The prevailing belief in the always-fickle restaurant world is that any new establishment opening its doors is going to have to wait at least a few years before making a significant dent in the market.
In the case of Wild Blue Restaurant + Bar, the fine dining spot that opened a year ago adjacent to the Aava Hotel, that trajectory has come a whole lot sooner than usual.
“It’s been a really successful first year,” said partner and restaurant director Neil Henderson. “We’ve had amazing levels of community engagement and repeat guests, great acceptance from the local
community, and a really strong start to our first year in business.”
Opened last August, Wild Blue—the restaurant with a penchant for elevated seafood that draws inspiration from coastal ports around the world—was a long time coming, and was even called Whistler’s most important restaurant opening in a decade.
Given the team of heavy hitters involved—including Vancouver Magazine’s 2018 Chef of the Year Alex Chen, ex-Fairmont Chateau Whistler executive chef Derek Bendig, Araxi founder and BC Restaurant Hall-of-Famer Jack Evrensel, along with longtime Araxi acolyte Henderson—there was a lot of hype for Wild Blue to live up to. But live up to the hype it did.
In May, Wild Blue made its first appearance on Canada’s Best 100 Restaurants list, ranking 66th, as well as being named the fourth best new restaurant in the country, the only B.C. establishment on the list.
“I think [diners] are always looking for that elevated sense of service, that beautiful menu and dining experience,” Henderson said. “They’re looking for all three components: kind, thoughtful service, that beautiful, elegant, sexy room, and they’re looking for an exemplary dining experience as far as the culinary items, the sense of place, and the local ingredients from B.C. that are well represented—especially when they’re coming to a resort town and a resort such as Whistler.”
But it’s not just the visitor that has taken to the restaurant. When it was offering its prix-fixe menu, Henderson said Wild Blue felt like a Whistler locals’ reunion.
“These menus we offer in the shoulder seasons gained a real sense of community, where it felt like the entire room knows one another. There’s one degree of separation in the room—and we’ll sell out. It’s very busy, very successful, but, really, what is probably most rewarding is the room becomes this community meeting space. It’s really wonderful to watch.”
On Sunday, Sept. 10, Wild Blue will host its inaugural Alpine Long Table Dinner, an al fresco dining experience at the nearby Whistler Golf Club driving range. Starting off with cocktails and canapes in the restaurant, guests will then move outside for the four-course dinner, curated to highlight the best ingredients of the harvest season.
“We want to use this opportunity to really fortify what we’re all about,” explained Chen. “It’s about a sense of community in terms of local, in terms of building a relationship with our farmers, being able to be bespoke with a sense of time and place.”
The first course is an heirloom tomato and panzanella salad, followed by a handmade agnolotti made with local corn purée and aged taleggio. The main course is a striploin steak, finished on a charcoal grill and served with broccolini, truffle potatoes, and topped with a port reduction, before an Okanagan fruit tart for dessert.
Chen said the long-table dinner showcases the close relationship, both professionally and geographically, the restaurant has with its suppliers, specifically Brew Creek Farm, a three-acre market garden located just 15 kilometres south of Whistler.
“It’s a very privileged position we’re in to handpick what we want, because we have a good relationship with them and their proximity to the restaurant is so close,” added Chen. “I thought it was such a fun and unique position to be able to work with a farm that is so close to Wild Blue. That is the closest I’ve ever worked with a farmer.”
The Alpine Long Table Dinner starts at 3 p.m. on Sept. 10. Tickets are $250, plus tax and gratuity, and include wine pairings with each course. Learn more at wildbluerestaurant.com/alpine-long-table.