It was that time of year again, when an overwhelming desire for retreat pushed us across the border in search of respite from reality. This would be one of our boldest endeavors yet, a twelve-hour voyage over timberland and Salish Sea to the remote wilderness of Vancouver Island. Through rain and snow and strange argot, we made our way towards Tofino, British Columbia. Our final destination was the Wickaninnish Inn, a resort nestled amongst soaring old-growth Cedars and the breathtaking Winter waves of Chesterman Beach.
Beyond the sheer majesty of the scenery (and the admittedly awesome accommodations), the Wickaninnish Inn is also widely renowned as a gourmet destination. The Inn’s flagship Pointe Restaurant is headed up by Chefs John Waller and Nicholas Nutting, and together they specialize in local, organic Pacific Northwest cuisine. The main dining room at the Pointe is essentially a towering rotunda overlooking the Pacific Ocean, with massive rustic wooden beams and floor-to-ceiling windows. The view is stunning during the day, and at night the space is dark and warm and filled with twinkling light.
There was a lot happening on the menu, not least of which was a pleasantly surprising Thanksgiving tasting menu on offer for the holiday. We sampled quite a bit from the kitchen throughout the course of our stay, far more than I can possibly cover here. So I’ll just make mention of some of the highlights, as well as a few inexplicable misfires.
Every meal began with an amuse-bouche and ended with a bite of something sweet, most notably a delightful pumpkin custard on a flaky pastry topped with roasted marshmallow. I thought it would be overly sweet, and was shocked when it conjured up all of Thanksgiving dessert in a single bite. A Dungeness crab beignet with avocado and pomegranate sounded like an exciting appetizer, but suffered from an uneven fry – one side was too crispy, the other too soft. By contrast, a small plate of roasted chestnut agnolotti was exquisite, with wild mushrooms and bitter greens over a caramelized onion puree. It had a delicate, earthy, sweet flavor that I lingered over, savoring.
In terms of entrées, I was excited to see spätzle on the menu, since I haven’t come across it for years. The tiny, chewy dumplings were served with roasted garlic, winter squash and chipolini onions. The plate was rich and hearty, if a little on the greasy side, but ultimately very satisfying. Easily the best thing I ate at the Pointe was another culinary first for me – grilled venison loin. The venison was carved into extraordinarily thin slices and served with parsnip bread pudding, roasted pears and St. Maure goat cheese. Tender and juicy, and without a hint of gaminess, the meat all but melted in my mouth. It was also fantastically lean, no trace of fat. This was not my grandfather’s venison jerky.
Not nearly as good – halibut “Bourguignon” with bacon, mushrooms and spinach. My partner specifically ordered this in hopes of some light, tender seafood after our epic journey, but the poor fish was regrettably overcooked. The flavor was there, but the texture was far too tough. Knife and fork were employed. We were feeling much too relaxed to complain, and our waiter had crazy eyes, so we decided to let it go (the service in general was attentive, although a bit overzealous with the upsell). A dessert trio of organic pumpkin brûlée, sorbet and mousse was also unexpectedly bland. And I’m still not sure how a “confit potato” is any different from a “pan-fried potato”.
But despite the inconsistencies, we were generally happy with the meals, especially given the captive audience aspect of a resort trip. The elegance of the agnolotti and the superb venison dish kept us returning to explore other offerings on the menu, with varying degrees of success. We were equally intrigued by the award-winning wine list, which was quite lengthy and focused primarily on BC wineries (we particularly enjoyed an Okanagan Pinot Noir from Blue Mountain). It’s a mighty adventure for a mainlander, but if you happen to find yourself on the West coast of Vancouver Island, a stop at the Wick is definitely worth your time. Did I mention they have foie gras available for room service?