Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
BANFF, ALBERTA — Brad Royale pulls out a bottle he’s been saving for a decade. It’s from a small vineyard in Victoria, Australia that is relatively unheard of in western Canada. The introduction of Tahbilk‘s 2003 Marsanne to a four-course menu at Buffalo Mountain Lodge underscored the level of wine appreciation at the property and its sister venues that Royale works at as wine director.
The Buffalo Mountain Lodge hosts chef’s table events multiple times a year, providing attendees with a wine-paired dinner and 40 per cent off of their room stay in the Banff hotel that’s part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts (CRMR) group.
The food is what you might expect from a fine Alberta restaurant. Its highlights are flavourful steak and game with healthy servings of root vegetables and decadent desserts that won’t disappoint.
It’s Royale’s wines — and his presentation of each — that emerge as distinct about the experience. His selection of a 2004 bottle of Domaine de la Janasse, a red blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, paired sublimely with bison short ribs and epitomized why wine pairings matter so much to the joy of dining. Add the tale of a boutique winery from Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Royale’s deep knowledge of terroir, grapes and culture, and you have a moment as well rounded as this wine itself.
Buffalo Mountain Lodge also has the unique attribute of sourcing its bison and elk from CRMR’s own ranch, which is located on the outskirts of Calgary. The animals are raised and fed with the CRMR group’s kitchen teams’ needs in mind. As a result the meat is rich with quality and flavour.
Many culinary travellers venture to Alberta with the hope of having the best bison and elk available in North America. Buffalo Mountain Lodge is one of the venues where those desires are met. Here are four more restaurants to check out for sensational dining while in Banff.
For decades, steakhouses have brought their cuts tableside for diners to choose. At Chuck’s in downtown Banff, the steak board is presented with stories of the farms, farmers and cattle. It’s a touch that connects the diner to the food and emphasizes Alberta’s incredible diversity of beef.
Prime rib, ribeye, dry-aged tenderloin, and even Alberta-bred Wagyu beef will be among the choices displayed to you. If it’s hard for you and your table to decide, Chuck’s offers a Taste of Alberta family-style platter ($95) that includes three different five-ounce steaks.
And just how good are the steaks? They’re the best I’ve had in Alberta and only Michael Smith’s Argentina-inspired steaks at the Inn at Bay Fortune in Prince Edward Island are better in Canada (that I’ve tried).
Located on the campus of the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Three Ravens is a small restaurant with big ambitions. You wouldn’t expect a restaurant in an arts facility that provides housing for students and visiting artists to provide high-quality cuisine. But executive chef Sébastien Tessier deserves much credit for presenting a menu that can compete with the best restaurants in Banff.
The Juniper Rubbed Elk Tenderloin, served with local oyster mushrooms and a delicious ricotta gnocchi, tastes of warm Alberta comfort, even on a freezing night in the mountains. The dessert courses also focus on local ingredients, including ice cream made with Bles-Wold Yogurt, a family-owned producer that’s well-regarded in the province.
During your visit be sure to stop into the Banff Centre for its contemporary art exhibits and shows. The centre’s Mountain Film and Book Festival even tours the world, bringing its program to 40 countries.
The flagship restaurant of Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is the place to venture for over-the-top meat experiences, including a 60-ounce tomahawk steak ($155) that is recommended for two (assuming the two are sumo wrestlers visiting from Japan). There are other less gluttonous options, including that Alberta Wagyu beef ($76 for seven-ounce tenderloin) and a wonderful filet mignon ($53 for seven ounces of tenderloin served with house-cured boar bacon). The highlight of 1888 for me is always the bison tenderloin ($70 for six ounces), which is sourced from Canadian Rangeland and showcases this game meat in a marvellous dining space with one of the best wine lists in western Canada.
A restaurant at the peak of one of the Rockies doesn’t need its cuisine to match the jaw-dropping view, but credit Sky Bistro for not resting on its scenic attractiveness alone. It brings plenty of culinary flair to the adventure of dining 2,400 metres (7,500 feet) above ground. Its honey-glazed duck wings, butternut squash salad and seafood chowder are all fabulous examples of good bistro fare.
Sky Bistro also hosts a number of unique events, including winemakers’ dinners in the sky and “Stargazing at the Summit”, where guides explain the heavens above Banff. The restaurant is accessed by the Banff Gondola. There’s a Sky Experience Dinner package that provides the gondola ride and dinner for $89 per person.