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at least once, everyone should dine like this

Chef Andrew Springett is softly spoken and not given to boastful anecdotes, but his career path is worth noting.  Begun at North Surrey Secondary School’s culinary arts program, it featured stints at Vancouver’s Diva at The Met and La Belle Auberge, the Royal York and North 44 in Toronto, and time with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and Daniel Boulud in Manhattan before he headed for the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Tofino might seem like an odd destination for someone who has worked in some of the most esteemed kitchens in North America, but Springett didn’t land in any ordinary spot.  In 2003, he took the reins of the kitchen brigade at the Pointe Restaurant in the Wickaninnish Inn, recognized by both Condé Nast and Travel and Leisure magazines as one of the top three hotels in North America and part of the revered Relais and Chateaux, a group of fewer than 500 properties around the world that meet the organization’s 5C (charm, courtesy, character, cuisine and calm) standard of excellence in accommodation, service and cuisine.

Justine and I took in the waves pummeling MacKenzie Beach from our balcony before wandering down to the restaurant, a stunning room with picture windows showcasing the limitless Pacific, a hand-adzed cedar post and beam ceiling and crackling fire.  Exemplary service begins the second you cross the threshold.

A couple of icy kamikazes made with fresh lime juice blasted away residual tensions from the drive from Victoria, as we nibbled on a basket of fresh sourdough buns and snap bread flavoured with rosemary and sea salt.  Our server, Greg, soon followed with that evening’s amuse bouche – a beef and lamb tagine, each bite revealing successive notes of figs, raisins, apricots and ground almonds.  It was a good indication of what was yet to come.

The menu is substantial and a synergistic reflection of Springett’s experience and influences with an underlying West Coast theme, exemplified in such dishes as Dungeness crab salad paired with a lime-dressed mango, coconut and vegetable pakora, or local tilapia drizzled with browned butter and sweet blood orange juice, served with dilled russet potatoes and parmesan-encrusted fennel.  Both local ingredients and the seasons help shape dishes.  Organic squash is blended with rich velouté sauce and garnished with a pumpernickel crouton and handcrafted cinnamon marshmallow for a warming winter soup, and served as a filling in Justine’s choice of appetizer, tender agnolotti tossed with pinenut and pumpkin seed pesto and garnished with sautéed yellowfoot chanterelle mushrooms.  Equally impressive was the interpretation of scallops and bacon I began my dinner with – seared rock scallops served with lemon-dressed mizuna greens, a thick slab of cured Hillier’s bacon braised with apple juice, united by a miso vinaigrette featuring sesame oil and lime gastrique.

We refreshed our palates with a complimentary lemon and mint sorbet as we considered main courses.  Accompaniments are intriguing, making a simple choice impossible.  Fat Alberta ribeye steaks are grilled and served with a ragout of white beans and Qualicum blue cheese and roasted garlic Dijon sauce, Duck breast is glazed with honey and jasmine, served with its own juices and arrives with a wild rice, pear and celeriac fritter, and sautéed spinach.

The elements of my main course included Dungeness crab with textbook perfect sauce Béarnaise, a fork-tender loin of seared veal and a gratinéed custard yielding button and bluefoot mushrooms garnished with watercress.  Like myself, Justine had some difficulty in narrowing down her choice but ultimately decided upon the duo of Australian lamb – leg meat braised with a mirepoix updated with earthy celeriac along with juniper berries and fresh herbs, the juices finished with red wine and sherry vinegar to form a complex yet comforting sauce, offered with a roasted rack cut into generous chops, sweet pepper polenta and eggplant caviar.  As with our appetizers, expectations were not only met, they were surpassed.

A review of the Pointe would not be complete without a word about the wine list, which merits its own column.  It was refreshing not only to see a well thought out list, but an excellent selection by the glass and half bottle, allowing Justine and me to sample a couple of superior wines and stay reasonably within budget.  Notable also was the lack of the hovering sommelier, a new trend which I hope comes to a screeching halt soon.  If I want to know something about what’s in my glass, I will ask and I will certainly be impressed if you know.  What I don’t appreciate is an uninvited lecture on the quality of soil from someone hovering over my table while my $40 entrée gets cold.  Here, our wine and each dish were presented and briefly but thoroughly described before our server asked if we had any questions and then discreetly stepped away.

I couldn’t eat another bite, so I made Justine do it.  Desserts include elaborate creations such as Bombed Alaska, a blood orange sorbet surrounding by licorice ice cream and Italian meringue set in a pool of fruit coulis and flamed at the table with Sambucca, but Justine chose to test the more classic crème brulée, which lived up to the test with light custard visible through caramelized sugar that looked like stained glass.

You don’t have a lot of time left to enjoy the gastronomic stylings of Andrew Springett, as he will be leaving The Pointe next month, but I encourage you to do so.  Everyone should dine as we did here at least once in their life, and preferably more often.  If you can’t get there soon, take comfort in the fact that he has had a hand in choosing his successor and, while the dishes will change, the standard of food and service will remain intact.

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