In three months, the Four Seasons resort will become officially recognized as “local” with its three-year anniversary just around the corner.
I personally think the hotel was local long before it.
One of Whistler’s cornerstone citizens, Isobel MacLaurin, defines local not in years, but in how much an individual or organization has invested in the community.
With general manager Scott Taber at the lead, the Four Seasons has definitely woven its way into the fabric of this community, most notably in its support of the arts. That commitment includes the Whistler Theatre Project and hosting Whistler’s most talented, not to mention youngest, jazz chanteuse Ali Milner, who sits down at the grand piano every Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. in the hotel’s Fifty Two 80 Bistro and Lounge. The EMI recording artist, who will graduate from Whistler Secondary School next year, needed a local outlet to call home and she found it at the Four Seasons.
So why all this talk about local in a food column?
I joined the new communications manager for a sampling of two new tasting menus this week priced at $29 and $39. The bistro’s Wellness Menu was prompted by Whistler Wellness Week, but the light rendezvous will carry on in the regular menu as well. (Thank goodness; diners looking for a flavourful, weightless and breezy summer dining experience are going to have a new favourite hangout.) There’s also a Chef’s Tasting Menu that aims to tantalize locals into the bistro’s garden hideaway in the Upper Village.
My host and I discussed the different identities of restaurants in Whistler. The Rim Rock is known as the local’s place, sort of the Boot Pub of the fine dining industry. The Bearfoot Bistro is the champagne hangout of luxury that draws a local crowd with the $10 dozen oysters from 4 to 6 p.m., not to mention pianist Cameron Chu’s fancy finger work. But what about the Fifty Two 80 Bistro and Lounge?
So young, I don’t think the bistro has formed a local identity yet — of course internationally it is recognized as one of the most luxurious hotels in the world (recently by Conde Nast Traveler and Travel and Leisure).
If anyone is going to find this elegant yet not-stuffy bistro an identity, it is going to be the new executive chef Scott Thomas Dolbee. The former Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel chef served all of Hollywood’s red carpet royalty.
He smiles when I ask who.
“Ever watch E?” he said of the entertainment show. He then mentions something about the never-ending requests for Cobb salads.
Dolbee is very understated in his statements. The humble, shy man is quiet and reserved with his emotions, but when I ask about golf, his eyes light up like a Christmas tree.
This self-made chef, who runs his kitchen equally to impress guests and educate his staff, is the perfect illustration of his plates: simple and reserved, but once you bite into one of his dishes, underneath the simplicity of his three or more ingredient dishes, the taste sparks a passion that wonderfully sweeps over you as you glowingly enjoy each individual taste on its own.
The Wellness Tasting Menu topped my list.
Each dish really stood out as having something extraordinary about it.
For the Romaine and Hearts of Palm salad with avocado, grapefruit and tangerine vinaigrette, it was the buttery palm and sweet grapefruit combination that stood out for me. The grilled scallops stole the show with a unique coupling of an eggplant “lasagna” in tomato coriander vinaigrette. I usually don’t like eggplant, but the way it was prepared and packed with flavour — something I could only liken to the way a sun-dried tomato packs a sweet punch — I’ve changed my mind.
The Wild Coho Salmon was the showstopper. The crispy skin, shaved apple and fennel beautifully piled on top were such a refreshing taste and experience. There were so many textures going on. Salmon plates often get tired, but Dolbee really brightened the usual west coast delivery.
Dolbee added a fourth course to complete the mini sampler made just for me. (The portions are much larger than shown in the picture.) The Endive and Watercress salad is off the bistro’s main menu. It follows Dolbee’s three-showing rule: baked apple, mild blue cheese and champagne vinaigrette. This on the bistro’s outdoor garden patio in the sunshine just screams the perfect summer.
Like the Wellness Menu, the Chef’s Tasting Menu is also a two or three course set menu without choices. Seafood reigned with a smoked ahi tuna minute steak and John Dory fish with sweet corn, but it was the roasted lamb course that really left an impression. You could smell the wonderful dish even before it was placed on the table. Rich rib-eye-style lamb on top of smoky white beans and chorizo topped with a hummus crostini — again simple, quality ingredients, uniquely paired in texture and taste.
The fourth wild card also came from the main menu. The ahi tuna tower gives one more reason to roam the regular menu for gem finds.
So back to the identity question: how do you define the Fifty Two 80 Bistro?
It’s more of a feeling. Something like the glint in Dolbee’s golf-loving eye or the surprising bit of the pickled onion in the tuna tower.
I guess to really nail the bistro down you just have to keep coming back — unlike trying to define this place, something that is easy to do.