The jumble of restaurants and bars occupying Whistler Village can be overwhelming, especially for a first-time visitor. The choices range from Irish pubs to pizza take-out counters to sushi, a dizzying variety that’s befitting the largest ski resort in North America.
It would seem a challenge to stand above the crowd, but Bar Oso meets that challenge. The restaurant’s Spanish name, which translates to “bear,” alludes to its menu: a Pacific Northwest take on Spanish tapas. The dual talents of Chef Jorge Muñoz Santos and bar manager Jason Redmond combine powers for spectacular meals that are as colorful as they are flavorful.
Santos delivers small plates that are truly impeccable — it’s all even more impressive given his minuscule working space, which involves a back bar area with minimal equipment, plus an area below the restaurant. There’s the showstopper of a charcuterie board, featuring many items made in-house: duck liver parfait, rabbit rillette, pheasant pate, ham hock terrine, prosciutto, salami, serrano, chorizo, wagyu brasaola and pickles aplenty.
It’s the perfect foundation from which to build a meal that might also include blistered shishito peppers, warm olives, a Spanish potato omelette and slow-cooked lamb meatballs. And there’s the critical centerpiece: Iberico ham, with its dark, cured meat so rich in flavor it practically glows when it’s shaved and placed onto the plate. The Northwest influence arrives with local produce and meat, like Okanagan goat cheese, Pemberton Valley greens and local beets, pork and tomatoes.
Redmond has plenty of local spirits and other Northwest influences to offer too on the drinks side. His menu is built of sangria and Spanish beer, but also of British Columbia taps and plenty of original cocktails that borrow from Whistler’s environs. The Sea to Sky Spritz, named for the epic highway from Vancouver to Whistler, incorporates a local grapefruit aperitif. The Powder Day mixes bison grass vodka with Lillet, Cointreau, lemon and muddled ginger.
The selection of gin and tonics – all the rage in Spain – makes for festive pairings. Sheringham Distillery Seaside gin, which includes hand-harvested kelp with its botanicals, is served with bits of seaweed among the ice and tonic. The aged Victoria Distillers Oaken gin with Fever Tree tonic is another option, while yet another involves cucumber and mint.
Prospective diners would do well to make a reservation via OpenTable — the small restaurant fills up quickly and often has a wait.