Araxi Longtable dinner is pure magic in the mountains

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      There are Cuba hats and fedoras aplenty, the odd ball cap, and quite a few versions of what I’ve dubbed the slow living hat (if you know, you know). But it’s a pristine cowboy hat that grabs my partner’s attention.

      We’ve found ourselves at North Arm Farm for the 12th annual Araxi Longtable: a glorious al fresco dining experience in one of Pemberton’s most idyllic settings.

      We’re milling about during the cocktail and canapes portion of the afternoon, which sees glasses of Piper Heidsieck bubbly being poured, and passed bites of melon with duck prosciutto; tomato gazpacho topped with a dollop of olive oil; and crab salad on top of a deep-fried ravioli crisp. The dress code is “summer garden party,” and the people—well over 200 of them—have understood the assignment.

      But back to the hat. It’s a classic cowboy variety, but clearly well made and well fitted. It sits atop the head of a man with an epic mustache and a collared shirt that’s embroidered with palm trees. He looks like a true officer and a gentleman of the royal farm court.

      “I have to go talk to him,” my partner says. We walk over to the man, who’s standing with two women (one, his wife; the other, their good friend, we soon learn). It turns out their good friend’s husband died a few years ago, and he loved this dinner, and the three of them are here as a kind of honouring of him. Soon we’re chatting like old buds, swapping stories of US road trips and kitchen renovations. (And, for those wondering: the hat came from Douglas Lake Ranch in the interior.)

      This dinner really is special, no matter what brings you here. The reception takes place on the grass, where a billowing willow tree sits off to the left and a very Instgrammable tractor sits off to the right; in between are rows of tall wildflowers that seem to almost pulsate with colour. A live band softly plays some golden oldies as everyone wanders around the property, taking pictures and sipping their drinks.

      A few steps up over a grassy bank reveals the jaw-dropping main event: one long table, covered in white tablecloths, overlooking row upon row of crops (I spot two kinds of kale, and a bunch of other things I’m not green-thumbed enough to recognize). We’re surrounded almost 360 degrees by mountains, with Mount Currie looking especially pristine—even in the haze of wildfire smoke that has heartbreakingly made its way here.

      We sit down and are greeted instantly by perfectly chewy sourdough, which I use to sop up the first course, prepared by the Araxi team: a salad of grilled heirloom Pemberton tomatoes, marinated Okanagan stone fruit, North Arm Farm basil, and whipped Tanto Latte burrata, topped with kernels of sweet corn and paired with a crisp pinot gris from Vancouver Island’s Unsworth Vineyards.

      This event is called the Araxi Longtable, but it’s actually a meeting of the minds for all of Toptable Group’s Whistler restaurants (of which there are three, and of which North Arm Farm regularly provides a lot of its produce). Led by Whistler culinary director James Walt, the dinner is a well-oiled machine that sees courses perfectly timed and wine glasses consistently full. There’s not a bad view in the place: either you’re seated facing the aforementioned Mount Currie, or you’re seated facing the open-air makeshift kitchen, allowing you to watch the hustle and bustle of the Toptable culinary teams putting each dish together.

      The second course, prepared by the Bar Oso squad, sees grilled octopus alongside North Arm Farm new potatoes, BC hazelnut romesco sauce, and prawns in North Arm Farm garlic. The wine is a Quails’ Gate chardonnay from the Okanagan, which is accessible enough to quiet any chardo-no-ers, and pairs perfectly with the seafood. But the runaway hit for me has to be the final course of double R Okanagan steak. Created by the Il Caminetto culinary crew, this tomahawk is deliciously charred after being grilled on charcoal, and is served with North Arm Farm hay-baked beets and carrots, North Arm Farm tomatillo salsa verde, and giant doppio ravioli stuffed with slow-cooked beef cheek on one side and mountain Parmigiano Reggiano on the other. A dry but well-bodied cabernet franc from the Okanagan’s Burrowing Owl completes the experience.

      Dessert sees Araxi’s signature chocolate ice cream bars (dipped in both white and dark chocolate), along with a gateau of vanilla sponge, almond ganache, and fresh North Arm Farm raspberries—paired with the Okanagan’s CedarCreek Estate pinot noir rose. I’m not sure why, but ending the meal with a rose instead of a red feels like a move that only experts can pull off.

      Soon it’s time to head back to Whistler. We’re staying at the truly glorious Fairmont Chateau, where the pool is top-notch, the culinary offerings are a richness of choice, and the service is unparalleled. If I may continue on this side note for a second here, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant, The Wildflower, is worth its own love letter. I had a glorious old fashioned made new with the addition of Casamigos tequila, along with perhaps the best bison tartare I’ve ever had (spiced harissa is the ticket), and decadent braised short rib that I’ll be dreaming about for weeks. But I digress!

      Before we leave North Arm Farm, we say goodbye to our new friends, who are seated a good 10-second walk from our part of the table (it really is that long). The man in the cowboy hat thanks us for coming over to say hello in the first place, which provides me with a much-needed reminder to talk to strangers more often. There’s something beautiful about fleeting memories created with people you don’t know and would never otherwise encounter. We’ll probably never see those three folks again, but it doesn’t matter. We shared a moment of magic in the mountains, and that’s enough.