Bear Foot Bistro
Whistler, B.C.Brock Windsor doesn't play with his food. "When something is perfect-like a strawberry-what are you supposed to do to make it better?" he asks. "Maybe the next day you puree it for sorbet. But the first day, anything more than adding crème fraiche is an insult."Windsor is lucky. The land and waters around Whistler, B.C., home to Bear Foot Bistro, where he is chef, are flush with perfect ingredients. Fishermen bring shellfish. Farmers grow produce to order. Purveyors proffer wild arctic caribou and bison. What Windsor can't get locally-Kobe beef, blue-fin tuna and foie gras, for instance-he shops the world for.
Windsor's preoccupation with perfection can be traced back to his university days in Ontario, making "designer pizzas" in the cafeteria. "I discovered that the quality of the pizza I made was directly proportional to the effort I put into it," he relates. Professional training came at the Stratford Chef School, followed by a "fortune of knowledge" garnered at British Columbia's renowned Sooke Harbor House.
While guests arriving for dinner at Bear Foot might be familiar with the 33-year-old chef's cooking style, or know of the restaurant's reputation for wine (more than 1,100 cellared wines and champagnes have earned the bistro a Wine Spectator Award), they're often surprised by the range of offerings. "Dining here is a gastronomic adventure," Windsor says. "For me, getting people to try something they've never eaten before is most important." Case in point? "We'll get tables of 10 who are queasy about fish," he laughs. "I'll send out three fish courses in a row and totally win them over."
As a testament to variety, Windsor offers five- and eight-course dégustation menus, as well as a la carte service. And he'll cook "according to whim" for diners who book the chef's table that fronts the open kitchen.
In full swing, when the leather chairs fill up with customers outfitted in everything from ski suits to tuxedos, and the nightly jazz kicks in, Bear Foot Bistro really cooks. "I get shivers from the energy," Windsor says.
Every Night Is Friday Night
Every night at 5 p.m., a full-blown fiesta breaks out at Donita's Cantina, the pink stucco restaurant with neon trim in downtown Crested Butte, Colo. It doesn't matter that you have to wait for a table. The action's in the lively bar, where everyone-from local ski fanatics to hungry tourists with a hankering for homemade Mexican food-mingles over perfect margaritas (Cuervo Gold and Grand Marnier) and bowls of chunky salsa that you can take home by the jar. Beyond the two-sided fireplace, tabletops overflow with plates of blue-corn enchiladas, spinach-stuffed sopaipillas, arroz con pollo, garlicky camarones and perhaps the best chicken burritos this side of San Antonio-all served up with spicy red or green chile sauce, steaming black beans and fresh pico de gallo. Order a sopaipilla sundae with Kahlua-caramel sauce. You'll want to come back mañana for more.
Sushi at 8,000 feet? You betcha. Savvy sushi chefs now ship fresh fish from waters around the world. Fans pack ski-town sushi bars to the gills for slippery slivers. Here's what to try, where.
Wasabi Whitefish, MT
Belly up for owner-chef Scott Nagel's peppered albacore, surf clam and sweet shrimp nigiri sushi, plus "fusion" rolls, such as the Big Mountain (tuna, avocado, pickled ginger and tobiko) and the Montana (smoked rainbow trout and whitefish caviar).
Mikado Park City, UT
The emphasis here is on tradition. Owner Gene Kwon gets "first pick" of bluefin toro, sake, hamachi and other fresh fish from San Francisco docks. Chef Coulter wields his knife and...sashimi for everyone.
Kenichi Aspen, CO
Chefs Kenichi and Kiyomi experiment with creative combinations they call "edible art." Eel topped with kiwi-fruit, and tuna rolls wrapped with oba leaves, for instance. Catch the fresh wasabi, too.