Everything at Forage is so fresh and local that even the moss that cradles flameless candles on each table is from nearby forests—handpicked by chef Chris Whittaker himself.
In the former home of long-standing O’Doul’s, the art-centric Listel Hotel’s new dining spot has joined the ranks of so many other restaurants that have sustainability as their guiding principle. That’s a good thing. In fact, with the best ingredients this province has to offer executed exquisitely, Forage (which opened last November) is poised to be one of the city’s standout dining spots of the year.
There’s more to the restaurant’s eco-minded approach than the usual Ocean Wise seafood choices and seasonal veggies from nearby farms, though. It’s all part of the hotel’s wider mandate to be green. The Listel operates at zero waste and is walking the walk when it comes to reducing its carbon footprint.
In the restaurant, this translates to having certain wines on tap (each keg being the equivalent of about 20 bottles of wine), the absence of beef because of the industry’s environmental impact, and from-here ingredients like huckleberries and sea asparagus playing shining, starring roles.
When he’s not working (which, these days, is hardly ever), Whittaker, who’s been with the hotel for more than five years, prides himself on growing his own veggies and even fishing and hunting for himself and his family. So when it came time for the hotel to relaunch its restaurant, going farm-to-table was a natural fit for the Thunder Bay native.
“This is the style of cooking I’ve always wanted to do,” Whittaker says on the line from his office. “This is the way food is going, and not just in restaurants. In their own homes, people want to know where their food comes from. Being sustainable isn’t a trend.”
But let’s face it, only so many diners are going to frequent Forage because it has the environment in mind. The menu, however, will turn environmentally conscious locavores and discerning foodies alike into repeat customers.
Take the B.C. spot-prawn chowder. No wonder it recently won Whittaker the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown. (He took home the critics’ pick and people’s choice awards.) Made with spot-prawn stock along with butter, bacon, white wine, Riesling vinegar, and cream, the soup is indulgent, to be sure, even more so with the delicate poached quail’s eggs and applewood-smoked pork skin floating on top. But it’s worth the splurge, all silky and smooth.
Forget the low-carb diet and share an order of impossibly soft roasted pan bread. It’s topped with melted Cheddar from Golden Ears Cheesecrafters and then drizzled with ever-so-slightly-spicy honey. If you’re dining with kids and they’re more inclined to eat pizza than items like chicken-liver parfait or quinoa with wheatberries and hearty veggies, this could work as a main dish for them. Complement it with simple but extra-crispy kale and apple chips. (Dishes are meant for sharing and are reasonably priced as a result, though nothing we had was glaringly small.)
The Rangeland game burger is another kid-friendly dish, but it also pleases carnivores who crave quality. It consists mainly of bison but also contains some venison and elk, making for a robust, juicy patty that’s topped with house-cured bacon, a caramelized-onion jam, and more of that Golden Ears cheese.
We loved the Pacific Provider salmon, a pink-salmon dish that gets its name from the fishing vessel belonging to local captain Rick Burns. According to Whittaker, Burns himself bleeds each fish properly, blast-freezes (head and all), and glazes it in ocean water three times to keep the flesh moist. Served with pickled huckleberries, crunchy sea asparagus, and tender Pemberton potatoes, it’s delicately delicious.
The single-pocket house-made ravioli is stuffed with bison tongue, each bite a deep-flavour hit redolent of a perfect beef bourguignon.
With its warm atmosphere—lots of wood and dark tones, the lumber being Forest Stewardship Council–certified—the room still offers a view of the hotel’s courtyard art installations. (Right now, the crouching men of Wang Shugang’s The Meeting occupy the space, the bronze sculptures painted head to toe in vivid red, one of the artist’s trademark colours.)
There are four flat-screen TVs on display that help Whittaker accomplish his goal of making Forage a casual, unpretentious place. (I liked how the channel of choice during an evening visit over the holidays was the crackling fire.)
Forage has a smart selection of B.C. spirits, craft beer, and wine. A full wine list of national and international bottles is also available.
A meal with three glasses of wine on tap, three appetizers, three larger plates, and two desserts (a layered pumpkin “pie” in a glass jar and chewy carrot cake with Neufchâtel frosting on the side), feeding two adults and two kids, came to $111 before taxes and tip. Get in while you can.