Upscale Comfort: The Bison

While I start out with good intentions to post about eating experiences soon after they happen, sometimes I fail. Our weekend getaway to the mountains last October was one such instance. So – mostly to help maintain my own food memory, here are a few recaps of what we ate.

Ever since my introduction to The Bison by way of Andree’s post, I have been intrigued about their sustainable approach to food. When Mack asked me for restaurant recommendations for his trip to Banff two years ago, the Bison was at the top of my list. His enjoyable visit further heightened my desire to experience it myself.

We arrived a little early for our 7:30pm reservation, and with our table not yet ready, decided to relax with some wine in the lounge downstairs. It turned out we just missed their happy hour promotion on wine (40% off bottles, from 4-7pm), but we did think it was neat that patrons were allowed to bring the discounted bottle purchased in the lounge with them into the formal dining room upstairs.

Wine while waiting

I was surprised to see that the lounge (which has been open since February 2009) had a different menu than the dining room. With savoury cheese fondues and cheese and charcuterie plates, we had to resist the temptation to simply stay on in the lounge. More than variety though, the more casual lounge fare also enables the chef to exhibit his versatility in the kitchen – for example, whole pigs are purchased and used at The Bison, and all charcuterie served is house-made.

View from the bar

We eventually made our way upstairs, into a dimly-lit room that was darkened further as our evening progressed. I loved many things about the space, including the polished concrete floor and the warm furniture, while the open kitchen was Mack’s favourite element. However, as all of the servers notably wore denim, I wasn’t sure what the intended atmosphere was – the casual dress seemed to clash with the décor.

Tone confusion notwithstanding, everything else was great. I’ve never seen a list of suppliers as detailed, three pages with a paragraph devoted to each of the local farms who provide The Bison with their produce and proteins. Reading about the farmers really helps the diner connect with the restaurant in a larger context, and recognize all of the people involved in bringing the meal to the table.

Being a sucker for French onion soup meant I wouldn’t consider anything else as an appetizer once I saw the restaurant’s bison version on the menu. Mack’s fondness of carnival food was appeased with Bison’s gourmet corn dogs, made with lamb. For my entrée, I continued the theme of ordering namesake dishes and selected the caramelized onion, smoked bison, edamame and fresh mozzarella pizza (which is what Mack ordered on his previous visit), and Mack decided on beef.

Needless to say, Mack loved his appetizer. If I had wanted more than a bite of the tender lamb lightly battered just so, I’m sure I would have had to pry it out of his hands. As for my French onion soup, I think it should have been listed with a warning sign next to it – the huge serving was so rich that I struggled to finish it, to the point where I barely touched my entrée.

Lamb corn dogs!

Bison onion soup

Mack’s steak was perfectly cooked, served with a generous amount of goat cheese, but we both wondered at the use of asparagus out of season. The pizza was also great – I loved the novelty of edamame, and the salty bite of the cured bison.

Mack’s steak (for the life of us, we can’t remember what cut)

Caramelized onion, smoked bison, edamame, fresh mozzarella pizza

Service was good – we were never left wanting for anything, and felt well taken care of in the hands of our competent server. After our experience, a stop at The Bison (in particular, the lounge!) will be a necessity the next time we visit Banff.

The Bison
208 Bear Street
(403) 762-5550

7 thoughts on “Upscale Comfort: The Bison

  1. I’ve never been a big fan of Banff’s dining scene but this place definitely stands out. Food and service were excellent. We’ll be back.

  2. Debra – they’ve changed the menu a bit since we were last there, but the corn dogs are still there! I think I prefer the more casual vibe in the lounge anyway.

    Kat – The Bison definitely gets talked about a lot! I have to say there don’t seem to be that many independent options in Banff (many chains), but I’d be interested to try Shakes (they sell hot dogs and Vietnamese subs).

  3. We will actually drive to Banff just for brunch at the Bison. Well, that and a soak in the hot springs. A nice Sunday day trip for us Calgary folks.

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