Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 20, 2017
Bookmark and Share

Indoor Pursuits

Forget azure lakes and snowcapped mountains, Banffs newest draw is its restaurants

There are towns nestled higher in the Canadian Rockies than Banff, but on a recent trip I felt about as close to heaven as I could get. The towns finest restaurants are reinventing classical cuisine and regional fare with an emphasis on indigenous products. A keen breed of chefs has drawn inspiration from sources as diverse as the regions aboriginal hunters, the lavish Victorian repasts of early Canadian Pacific trains and, perhaps coincidentally, the Swiss mountain guides brought in to the Banff Springs Hotel at the turn of the last century.

The result is a culinary style that is unique to the region and is quickly becoming known as Rocky Mountain cuisine. That doesn't mean you'll find cooks in lumberjack shirts tossing hunks of meat onto open fires. These are refined, meticulously prepared dishes designed by classically trained chefs who take the quest for local ingredients seriously.

Chef Thomas Neukom at Buffalo Mountain Lodge (tel: 800-661-1367; www.buffalomountain lodge.com) is credited (along with Executive Chef Alistair Barnes) with bringing Rocky Mountain cuisine to national attention, and has the distinction of being the only Canadian invited twice to cook at the James Beard Foundation in New York. Neukom explains that Banff's chefs rely on locals to forage for wild mushrooms and berries beyond the boundaries of Banff National Park -- a protected World Heritage Site where picking even a berry or wild bay leaf is forbidden.

Chefs then source seasonal fruit from the Okanagan and the Prairies, seafood from Canada's coastal waters and elk, buffalo, white-tailed deer, reindeer and caribou from a Calgary-area farm. Lucky for Neukom, Pat and Connie O'Connor, who established the farm to breed game especially for the table, are also the owners of the Buffalo Mountain Lodge.

Set on a tranquil spur of Tunnel Mountain overlooking the town of Banff and the Bow Valley, the Lodge is a temple to carnivores. After a day of hiking we gathered around a blazing hearth, under the watchful gaze of a mammoth buffalo head, for cocktails and the signature game platter. The medley of cured and air-dried meats and game pâtés was served with mustard-marinated cantaloupe, cranberry relish, blueberry and cherry chutneys and crusty breads.

We moved to the rustic dining room, with its lofty ceiling and antler chandeliers, for caribou medallions in lingonberry jus with mounds of sweet potato spaetzle, accompanied by Canadian VQA wines. We lingered over fruit-filled pastries and Niagara ice wine before retreating under the star-studded sky to the chalet.

French But No Fries
Dinner at the splendid Banffshire Club at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (tel: 403-762-2211; www.fairmont.com) was a more formal affair. Chef Daniel Buss gives a classical French touch to dazzling Canadian cuisine. A terrine of silky foie gras with Port-infused figs appeared with lambs lettuce and balsamic vinegar, while Alberta rack of lamb (milder in flavour than Australia's or New Zealand's) was cloaked with black trumpet mushrooms. The caribou roasted in a chestnut crust had an incredibly delicate flavour while juniper berries imparted a gin-like tang to the bison.

We couldn't resist the dessert tasting menu: gems of dark chocolate cake, Amarula liqueur crème brûlée and a Grand Marnier soufflé.

 

We indulged in another sumptuous meal at Le Beaujolais (tel: 403-762-2712; www.lebeaujolaisbanff.com), a romantic restaurant in the heart of Banff Village. Here Chef Philipp Weingartner has won raves for producing consistently superb "freestyle Canadian cuisine." Drawing on classical skills honed in Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe, he often strays from tradition, pairing local produce with Asian ingredients.

Appetizers included Alberta wild boar and black cherry ragout on creamy risotto, and a duck foie gras terrine served with brioche and pear compote. Alberta beef tenderloin, simmered in a heady Cabernet reduction, was capped with portobello mushrooms and shallot confit, while a salmon filet appeared with orange-lavender ricotta. The desserts looked sensational, but after our elaborate meal, we settled for the famed truffles of Swiss pastry chef Alex Mollet.

The Garden of Eden
With vast views of the Bow Valley, the culinary experience in Eden was simply divine. At the Rimrock Resort Hotel's (tel: 800-661-1587; www.rimrockresort.com) newly launched restaurant, Executive Chef Yoshitaka Chubachi and Chef Andrew Stevens have created four distinct tasting menus (each paired with a fleet of wines from the renowned cellar) offering classic dishes punctuated by regional fare like caribou, Arctic char, lamb and bison.

Offerings included forest mushroom velouté with a cloud of truffle Marsala foam and pan-seared venison loin with blackberry jus and Gewürztraminer beurre blanc. Dessert was a twist on the classic mille-feuille, here with sundried berries and pistachios.

Though slightly outside of Banff, it was worth the scenic drive on the Icefields Parkway to sample the inventive cuisine of Chef Charles See at Num-Ti-Jah Lodge (tel: 403-522-2425; www.num-ti-jah.com). In a quintessentially Canadian log-cabin setting with rough-hewn walls scattered with pictures of famous mountaineers and hunting trophies, we tasted scrumptious fresh salmon with red and yellow pepper coulis layered on a light lemon risotto, and hunter-style venison marinated in gin and juniper berries.

While many restaurants serve up variations of Rocky Mountain cuisine draw on locally available fare, some go for a more European- or American-fusion style. At Charlton Resorts' Royal Canadian Lodge (tel: 403-762-3307; www.charltonresorts.com), Chef Hans Hacker's delightful, artistically prepared meals include Arctic char gravlax with touches of ginger, lamb with semolina gnocchi and bok choy, and halibut on cucumber couscous.

Swiss Twist
After a day outdoors, Ticinos at the High Country Inn (tel: 800-293-5142; www.banffhighcountryinn.com) is an inviting place for a hearty steak fondue or cheese raclette. For more than 25 years, Executive Chef Thomas Nay has given Rocky Mountain cuisine a Swiss-Italian interpretation. His succulent dishes include sea bass with peach relish and vegetable mousse, and lamb loin breaded with figs, dates and mint in a Merlot sauce.

A similar influence is also on display at The Pines at Rundlestone Lodge (tel: 800-661-8630; www.rundlestone.com), where Chef Mario Thom turns out gorgeous appetizers of smoked salmon-tuna tartare and musk ox carpaccio, followed by squid-ink tagliatelle with smoked scallops, langostinos and mussels, and tender Burgundy-marinated caribou with apple-flavoured polenta and grapes. The pumpkin-maple ice-cream tiramisu piled with strawberries was nothing short of sinful.

For over a century, Banff's snowcapped peaks and spruce-scented forests have been renowned for incomparable views, clean mountain air and active pursuits. But decadent dining may become the town's new calling card. As home to the Banff Centre for the Arts, it has also won acclaim for a cultural life few resort towns can boast. And now, thanks to its innovative chefs, Banff is as much a culinary treat as a leisure destination.

 

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

Comments