We’re in for a treat, we’re told shortly after being led to our table.
I feel that, even before we’ve opened the menus or heard the specials.
Because we are here, at one of the top restaurants in the country, in one of my favourite spots in the world.
Since 2014, when Wolf in the Fog landed a coveted spot on enRoute Magazine’s list of the 10 best new restaurants in Canada, its reputation has only grown. Tucked into the cosy community of Tofino, it defies the common belief that stellar dining is limited to major metropolises. Instead, here, on the western brink of the country, where craggy rocks, long stretches of sand and wind-beaten trees edge the Pacific, Wolf has found firm footing as a destination restaurant.
The inevitably seasonal menu reflects the rugged landscape and coastal abundance with dishes that feature fresh seafood – pulled from the ocean that can be seen from the restaurant – and ingredients foraged from the rainforest, as well as vegetables and meats from local farmers and producers.
Wolf had been on my list of restaurants to try since it opened – and even more so as the accolades poured in – so a stop here was inevitable during a trip the Tofino area as part of a month-long visit to the coast last year.
(Calgary connection: Chef-owner Nicholas Nutting trained at SAIT and worked under Michael Noble for three years at Catch when it first opened. He would later run the kitchen for The Pointe at the Wickaninnish Inn – another restaurant with a reputation for impeccable food.)
The treat the server was referring to, however, turned out to be a specific one: the last order of gooseneck barnacles that had come in that morning and quickly sold out.
The prehistoric-looking crustaceans, with their armoured tips and meaty trunks, are a prized delicacy because they’re difficult and dangerous to harvest from below the high-tide line of rocks pounded by surf.
As a special of the day, Wolf was offering them in a sherry cream with a verdant green oil made from tarragon, dill, parsley and chives – with bread for swiping through the sauce. The tender and slightly sweet shellfish may not be pretty to look at, but a few bites in and it was clear why this is such a coveted ingredient.
The barnacles would turn out to be one plate in a series of well-crafted, creative and robustly flavoured dishes that landed on our table. We were in for a treat indeed.
But the experience started as we reached the top of the stairs and were greeted by the warm and welcoming space, with soaring windows, long wood tables and sculptural light fixtures dangling from the steepled ceiling. It continued from cocktails to the pair of desserts that would cap off the night.
Although many entries on the cocktail list were tempting, there was no way I was going to have a meal at Wolf in the Fog and not try the famed Cedar sour, which I had seen numerous times on various forms of social media. (And lord knows, I do love a good sour.)
That distinctive woodsy aroma of west coast cedar was infused into the well-balanced cocktail that put it well into the top of the list of sours I’ve enjoyed.
Besides the barnacles, we enjoyed a plate of smoked cod fritters with a bright saffron aioli, like a dollop of sunshine on the plate, and fresh chunks of orange that played nicely against the rich, crisply crusted fritters.
There was a local halibut with sesame-nori croquette and sautéed bok choy, as well as a zatar-spiced game hen with farro, earthy from the spices and grains but brightened from the addition of a pickled veg salad.
The highlight, for me at least, though was the crispy pork belly with Humboldt squid and charred daikon in a Szechuan glaze. I’m not a particular fan of squid as a general rule (and yes, I do keep trying), but this put any other one I’ve had to shame. Expertly prepared and cooked, it was a joy to eat, especially with the fatty, meaty belly that had been fried to a gorgeous amber colour. The play of the pork and squid worked perfectly and we basically scraped that plate clean with the edges of our forks to get any last drippings of glaze.
That dish would be one of the best I ate in 2016 and I still think back on it.
On Tuesday night, Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants unveiled their list of the best establishments in the country, from coast to coast. Unsurprisingly, Wolf made the cut (sitting nicely at no. 41).
All the more reason, I think, to make sure I get out again to Tofino this spring.