From the modern glass and metal outer door, to the wooden old-timey inner door, The Wheelhouse Restaurant’s guests are instantly transported back to the Whitehorse of the 1930s.
If they take the tour, those guests aren’t sure if they are smiling at Art Webster’s enthusiasm, or at the sheer cleverness of the coat rack and reception area that is patterned after Taylor & Drury’s storefront.
Or at a sternwheeler’s wheelhouse that was brought back to life as The Wheelhouse Bar by Dawson City’s Troy Suzuki.
Or at the restaurant’s paneling that was culled from a Klondike dredge — just like they did when building the sternwheelers on the Yukon River back in their day.
So, why would such a Yukon-infused restaurant, famous for its Northern Canadian fare such as bison and char, reach as far away as Thailand for its menu? “It’s just one Tuesday night, every two weeks,” explains Webster, The Wheelhouse Restaurant’s owner/operator. “Normally, at this time of the year, we are closed Mondays and Tuesdays, so we are just adding an extra day every two weeks in March, April and May,” he says.
But why? “It gives Rob a chance to do something different and challenge him a little bit,” Webster answers. He is referring to his executive chef, Rob Luxemburger, who ran the Regent Hotel’s three kitchens in Revelstoke, B.C.
The two have been together since The Wheelhouse Restaurant opened on the shore of the Yukon River on Second Avenue at Waterfront Station. “I wanted to show off his talents, his knowledge and expertise,” Webster adds.
We are sitting at a long, tall table that was built with 70-year-old lumber from a wharf in Tagish. He pours Bean North coffee from a French press — you gotta love a restaurateur who respects coffee so much — as clouds swiftly move behind Grey Mountain, giving the 10- foot-high windows a spectacular animation. Between us are three menus that have been painstakingly created just for one night each. Well, actually, the March 31 Tantalizing Tastes of Thailand was selling out fast, so an extra night was added for April 7. Still, just like the slowly melting snow sculptures across the park, that’s a lot of work for just one menu. “But we think it’s worth it to attract new people and show off Rob’s talents,” says Webster. “He has prepared all of these dishes before,” he adds. “But he hasn’t done them for a while.”
The menu for March 3 was for Taste of Tuscany. It featured antipasto, tomato basil pappardelle, pork medallions, caponata, and tiramisu. “We decided the first one would be something classic,” says Webster. “It sold out. We only allow 60 to 66 people on these nights and, with groups of six and eight coming in, it fills up quickly.”
For March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, A Maritime Menu was created. Guests were served a halfpound of steamed P.E.I. mussels, Atlantic lobster tail, and Blueberry Pie.
Now, setting their sights on Thailand, Chef Luxemburger is offering poached prawns, hot and sour soup, coconut red curry chicken and, for dessert, a sticky jasmine rice cake. “I like Thai food,” says Webster as he reads the menu again. “And so do a lot of Yukoners. “A lot of people make the trip to Skagway and make sure they are booked into Starfire.”
That’s three menus down, three to go. “Following Thailand will be Cajun Cuisine,” he says. “Nobody does Cajun. “It is going to be blackened tuna — Rob has already told me that. “Then something old, European, traditional — so we selected Plates of Provence. “And the sixth and final entry will be another Canadian one, Seriously West Coast, which will be your oysters, halibut, and a really nice salad.”
But with no Friends-and-Family-Night and no soft openings to try out a new menu, Webster and Luxemburger are taking a big risk. “That’s the risk you have to take,” says Webster, leaning back in his chair to relax just a little more. “And the restaurant business is the riskiest of them all. “But I think it is worth it. “You do something because you love it and, in this business, which is hospitality, you do it for the reward of seeing people come in, enjoy themselves, and walk away happy. “And that’s worth the extra work.”
Reservations are required and can be arranged at 456-2982. The menus can be seen at www.wheelhouserestaurant.ca.