But this first class dining establishment is different and it is because executive chef James Walt is different. (I should have known better after eating and drinking myself silly at last summer’s Outstanding in the Field event at North Arm Farm, where Walt cooked up a memorable feast.)
On Christmas Day, I hardly expect to see the 15-year Araxi veteran busting his butt in the kitchen. Rather, I envision the former appointed chef to the Canadian embassy in Rome to be sitting on a mahogany leather couch, wearing fuzzy slippers, drinking brandy and thumbing through a glossy coffee table book.
But I had not yet heard of Chef Walt’s work ethic. Phil, our waiter, passionately talks about how Walt works long days and nights and his dedication trickles down to the entire staff. I begin to see what he is talking about.
The entire staff, ranging from servers to hostesses, is going above and beyond to make sure everyone’s experience is off the hook on one of the busiest nights of the year. Our waiter is cracking jokes with us and fastidiously topping off our wine glasses, while seamlessly servicing a bunch of other tables with the same sincere enthusiasm and charm.
I excitedly page through the wine list as I quickly realize I have stumbled onto a goldmine. The wine list is inundated with options from many of my favorite wineries in BC’s Okanagan Valley: Mission Hill, Elephant island, Poplar Grove, Quails Gate. Since export taxes are so high, it is a rarity to encounter these wines stateside.
But just as I settle on a bottle of wine from Naramata Bench’s Elephant Island, my eyes shift over to the cocktail list. It is a tough call between two hot apres ski drink options – the Glogg (red wine, vodka, cloves, ginger and orange) and the apple cider (calvados, honey, cinnamon, cloves) so I decide to go with both.
The smell of truffle and cheese pervade the dining establishment named after owner Jack Evrensel’s wife as it is fondue time in the bar area everyday from 3pm-6pm. We hold out for the starters and the entrees on the dinner menu. One of my favorites of the evening is the buttery Yarrow Farm duck breast served with saffron gnocchi, beets, sweet nantes carrots, watercress celery root puree with sesame, horseradish and soy vinaigrette. The duck is decadent yet light.
In Chef Walt’s cookbook (which has received accolades from The Fat Duck’s Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay), he asserts “Dessert is an extension of the meal” so I feel it is my duty to leave room for the last course. We score an order of the cheese plate loaded with three types of fine cheeses from Canada – Moonstruck’s (of Salt Spring Island) White Grace is my favorite, while my eating companion is all over the 1826 5-year aged white cheddar from Ontario.
The Okanagan poached pears with white wine espuma and ginger crumble are a perfect finish to the night, leaving my palate feeling refreshed and me feeling grateful that at least some pastry chefs have the foresight to know we don’t all go ga-ga for chocolate molten cakes and other unoriginal heavy desserts.
We dig our Araxi experience so much we return a few days later for a repeat performance. Our only disappointment – It is our beloved waiter Phil’s day off.
Tip: If you like to fly by the seat of your pants when you are on vacation and not get bogged down by reservations, I recommend snagging one of the high-in-demand seats in the bar area that are on a first come, first served basis. You can order the full dinner menu and also have the option of ordering the popular fondue.