There is a close connection to the land and culture of Spain with the cooking of tapas—an element too often forgotten when the dishes are re-created west of the Atlantic. Yet far away from the sunny beaches of Barcelona or the historic streets of Madrid, Bar Oso in Whistler is serving tapas full of the warmth and authenticity of Spain.
Headed by chef Jorge Muñoz Santos, who served as sous chef at nearby Araxi for four years, Bar Oso was conceived from the very beginning as a platform for Santos and his specific approach to Spanish cooking. Santos, who moved directly to Whistler from Madrid, was given specific directions from Araxi executive chef James Walt to cook what compelled him. The result is a unique offering that only Santos could produce: a blend of Spanish flair, local ingredients, and personal taste.
The small 36-seat room is luxuriously outfitted with a thick, marble bar behind which Santos cooks. Working with items prepped at the Araxi commissary, Santos showcases his skills all while engaging with eager patrons leaning forward on their stools and anticipating whatever deliciousness he is crafting before their eyes. The chef is a little apprehensive at first. “Being out of the kitchen is really hard,” Santos remarks, busying himself with the first dish. While guests sip a refreshing Powder Day cocktail which features Żubrówka vodka fresh and green from the bison grass it is infused with, Santos passes over a tortilla de patatas, or “nursery food,” he explains. The cushy, soft omelette is immediately transformative; an easy, comforting way to begin.
As the plates start rolling out, Santos is visibly more confident, stridently presenting options including heavy, tender wild prawns blanketed in fragrant chili oil. “Thursday is my favourite day: scallop day,” he exclaims, admiring two fresh large scallops in their shells. He proceeds to shuck them right then and there, grating fresh wasabi using a traditional shark shin grater; orange and chili threads add fiery heat to tie it all together. Octopus “Jorge-style” follows. It’s a dish comprised of dense, confit potatoes, and sweet octopus thoroughly doused with paprika—and quickly devoured.
After a range of montaditos (snack-size open-faced sandwiches), lamb meatballs arrive: the tidy, flavourful packages are covered in a sumptuous red pepper sauce. Santos recalls testing a meatball recipe with Walt for the restaurant. “He said, ‘No, this is Italian. Cook like you would at home,’” Santos says. “So I added more garlic, onion, chili.” The outcome is rich and flavourful, with personality that pierces through a plate that may, at first, seem a bit too familiar. At Bar Oso, nothing is imitated or re-created; instead it’s there, standing right in front of you, preparing the next delicious dish.
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