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Tofino, British Columbia
150 Fourth St, Tofino, BC | 250-725-9653

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. 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.

Begin with a Bollywood Bowl: mango spiced rum, falernum, sliced apricot and cilantro, ladled from an antique punch bowl into cumin-sugar-rimmed crystal teacups. “That’s Lone Cone, across the inlet,” points out Eric, who migrated west from Sudbury to deliver to you these two bullet-shaped fried oysters, alder-smoked and wrapped in shoestring potato. “That’s where I found myself.” Tofino has a way of drawing talented people into its vortex. People like the Peruvian wine guru Jorge, who surfs. And the bar wizard Hailey, who surfs. And the pastry chef Joel, who surfs.

The barrel-chested chef, Nick Nutting, doesn’t surf. “I just cook,” he chuckles. He trained at Catch in Calgary and perfected his technique at Garçon! in Montreal – both former tops on this list. Nutting left the Pointe, just down the road at the Wickaninnish Inn, with a crew trained in the precise details of fine dining. Here they wear flannel and crank the Motown, but feel free to dress up if you’d feel more at home.

The seaweed salad – its iodine crunch of kombu, bull kelp and macro punched up by puffed wild rice – is harvested by a research scientist at nearby Bamfield. The Humboldt squid, caught 300 metres deep off the coast and charred and sliced like a flank steak, is creamy at its centre like a perfectly cooked scallop. And the octopus is tenderized by the fists of a guy in the kitchen with “anger issues.” Who could possibly be angry, you wonder, in a place like this?

The sun sets. Candles are lit. A pack of dudes in long hair and hoodies wanders in, hungrily eyeing those big platters of octopus and mussels with romesco gliding across the room. Sipping on Hailey’s Cream – fig-infused rye with condensed milk – you gaze up at the giant starburst by local artist Tammy Shymko, 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.

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