When Executive Chef James Walt was seeking a name idea for the cozy tapas bar he was opening around the corner from his celebrated finedining restaurant, Araxi, he started with words that conjured up what Whistler means to him. “Snow, local, farmers … all those things,” he shrugs. He knew the name would begin with “Bar,” like so many traditional tapas places in Spain, but needed to find a Spanish word to go with it – one that made sense in an alpine resort. In the end, it was Oso – Spanish for bear – that won the day. “It was the sound of it,” he recalls. “Oso just really rolled off the tongue, and bears really are a big part of Whistler.” The small, informal, 36-seat bar may be in the same block as its sister restaurant Araxi, but it is worlds away in terms of focus and flavours. “We wanted to cut loose and be very different from Araxi,” he explains. “The room has a casual feel, presentation is less refined …” The space includes 16 stools at the bar – where the chefs are busy prepping dishes – with more seating along the wall and four coveted stools by the window, for serious people-watchers. Keeping with the casual theme, wine is served in tumblers. There are also sangrias and sherry cocktails. Walt suggests a good quality gin and tonic: “very popular right now in Spain.” The bar will be managed by Jason Redmond, who is moving from Assistant Bar Manager at Araxi and bringing extensive international wine-and-spirit experience. “We’re using local ingredients to create cocktails that complement the Spanish-inspired cuisine,” Redmond says. “It’s exciting!” Bar Oso opens at 11:30 am, and serves food right up to closing – initially 1:00 am but, Walt says, that may move an hour later. Though he oversaw the development of Bar Oso from concept, through development, and into reality, he won’t be a constant presence in the kitchen. That responsibility falls to one of his young Araxi cooks, Jorge Muñoz Santos, who brings not just youth, but authenticity to the project with considerable experience cooking in Spain. “He’s been with me four years,” Walt says. “He’s Spanish, so he knows how to build those big, bold flavours.” Santos was sent back to Spain last year to check out current trends and traditional dishes, and came back with a full package of ideas and photographs for the team to work with. “I am very much inspired by my Spanish roots,” Muñoz says. In the end, they decided to break the menu down, with daytime concentrating on boccadillos – traditional Spanish sandwiches, to eat in or take out. In the afternoon, the menu expands to include pinchos – little skewers with delicious bites of two or three ingredients – toasts with various toppings, and then larger tapas such as chorizo with soft egg and Wagyu beef cheek. “We’re using all our local products as we usually do,” Walt notes. “But we’re adding those traditional Spanish flavours – very good olive oil, very good peppers, excellent paprika – and using flavours like sofrito (slow cooked onions and peppers) as the base.”
And ham. Always ham.
Bar Oso offers three grades of Spanish ham: Serrano, Iberico, and the holy grail of cured pork, Bellota, from pigs fed on acorns. But in addition to the classic and impossible to replicate Spanish hams, Bar Oso Chefs are creating their own cured meats. “We have a new set-up in the back,” Walt explains, “a dedicated fridge, temperaturecontrolled, where we’ve been making our own charcuterie.” He’s also employed a cook dedicated to producing what he calls “fresh” charcuterie: “Foie gras parfait, rabbit terrine, pork hock terrine with bold Spanish flavours in there. I’m really excited about this, and it will definitely have an influence on what we do at Araxi.” “It’s a very different idea for Whistler, and for us,” he adds. “We’re trying to get as much bang as we can out of a small space.” “Late nights, bar stools, lively … it’s just super fun.”
CHEF JORGE MUNOZ SANTOS / PHOTO BRANDON HART
PHOTO KEVIN CLARK