaining what a Pemberton crosne was to a celebrated food critic.
More often than not, a $350 winemaker dinner is out of my financial reach, but you can still stay in the two-digit range and have a wonderful evening.
Araxi is my dessert escape. No cocktail dresses, no heels; just a spur of the moment indulgence that finds my partner and I pulling up a stool at the bar side of the restaurant.
The setting is warm, intimate and comfortable; it goes perfectly with jeans and a sweater. One night I tried to branch out from my petit fours routine. Even though I enjoyed the black forest cake, I couldn’t help missing those four small havens, always changing with each plate. With Sweet Sarahendipity withholding her chocolates until the next Whistler Farmer’s Market, finding exceptional chocolate outside of a wrapped bar is hard to do in this town.
My dark chocolate cravings are always silenced with Araxi’s handmade chocolates. Sometimes filled with pistachio cream, other times enveloping coconut gelato. Lemon and cassis jellies often make an appearance along with Madelines and mini cakes soaked in Bailey’s or Grand Marnier.
I never share chocolate, so we each order our own.
Desserts partner well with an Americano and phenomenal loose-leaf tea served in a small metal teapot. I love the details in this place. Look out for Vincent Massey Pottery on tables as well.
One night we indulged in a glass of Kendall-Jackson Piner Hills Estate Port (no longer available at the winery), the same port that finished the Araxi Cornucopia winemaker dinner. I was able to sip a touch of the magic of my winemaker dinner evening as my partner and I turned a regular weekday work night into something memorable.