When most people think of dining destinations, the usual suspects always make the short list: Paris, Northern Italy, America’s Pacific Northwest, and so on. But foodies in the know waste no time getting to the Canadian province of Alberta. Here, a wilder version of Canada shares space with modern cities. The resulting hospitality is decidedly unpretentious and rooted in a history of agriculture.
To understand the ethos of Alberta’s magical gastronomy is to understand the vastness of this sportsman’s haven. Some of the earliest settlers in the region were ranchers and, still today, acres and acres of beautiful farmland and luxury in unexpected places abound, with the Canadian Rockies rising up behind them. At nearly 700,000 square miles, there are five UNESCO World Heritage Sites including famed Banff & Jasper National Parks and Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. To further put it in perspective, while immense, Alberta is just the fourth largest province in Canada and home to forest, prairies and mountain ecosystems. A shorter growing season means a higher appreciation for fresh veggies. Alberta chefs have more respect for ingredients than most, in platefuls of practiced discipline and creativity.
Calgary and Edmonton, the province’s two largest cities, are at the top of the heap in Alberta’s legion of fine dining. Yet some of Alberta’s best eats are nowhere near bustling locales. The agony of a visit to this slice of present-day Canada is having but just three meals a day. The thrill is knowing everything put in front of you will be sublime. Here are a few places to start exploring, whether you’re a local or a traveller.
Alpine Social at The Fairmont Chateau, Lake Louise
In one of Canada’s most Instagram-worthy destinations, visitors flock to Lake Louise for events throughout the year and the many choices to dine against the spellbinding backdrop of the Victoria Glacier. The Chateau itself is majesty, built in Alberta’s Banff National Park. Between meals, visitors indulge in guided mountain tours, some of the world’s best skiing, and hiking among other activities at the more than 100-year-old property. Alpine Social is the place to be for après ski, a classic mountain hangout that invites patrons to indulge in the massive Scrabble wall and other games. The resort’s most jovial gathering hole, it has a Canadian-themed menu replete with bison and elk burgers. Regulars delight in being able to fellowship in a casual place within one of the fanciest places in the Province. Make a reservation at Alpine Social at The Fairmont Chateau.
Ten Foot Henry, Calgary
When a restaurant can make something as simple as tomatoes and feta seem like a revelation, it’s a winner. But the best description of Ten Foot Henry comes from one of its biggest fans. Travel Alberta’s Kristyn Snell is a regular. She likes to say that dining at Ten Foot Henry feels like sitting in a terrarium. Between the tall windows and plants, this bright and shiny eatery boasts a mostly vegetarian menu, perfect for taking a mini-vacation from all the wonderful meat dishes throughout Alberta. Ten Foot Henry does have three meat dishes and a charming front-of-the-house café called Little Henry where guests can indulge in coffees and desserts. Snell credits the butterscotch pudding for taking her back to her childhood every time. Make a reservation at Ten Foot Henry.
Two Penny Chinese, Calgary
Two Penny is like the headquarters of food happiness in Calgary. No wonder diners are all smiles here, what with steamed char siu pork barbecue buns and duck and foie gras potstickers with plum and black vinegar gastrique, just for starters. Save room to share a few of the chef specialties, like a garnish of onion jam and pickled apple with crispy skin pork belly, or Oolong tea-smoked half duck – served with milk buns, hoisin sauce, and pickles. For beef lovers, the Wagyu brisket Shanghai noodles pop with flavorful scallions, carrots, cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, and bean sprouts. The big surprise here is the craft cocktail program, both inventive and alluring with drinks like the ginger soy sour with gin, ginger, burnt soy, and chili threads, or the “3 Years in the Making” mixed with whisky, rye, plum wine, rice vinegar, bitters, and sesame mist. Make a reservation at Two Penny Chinese.
Sleeping Buffalo Restaurant & Lounge, Banff
Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts’ dizzying array of dining choices at Buffalo Mountain Lodge, Deer Lodge, and Emerald Lake Lodge may feel daunting, but all are well worth contemplation. Fans credit the meats from the company’s own free-range elk, bison, and caribou farm for their rave reviews, along with housemade preserves. It’s one of Banff’s most beloved hotels, secluded and cloaked in the beauty of this remote region. Make a reservation at Sleeping Buffalo Restaurant & Lounge.
Madison’s Grill in the Union Bank Inn, Edmonton
Picture yourself in 1910. You’re miles from anywhere in the Union Bank of Canada building, surrounded by the quiet, cool security of the stout structure. That same historic vibe remains in what’s now a boutique hotel in Edmonton – but these days it’s defined by Madison’s Grill and things like lobster truffle fettuccini, scallops, and lamb shank. The creative team at Madison’s have mastered combining typical ingredients in atypical ways – take the chevre-stuffed pork loin, stuffed chicken forestiere wrapped in prosciutto and served with creamed leeks, or red wine-braised rabbit with confit fingerling potato Lyonnaise. Make a reservation at Madison’s Grill.
The Guild, Calgary
The Guild pays homage to the guildhalls, artist and merchant meeting places, in Alberta’s rich history. The structure itself, Hudson’s Bay building in downtown Calgary, is historic, lending an ages-past vibe to the restaurant’s proud commitment to carnivorous Canadians and time-honored bar-keeping. Here the order of the day is a nosh on all locally sourced beef, game, and fowl prepared with traditional wood and coal cooking techniques. Nothing is ordinary here, from the gin and tonic smoked salmon appetizer to housemade black pudding. Go with a friend for one of the sharing proteins, like the tomahawk steak or bone-in strip loin. Vegetarians need not stay home – this inspired kitchen churns out things like caramelized pumpkin tarte tatin with charcoal-roasted roots and goat cheese espuma. Make a reservation at The Guild.
Crash Hotel Lobby Bar, Edmonton
In yet another Edmonton gem, this vintage cocktail and martini bar dates back to 1904 when rail travelers needed a place to lay weary heads. In this structure, which survived two fires, it’s easy to imagine bellying up to the bar on a chilly night for a classic cocktail and nourishment, though today it’s decidedly more fun to spend the night in one of the many themed rooms, one with vintage suitcases and another outfitted with speakers. Today in the bustle of downtown Edmonton, diners come for lip-smacking lunches and dinners. It’s easy to think a dish like Brussels sprouts and bacon common, but Crash’s version is positively irresistible with fried chickpeas, sweet chili drizzle, and aromatic spices. Same with the burger, prepared with braised short rib and aged cheddar on brioche bun garnished with an onion ring and fried egg. Meatballs and charcuterie round out a menu that honors the building’s savory history. Make a reservation at Crash Hotel Lobby Bar.
Azuridge Estate Hotel, Preddis
In what feels like a food fairytale, Azuridge Estate Hotel is about 45 minutes from Calgary. The resort’s architecture is inspired by Canadian Pacific Railway’s Rocky Mountain train stations. A stroll to the massive three-story gazebo at this elevation, the thin air, and coolness of the nights make Azuridge a restorative experience. From upscale services like therapeutic drawn baths and guided tours of the estate, Azuridge may be Canadian boutique luxury at its finest, but guests love the staff members for their down-to-earth personalities, even going so far as to roping them into lively battles of charades – accompanied by expensive scotch and s’mores, of course. Greatness abounds in the kitchen at Azuridge, where diners delight in master chef Yoshi Chubachi. One guest reports eating his favorite meal ever at Chubachi’s chef’s table, when the celebrated Japanese Red Seal Chef carved his own ice plates on which to serve his housemade palate cleanser. This 10-time culinary gold championship medal winner as a member of Team Canada loves to stage theatrical presentations of his unique blend of Asian and French influences. The carpaccio features a trio of proteins, bison, elk, and beef tenderloin, and he prepares his signature dishes of elk tenderloin Wellington with grilled herb and red wine-marinated venison rack chop while maintaining flavorful veggie options on the menu, like saffron risotto. Even the kids’ menu has a fresh salmon option with vegetables and roasted potatoes. Make a reservation at Azuridge Estate Hotel.
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