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A cut above

There's casual, like oldest-jeans-in-your-closet comfy, and then there's casually elegant - think more along the lines of a cashmere sweater. Well, Players Chophouse is the culinary equivalent of the latter, featuring a mountain contemporary décor coupled with professional service and a new simplified yet refined menu.

There have been a lot of changes going on at the Chophouse, as of late.

This summer, they've started hosting a laidback weekly patio session dubbed 420 Friday, featuring local musical talent coupled with a $10 pizza and beer special. If Mother Nature doesn't co-operate and the heavens open, the party simply moves inside to the lounge and all appetizers on the menu are half-off. Seriously, this special might make people do a rain dance on Fridays, and will most certainly give other Creekside establishments a run for their money.

Travis Talbot is the director of operations at the Whistler location of Players Chophouse.

"One of the reasons is to be a bit more friendly to people in tough economic times," Talbot said of 420 Friday. "And also we found a lot of people were coming in and just wanted to share. There's kind of a stigma with a chophouse that all you can do is come in and get a big 20 ounce porterhouse, when really, we wanted people to know there's a more diverse offering."

Diversity is key with their current menu, and a brand-new executive chef, Jon Campbell, is taking the restaurant in a slightly new direction with a simplified menu, which features more appetizers and dishes that are designed for sharing.

No need to panic - they're still offering the same top-quality cuts of beef as before.

"We're still a chophouse, first and foremost," Talbot stressed. "There's still a priority on big cuts of meat, on prime beef, on specialty cuts."

But after more than a year of operating here in Whistler, management has started to realize that, to get a loyal local following, they need to also cater to the budget and tastes of the working-class après crowd.

Their current menu features 14 appetizers, like Quebec City poutine, bruschetta, creamy, traditional escargot, and delicious thin-crust prime rib pizza, all ranging in price from $8 to $18 apiece.

The dessert menu, on a side note, is also outstanding, with dishes like Pistachio Crème Brulee with cranberry white chocolate biscotti, a subtly spicy Arabian cheesecake, served with chili brittle, and a simple vanilla bean ice cream topped with South African Bar-One sauce that will be stolen from unsuspecting kids by their own parents. And at just $6 to $8 apiece, I know where I'll be heading to grab a sweet treat and cocktail with a friend.

The Chophouse has also gotten on the sustainability train recently, signing onto the Whistler 2020 agreement and adopting initiatives from the Slow Food and Green Table movement.

"We saw there was a demand for it, first and foremost," Talbot explained. "Especially we noticed during the winter, with a global audience, that a lot of people were asking where we're getting our vegetables from, whether the fish was sustainable."

Chef Campbell, a long-time Whistler resident, is also committed to using fresh, seasonal seafood, fruits and veggies, and sourcing as many ingredients as possible from the surrounding area, heading to local markets and farms to handpick products.

The new fall menu, which Chef Campbell will launch in October, will feature a range of local, sustainable items, as well as a hint of different culinary influences from around the world.

"You might see some Italian, you might see some Asian influence or pan-Pacific," Talbot suggested.

Beyond that, diners can expect simplicity and fresh, quality ingredients.

"(Chef Campbell's) whole mandate is that he's going to keep it simple; he doesn't like to overdress or make too much muss or fuss," Talbot said. "He believes the food should stand on its own."

Talbot is confident that the Chophouse's new conscious approach will resonate particularly well with the local crowd, who seem to be a more discerning audience when it comes to issues of sustainability, unlike their clientele at their other location in Vancouver.

"They're completely two different audiences," Talbot said. "We still get the people who come down for the steak and chophouse experience, but Whistler is a bit more environmentally conscious and a bit more curious and inquisitive about where products are coming from and how they're prepared."

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