Tag Archives: Banff

More Good Eating in Banff

I don’t eat a lot of red meat at home, but when in Rome…or I should say, Alberta, I do. Striking out from the delicious Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, I was determined to see what else the mountain town had to offer. If you want to know where the beef is on Banff Ave., go to Chuck’s Steakhouse. Shortly after sidling past the meat cooler and sitting down, our server showed us a wooden board with different types of beef on the menu, from waygu to prime cut. ChucksTasteoAlbertaOur group’s choice was to share the Taste of Alberta platter with slices of waygu, grass-fed tenderloin and a prime cut. This was casual fine dining and we learned that not only did Benchmark Angus Ranch provide all their top menu items, but the third generation of Muntons, who owned the operation, was sitting a table down from us. Good to know they approved. We did, too.ChucksChef copy Chef Tomas Bustara even agreed to pose for a picture.
The next day, a spirited prelude to lunch was had a Park Distillery. Located on Banff Ave., the main drag, it is the only distillery in a national park in Canada. ParkDistillerySampleTrayDylan Liebe, the bartender, laid out a flight of gins and vodkas, plus an unaged, clear rye. The gin used typical botanicals – juniper, coriander, lemon peel, orange peel, angelica, orris root, licorice and cinnamon – but added at top note of spruce tips. My favourite spirit was the vanilla flavoured vodka…very smooth. ParkDistilleryCocktailsThey also do pre-made, bottled cocktails that are barrel aged in ex-bourbon casks for six months, available in their little off-sales shop. The Distillers Series included a Negroni, Glacier Manhatten and Martinez. I was most intrigued with their Observation Peak (not pre-mixed), a cross between an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan that Liebe made with rye whisky, dark rum, dry Curaçao, amaro Montenegro, a touch of syrup and then, after whipping out a blow torch, he topped with a smoking cedar square. Now that’s campfire!ParkDistilleryObservationDeck
Just a tad wobbly, we headed up the gondola to the top of Sulfur Mountain and Sky Bistro. GondolaAir copyGondolaPathResto2 copyAt 7,500 feet, the views were stupendous – the generous outdoor wooden walkways and scanning scanning platforms put a shine on the $25 million renovation done two years ago. Anthony Mason, the restaurant’s senior sous chef, greeted us with a big smile and suggested we start lunch with the duck wings.SkyBistroDuckWings Easy to make a meal out of. Butternut squash salad, and fries and aioli followed, washed down with a smooth Liquidity Vignoner.SkyBistroSalad Tanya Otis, a public relations consultant with the destination told us Sky Bistro does regular wine-ticketed events that take over whole bistro. Costs are $149 for seven courses, paired with wine. Sounds like a good deal. “In the summer they use the terrace above for a sunset festival called Mountain Top Yoga with beer and champagne. Nice way to ease into downward dog.
I had been to the Banff Centre for the Arts more than 20 years ago, and it sure looks different now. Twenty per cent government funded, this unique university facility sits on 42 acres and features an art gallery with visiting exhibits and commissioned work. Artists of all genres come to work in studios, take part in workshops and spend time getting creative. Along with their lodgings, there are 217 guest rooms open to public. There’s no need to go off campus to eat, especially if you are looking for fine dining. Three Ravens opened nine years ago and Executive Chef Sebastian Tessier is proud to source mostly from local farmers. “We strive to source seasonal foods that thrive in the Canadian climate. We source Alberta ingredients and are conscious about sustainability because the food just tastes better,” he explains. 3RavensTroutWe started with smoked Alberta trout, with local winter greens, smoked aioli, beet chips, and Banff Centre grown sunflower shoots (from their cultivar). 3RavensPorkFirst course was pork tenderloin, roasted organic parsnips, charred organic red cabbage, topped with a bacon and stout jus. 3RavensElkTenderloinThe main was juniper rubbed elk tenderloin, on braised Alberta beef cheek, with local brown butter ricotta gnocchi, sautéed oyster mushrooms, and maple glazed organic carrots. 3RavensDessertWith just a sliver of room left, I dipped my spoon into a delicious Saskatoon berry compote with yogurt ice cream and FallenTimber mead reduction. Our paired wines were all from British Columbia, Tinhorn Creek Chardonnay, Stoneboat pinot noir and Gray Monk cabernet sauvignon.
Believe it or not, I was hungry the next day and brunch was at Juniper Bistro. JuniperBennyMy friend Elizabeth tucked into a Juniper Benny with bannock, buffalo mozzarella and braised rabbit while I enjoyed a tangy Shakshuka with tomatoes, onions, eggs and touch of za’atar. JuniperShakshukaOur food was matched royally with stunning mountain views.JuniperView copy
My final meal (before falling into a deep food coma) was at Sleeping Buffalo Lodge &Restaurant, a property belonging to the Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts family.SLeepingBuffLobby It was a Chef’s table event, a series that is held on Fridays in the winter. Although I was staying at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, our kind host Brad Royale, Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts’ wine director, told me ticketed guests receive 40 per cent of their room rate when they attend. Brad rolled out the red carpet for us, pulling all sorts of older vintages from his cellar. SleepingBuffPokeAccompanying our starter of tuna poke, with scallions, cucumber, roast sesame, crispy won ton, avocado, and wasabi foam we had a 2003 Tahbilk Marsanne, 1927 Vines (Victoria, Australia). Soft and easy with a slight tang of mineral, it set off the tuna beautifully. Pulled duck confit came next with a double smoked bacon butternut squash risotto, baby heirloom tomatoes and arugula. It was paired with a 2006 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia (Rioja, Spain) that was hearty enough to offset the richness of the duck. SLeepingBuffBisonShortRibsOur main dish was bison short ribs with potato and celery root puree, roasted baby beets and morel mushroom thyme glaze. I was eager to try the bison, since it was from Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts game ranch south of Calgary and I wasn’t disappointed. The meat was flavourful and falling off the bone. The wine was a 2004 Domaine de la Janese Chateauneuf du Pape Vielles Vignes (Rhone Valley, France). Of substantial body, it paired well with the heavy meat. SleepingBuffTripleChocoMousseI can never resist dessert, even when full, so I dug into the triple chocolate mousse with bourbon berries and raspberry black pepper sorbet. Wow. Rich and creamy and delightful with a 2005 Quinta Do Noval Silval Port (Douro Valley, Portugal).
In summary, yes, Banff offers mountain adventure, but the quality of its culinary offerings can easily make the summit of any foodie’s priority destination list. And me? I’m ready for a juice cleanse.

Biting into the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

GondolaBanffView copy
I knew Banff’s mountains were jaw-dropping, but I had little knowledge of the culinary treasures to be found there until visiting this November.
It all began in the Scottish baronial castle known as the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. BanffSpringsExteior copyAfter checking into my room and gasping at the gorgeous view, I looked down at the desk and this is what welcomed me!WelcomeBoard Yeesh. A very good start. Wanting to explore the hotel’s many foodie options, I signed up for the “Eat the Castle” walkabout, led by Alberta Food Tours president and CEO Karen Anderson. “This is a history, art and architecture tour meets food tour,” she explained of the $175, two-and-a-half-hour indoor expedition. The tour is billed as sampling both food and beverages in four of the hotel’s onsite noshing venues. My group was also lucky enough to have the hotel’s executive chef Robert Ash join us. Ash had just joined the Fairmont four months prior (previously he had been resort executive chef for Omni Hotels in Orlando) and his dedication to every detail was deep.
Our first stop was at Stock Food & Drink, a breakfast, lunch and snack emporium off the lobby.Stock Robert stopped in front of the cultivar, a set of temperature-controlled wall cabinets with grow lights and trays of tiny seedlings.Stock-Cultivar copy “What would you like to try?” he asked. I opted for a thumb-sized sprout of kale. So tender! Other trays contained an array of tiny greens including cabbage, peas and sunflowers. The micro-greens are used in all 12 of the hotel’s restaurants and food outlets. Robert shared a bit of culinary data – the hotel sources from 25 farms in the area, there are 25 chefs in the apprentice program, 150 chefs in total and they serve between 1.5 and 2 million meals a year. Wow. Sitting at a long table in Stock, we sipped a glass of locally made Grizzly Paw Power Hound blonde ale and nibbled on a variety of sandwiches including goat cheese and roasted peppers, smoked meat and house-cured bacon and tomato.Stock-VegSam “Ninety per cent of what the hotel serves is made in house including sausages and charcuterie, bread, pastries, pickles and vinegars. We specialize in local sustainable cuisines, have an in-house butchery, and are part of the Ocean Wise Seafood program,” Ash told us.
As we made our way to the next sampling, Karen gave us a bit of hotel history. The building was the brainchild of Pacific Railway CEO George Stephens who brought in architect Cornelius Van Horne. Van Horne designed a series of gorgeous CP hotels back at the turn of the last century that connected the railway and the country and this was his second (Hotel Vancouver was the first). The Banff Springs Hotel opened in 1888 and originally was a wooden structure (and built backwards to plan!). In 1926 there was a fire and in 1928 it was rebuilt, this time of brick and stone (Rundle Rock from Mount Rundle, overlooking the hotel).MtRundle copy Karen pointed to a Latin crest woven into the lobby rug, “It spells out the hotel’s motto ‘Semper Eadem,’ Always the Same.” There have been a few additions and changes to the 754 guest-room hotel over the years, but the exterior facing of Rundle Rock has always been maintained.
At Grapes, on the mezzanine-2 level, we tucked into two boards of charcuterie, smoked trout and cheeses.Grapes-Charcut Grapes chef de cuisine Tait Robinson pointed out the three types of trout, smoked and candied with maple syrup, gravlax and a hot smoked variety with brown sugar and salt. The hot smoked was my favourite. There was also a velvety duck liver pate, elk salami, Canadian camembert with quince jam and bread and butter pickles. All paired with a light white Cote du Rhone.
Karen then held up cards with French names of a kitchen team. Chef de Partie, saucier, potager, rotisseur, grillardin, friturier, poissonnier. Who knew?
In the 1888 Chop House, we stopped by the bar to sip a deep purple blackberry margarita made with Chambord, Don Julio blanco tequila, lime juice and a pink salt and pepper rim.1888-drinks Next was the beef…a huge tomahawk chop and bison tenderloin that was sliced up family style.1888ChefSteaks In Alberta, they know how to do red meat!
The regular tours usually end with a do-it-yourself profiterole-making session in the Vermillion Room, but Chef Ash, who is partial to sweets, wanted to do something special for our little band of writers and he pulled out all the stops. What does that mean?1888Pears Poached pears dipped in dark chocolate, apple beignets with caramel sauce and ice cream, New York-style cheesecake, cake pops, candied apple pops and a chocolate mousse. A veritable dessert banquet.
The next morning was the Banff Springs behind-the-scenes tour, arranged specially for our writers group, starting in the bread and pastry kitchen. OMG. Pastry-MoTrufflesMore sugar was just what I needed and I found myself making Grand Marnier truffles at 10 a.m. with chef Pirzad Amalsadiwalla. We learned about the tempering process of heating and cooling chocolate so that it remains solid at room temperature. ChefAsh-CookiesWe even tried some of Chef Ash’s chocolate chip cookies, “Made from my family’s recipe,” he confided. The combination of pure butter and chocolate was irresistible. Pirzad told me some of his chocolate bon bons can take a day more than a day to make. He also did a demonstration of dark chocolate bark sprinkled with festive pumpkin seeds and cranberries. “Who doesn’t love making people happy with chocolate?” he responded when asked what drew him to this specialty.
In the hotel butchery we watched meat expert Derek Alexander slice up a side of beef from Benchmark Angus Ranch, outside of Calgary.Butcher “We only serve Prime, it’s one notch above AAA,” he told us.That afternoon he was scheduled to stuff sausages. What kind do they do? You name it, chicken, pork breakfast, calabrese, bratwurst, chorizo, and beef. Peeking into the cooler he showed us a rack of Christmas hams and a seasoned tray of wild boar belly. “You won’t find any store-bought deli meats here,” he said. Game meats are on many of the hotel restaurant menus, including farm-raised bison and elk. “People want to eat what they see in the park,” he explained. All the trimmings get used in a variety of ways, including in confits and mashed potatoes. Vermillion-RoastWe capped the morning with a lunch in the recently renovated Vermillion Room, where chef Ryan Watson oversaw the carving of a melt-in-your-mouth Alberta raised prime rib roast, matched with mashed potatoes, and a platter of roasted vegetables.VermillionPlate A newly introduced Sunday night special!
The Fairmont Banff Springs is truly a world of its own. It’s a place where you’ll never get bored…or hungry.
(see my next blog about Banff’s other culinary hot spots)