The White Whale (Courtenay, BC)

via The White Whale on facebook
via The White Whale on facebook

Only a quick forty five minute drive away from our house, the local foods epicenter of the Comox Valley might as well be across the ocean for my wife and me when planning a dinner trip. After we factor in the time and money it takes to get a hotel (dinner does mean drinking after all!) and the commute after a hard work day it just never seems worth it… So, we just go and eat at Beijing House.

And yet, there is always an exception; A day apart , and afternoon perfectly sequenced into our overly-scheduled lives, a dinner-window where we can just kick back and enjoy whatever we damn well please.

So on a rare Saturday off in October there we were: Already in Courtenay, hungry as all get out (early breakfast and no lunch) and in that strange not-quite-dinner time before 7:00pm; plenty of time to have a meal and a couple ‘o drinks before heading home. Finally, the opportunity I’d been waiting for to hit up Chef Aaron Rail’s critically acclaimed new restaurant The White Whale.

And just to ride the serendipity bus a little further into awesometown, it turns out that Saturday night only, TWW features a four course beer tasting menu! Each specially-prepared plate is enhanced by a sleeve of local brew chosen from their extensive and ever-shifting on-tap collection; all for only $35!!!

WWhale2First Course: The Shell Game

Fresh oysters are the perfect way to begin any meal, especially when they’re local rock stars. Plucked a mere half hour’s drive away in the frigid waters off Denman Island, these fresh, briny little bivalves were perfectly accentuated with a dab ‘o horseradish and trout roe. The clean, melon and cucumber tones of the oyster, plus the sprinkling of lime zest foreshadowed the zingy facepunch of the accompanying Hunter Gather Sour from Tofino Brewery. This beer (from one of my favourite breweries) has already leapt to the top of my next beer list and I was excited to see it on both my dinner menu and the regular on-tap blackboard.

WWhale3Second Course: Green Eggs and Land

Alright, you ready for this? The next course was a hash of smoked lobster mushrooms, a single perfectly fried duck egg, herbs and micro greens. It sounds simple and gonzo at the same time right? Like a gourmet brunch item served to royalty, but in a woodshed. It was glorious and although I could easily eat this for eternity, I was glad that they paired it with a sharp Saison Blanc from Burnaby’s Dagerdaad Brewing Co. The bitter, citrus flavours cut through all that richness, averting a total duck-yolk overload while the yeasty warmth really played well with the ‘shrooms.

WWhale4Third Course: Earth Wind and Fire

I’ve never been into the combination of coffee and beef, but after trying local venison tenderloin and Hazelmere Farms pork and turkey wontons in a semi-liquid coffee gel… I’m willing to go back and give beef another shot. It worked pretty well; the tender venison and wontons contrasting with the crisp organic carrots and the slightly sweet-savoury demi-gel. The coffee ale from Bridge Brewing re-enforced the overall earthiness without overpowering the subtleties of the meat.

WWhale5Fourth Course: Apple Crumble

Even though the panna cotta with a soft semi fredo-esque texture, granola bits and a delicious warm apple butter finished off the meal in fine form, it was the pumpkin lager from Parallel 49 that stole the show. Incredible! I’ve had plenty of pumpkin-flavoured ales and none of them had the lightness and priority of concept (read: beer first, pumpkin second) that this tasty lager had.

My wife had the fish and chips off the regular menu and an astoundingly soft and delicious potted cheesecake, or was it custard? I can’t remember… I was really into my own stuff. Everything she had was stellar, sexed-up pub fare with a couple ‘o really spot-on wine/beer recommendations from our server.

The chef came out to check on us and I stuttered my thanks for an incredible evening. In fact everyone, each server, bartender, sushi chef and customer was giggling about food to each other at every table. “What did you have? Where is that from? Have you tried this yet? I know a guy…”

We chatted with the bartender on our way out and after hearing I was a gin fan he (vibrating with the open and blessed enthusiasm of a real aficionado) shot me a sample of a local pine needle gin. It was Glorious! The bartender and I shared a nod of deep appreciation while my wife sighed… She hates gin, and has to drive… Sorry hun.

The White Wale is a fantastic addition to the already stellar Courtenay/Comox food scene. The atmosphere is cool and cook-centric, the drink selection is exciting and the food is off the chain. I cannot wait to hit up the patio next summer.

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