Looking Back to the Beginnings of One of Vancouver Island’s Best Restaurants

While on a camping trip to Tofino five years ago this month, I visited the construction site of Wolf In The Fog, which would later that year be celebrated as Canada’s Best New Restaurant by enRoute magazine.

The place was a bit of a messy hive at the time, but I remember being taken aback by the potential. I was familiar with the talented group of first-timers that was making it happen, and was especially excited to see the dining scene in one of my favourite small towns on the planet reach for a new level. That Wolf In The Fog would go on to be received so well and celebrated nationally was not at all surprising, but it was nevertheless a wonderful thing to see and read.

“After a long day of surfing on the extreme west coast of Vancouver Island, where rainforest meets ocean, you stumble up a flight of stairs and into a soaring cedar-clad room above a surf shop,” wrote Andrew Braithewaite, whose enviable job it is to travel across our country and eat at all of Canada’s best new restaurants for enRoute. (Full disclosure: I’m one of the panelists that recommends new spots for Andrew to visit.) “You’re greeted by a prowling wolf assembled from driftwood – but not a lick of fog in the house tonight – and Etta James howling on the stereo. It’s the kind of place that stops you in your tracks […] You gaze up at the giant starburst built from two dozen surfboards busted by local pros […] Follow that star, you feel a sudden urge to tell everyone you know, as far west as you can go. You’ll find yourself in remarkable company.”

If you’re a total stranger to the restaurant, here’s a telling video that enRoute put together in celebration of their accolade…

And here’s an excerpt of what I wrote about Wolf In The Fog immediately following my first visit to the construction site…

The place has got the small town buzzing, not least of all because it has three ex-Wickaninnish Inn employees – former chef Nick Nutting and FOH staffers Jorge Baradiaran and Andre McGillivray – collaborating as owner-operators. They’re a talented bunch, and the location is as prime as it gets.

Despite the formal trappings of the owners’ shared past (the Wick being a Relais property, after all), Wolf In The Fog is aiming to be decidedly casual, especially on the 800 sqft main floor, which will seat 20 indoors (with TVs) and another 18 on the sidewalk patio. The same menu will be shared on the more expansive second floor with its large bar and lounge area (with beer and wine on tap), 60+ seat family-friendly dining room (complete with broken surfboard sculpture), and 38 seat patio. It’s a great-looking space with excellent mill- and metal-work in evidence (I love the smooth curve of the walnut bar), not to mention a killer view.

The upstairs is also home to a dream kitchen that snakes to the back of the building and a rear staff patio for the sweetest of contemplative, mid-rush breaks. As you can see in some of the shots below, Nutting and his cohorts – among them sous chef Martin Dean (ex-Wick, Ensemble) and pastry chef Joel Ashmore (ex-Wick) – can also look out beyond the dining room at the Deadmen Islets and the surrounding (stunning) land/seascape.

Nutting didn’t talk at length about the food, except to say that he really wanted it to be true to the spirit and feel of Tofino, which is about as far away from stuffy as is possible. I’ve eaten his food on several occasions (including in competition), and I know full well that he’s capable of doing amazing and often innovative things with locally sourced ingredients.

To round out the casual vibe that Wolf In The Fog is trying to capture, they’ve put together what sounds like a pretty kickass vintage stereo system and lined up a nice collection of vinyl to play, plus they’ve taken a page out of the Mamie Taylor’s playbook and collected colourful vintage, mis-matched tableware from thrift stores in small towns up, down, and all around Vancouver Island.

If you haven’t been yet, you really should go. It has only gotten better since its launch. Before you do, however, sneak a glimpse of how it came to be…

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