We got away for a couple of days last week and wanted to go somewhere in the mountains. Turns out, that Banff (way too many consonants for one word), Alberta, is only an hour-and-a-half direct flight from Seattle. And nestled near this adorable little touristy town is a castle containing the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. The hotel is quite lovely. (It’s hard to go wrong when it’s a castle.) As with most expensive hotels they have their own requisite expensive restaurant.
The problem with most fancy hotel restaurants is that they have no real need to compete. They can’t go out of business or who would cook for the hotel guests. The hotel subsidizes them so they get lazy. You might think that this is optimal. A chef can just worry about cooking and not worries about the ups and downs of fickle customers. With that bias, we signed up for dinner at the Banffshire Club Restaurant hoping against hope.
After glasses of Taittinger and Kir Royale (with a local sparkling wine) dinner started off with a couple of amuse bouche: Foie Gras Mousse on a Pistachio Cookie Tomato Gelee and a Potato Scone with Tallegio Cheese. Simple clean flavors, the cheese stood out. Next up was a Village Bay Oyster from New Brunswick with Tomato Sauce and Arugula Mousse. It was yummy because of the tomato sauce which was watery in a good way (if you can imagine that). Bread was fun including Parmesan Prosciutto Bread Sticks with Housemade Caramelized Pecan Spread. The pecan spread was surprisingly sweet. And special.
Braised Alberta Berkshire Pork Belly with Flageolet Bean Cassoulet and Hotchkiss Farm Salsify started off the next round. The Pork belly was all earthy tones with lots of texture. The oil and graininess in the dish were a good balance. Then we had the Foie Gras of Québec Moulard Duck Pan Seared with Okanagan Braised Cherries, Pistachio Crusted Terrine. The sauteed foie was a touch livery. I know it actually is liver, but foie gras should never have a livery flavor in my opinion.
Soup and salad was on its way next. First was a Carrot Veloute with Mussels and a piece of fish. The soup was like a mild carrot milkshake. Quite lovely. The fish was cooked perfectly. This was a very special dish. The Local Vegetable Salad with Vin Jaune Vinaigrette and Fairwinds Farm Goat Cheese, Hotchkiss Farm Beans, Tomatoes, Beets, Carrots, and Radish was nice. Its best feature of course was that there were beet flavors laced throughout every bite.
Palate cleanser up next… Passionfruit Granite with a Blood Orange Disk. It was excellent. The passionfruit flavor was super present. Not watered down. Nice. It also came in a novelty ice sphere. The waitstaff insisted that that we break the ice before they took away the “dishes”. Needless to say it was a little nervewracking smashing ice balls with a spoon around the wineglasses, but we managed to survive without making too much of a mess.
So far the food had been quite decent on the whole, especially for a North American hotel restaurant. That made it all the stranger when we noticed that the background music was in fact not music but Muzak! And what was playing? The theme from The Young and the Restless. Kind of surreal.
In our last round we started with Roasted Bison Tenderloin, Oxtail and Mushroom Ravioli, and Braised Sweetbreads. The Bison was a touch dry and not super flavorful. But the veggies were excellent. The ravioli was a touch undercooked but was bursting with an excellent bold and savory flavor. The sauce was deep, deep, viscous, and rich. And even though there were highlights and inconsistencies in the bison, the Roasted Turbot and Scallop with Confit Local Potatoes, Perigord Truffles, Truffle Emulsion, and Winter Vegetable Terrine was excellent. The fish was nicely cooked but the scallop was better. A little light savory seared gem. Just the right level of seasoning.
We were stuffed and didn’t go for dessert but couldn’t get out without some sort of sweet item. The friendly folks brought us what basically amounted to a chocolate discus. It was yummy as were the Meringue, Cassis Jelly, and Grand Marnier Marzipan Truffles that rested atop the frisbee. We ate it all.
I know that the Banffshire wasn’t as consistent as I would hope. But there were enough highlights – the way they cooked their seafood, the pork belly’s balance, and of course, the carrot veloute, that I’d love to go back and see what they can do. And besides, it’s in a cool castle.