On the first weekend in May, I ate everything from bison ribs to candied bacon with marshmallows, and drank everything from riesling to spiced mead.
I tried things I might not order in a restaurant—and that’s the beauty of a food and wine festival. For a few coupons a pop, you can sample some seriously gourmet fare, and try a sip or two of an expensive wine or crazy sounding cocktail.
I wouldn’t likely order a Steam Whistle pilsner, but I tried a quarter-glass of it here. And I liked it. Not to mention that it’s also a lovely way to spend an evening—sipping, noshing and mingling in the mountains. The views from the lovely windows of Fairmont Banff Springs are breathtaking, and it’s a good idea to take frequent trips out to the lobby (the President’s Concourse) to digest the food, drink, live music and views.
Sampling coupons are sold in strips at about 50 cents apiece and most of the samples take three to five coupons (remember I mentioned those expensive wines?). I bought $40 worth.
I started the night in the smaller, more intimate President’s Hall, where wines could be paired with your choice of cheese samples (one coupon per sample) and crackers from Springbank Cheese Company. I returned to this quieter venue later that night for a dessert and appetizer sampler from Nesters Market Banff (strawberry and parmesan cracker, fresh salsa and corn chips, and the best part of all, marinated bocconcini and grape tomatoes skewered with prosciutto). Good value for four coupons.
On to the main hall—the Van Horne Ballroom, with 56 exhibitors, several aisles of eye-catching displays, and a hungry crowd. There were far more alcohol samples than food samples, but this festival had enough food booths to keep the crowd on an even keel (there’s nothing worse than too much booze and long lineups for meagre food supplies). Banff Ave. Brewing Company had a Thai beef salad that was just the right combination of warm, savoury beef and crisp, tangy salad. For more solid fare, I tried the Eddie Burger & Bar’s beef sliders on mini ciabatta buns—simple and delicious. The Fairmont Banff Springs was offering pork cheek on savoy cabbage ravioli with roasted onion puree and apple cider jus. The only downside to this was the seven-ticket price tag.
I had to circle around again to try the bison short ribs in red wine demi-glaze from The Juniper Hotel & Bistro. Served with pesto mash, they pretty much fell off the bone with the touch of the fork. I planned on returning for their crab cakes, but it was not to be.
I saw a lot of people lining up for The Keg’s Caesar salad. Every time I came around, the line seemed to have grown. I never did get there.
After all that red meat and a few red wines (I particularly liked the Tinhorn Creek Merlot 2009, as well as the Malbec Reserve 2008 from Altos Las Hormigas, Argentina) it was time to lighten up with a vegetarian option. I headed for, oddly enough, Saltlik Steakhouse, where I found almond-crusted cheese paté topped with mango chutney.
How else to end the night, but back to the meats?
Over at the Bison Restaurant and Terrace, I tried maple bacon marshmallows—brûléed and served with chocolate fondue dipping sauce. And yes, it is as delicious as it sounds. Just like the festival itself.
For more information on upcoming events in and around Banff, check out: