Succulent surprises by the plate-full

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Executive chef Tim Cuff perfects sous vide cooking, while offering fresh local produce

Mia Stainsby

Lakeside Lounge patio at Aura, at the Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler, provides a casual setting for an evening meal.

Lime and chili-infused watermelon with scallop and cuttlefish ceviche.

At a glance

Aura at Nita Lake Lodge
2131 Lake Placid Road, Whistler.

Open daily for breakfast, lunch, dinner.

Whistler restaurants seem impervious to the usual high-kill rates in the industry and stick around forever. So it’s something to note when a new and interesting one opens.

Strangely, the debut of Aura at Nita Lake Lodge has gone unnoticed; a shame, considering what a good job they’re doing. The lodge changed hands in March (bought by Ram Tumurluri, who owns 50 spas in India) just after the Olympics and the restaurant, formerly Jordan’s Crossing, is now called Aura (except on the website, which still refers to it as Jordan’s Crossing).

The new order includes Tim Cuff as executive chef. He has worked as sous chef at West under Warren Geraghty and has worked under Michael Allemeier at Teatro in Calgary and Mission Hill Winery’s restaurant in Kelowna. He’s also worked at the Wickaninnish Inn. In other words, he’s cooked at some of the best places in the country.

He learned the art of sous vide at West restaurant and I can tell you, it’s gold in his hands. A lamb loin wrapped in merguez done sous vide was wonderful. It was served with pine nuts, rosemary radishes, green beans and a sunchoke gratin. The meat was sheer succulence.

Pan-roasted Fraser Valley duck also got a long sous vide dunk to arrive at succulence, but only after Cuff dried the breast a couple of days in the fridge to concentrate flavour; he finishes it in the oven. Even the carrots were cooked sous vide with brown butter sauce and herbs from the herb garden.

Whistler is no longer in the hinterlands of fresh, local products. The Pemberton Valley produces beautiful product and Cuff is in summer ecstasy as farmers bring in their fresh produce. “You wait all winter for this,” he says. “It’s the most exciting time to cook. It’s definitely the purest.”

The starters were just as, well, thrilling. Beautiful scallop, spot prawn and cuttlefish, snuggled up to lime-injected watermelon. A dried wafer of pink lady apple and dry honey bitters finished it. Quail, duck and liver parfait with pearl onion and mushroom saute and nettles (it turned out to be spinach) was sublime. An appie that I eyed but didn’t order was Quebec foie gras bombe with Vidal ice wine, fresh brioche, olive oil, cocoa butter and amarena cherries. A savoury verging on dessert!

Which reminds me, the only dish that showed signs of weakness was a frozen yuzu parfait with blueberry syrup, shortbread and yuzu curd (yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit). While visually appealing, it was bland. More citrus, please, my mouth demanded.

However, my partner’s dark chocolate ganache with Morello cherry sorbetto and chocolate “paper” was a dish of surprises. In fact, the sorbetto was so insanely good, I could have sat with a tub of it in my lap and had nothing but that for dinner.

There are three menu options: $45 for three courses, letting you choose what you want for each course; a $65 five-course tasting menu where the chef surprises you (add $45 if you want wine pairings); or you can order a la carte.

During summer, on Sundays, the restaurant does a $25 all-you-can eat barbecue off the patio for lunch and dinner (kids under 12, free). The proteins change but when we visited, there was a big ham, ribs, steak, sausages and salmon along with several salads and starches. (Great value if it’s mom, dad, and a couple of kids under 12.)

The wine list is mostly B.C. and new world; the program is headed by Ryan Dyck, from the Wickaninnish Inn.

The lodge is located at Creekside. Coming from Vancouver, turn left off Highway 99 at Lake Placid Road.

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