Good Eats in Banff: The Banff Centre, Saltlik, Evelyn’s and The Bison

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to spend last weekend in Banff, the result of an impromptu request for Mack to speak at the Canadian Arts Summit. Hosted at the beautiful Banff Centre this year, it was easy to see how rejuvenating the location itself could be for the conference delegates.

The Banff Centre

While making our way to the Professional Development Centre, we stumbled upon two deer. Though I shouldn’t be surprised that wildlife in the area no longer flinch at the sign of humans, we were still amazed at their nonchalance in spite of our close proximity.


On Saturday evening, we joined Ken and his wife Amy at the Dining Room in Donald Cameron Hall, a gorgeous space lined with windows that allowed for a spectacular view. Being that the event was a gathering of arts and culture administrators and artists, we even spotted a Canadian celebrity – Paul Gross of Due South fame.

The banquet dinner was a little better than most large events I’ve attended, though to be fair, this function only saw about 6o or so guests served. My favourite part of the meal was hands down the sweet potato crisps atop the sablefish main – an ingenious idea, executed perfectly!

Spinach salad with pomegranate dressing

Sablefish with sweet potato crisps and vegetables

Raspberry crème brulee and berries

After the meal, we joined Ken and Amy at Saltlik for a drink and in Ken’s opinion, the world’s best calamari. With such hype and high expectations, Mack and I were sure the wok-fired calamari wouldn’t live up to it all, but it did. Simply prepared, with a touch-light batter, tossed with sea salt, pepper, poblanos and charred serranos, they were surprisingly addictive.

Wok-fired calamari from Saltlik

The next morning, while Mack was at the conference, I trekked the roadside path to downtown Banff, about a half hour walk. Though I passed a few people on the way down, I mostly had the route to myself, not a sound to be heard save for the whistle of the wind through the trees.

The Fairmont Banff Springs hotel in the distance

I took a break at Evelyn’s Again, one of the three incarnations of the popular Evelyn’s Coffee Bar in town (it looks like another is in the works on Banff Avenue). While the coffee ($1.75 for a small) was nothing to complain about, the cookie ($2.50) was as hard as a rock – I was left wondering how long it had been sitting in the display case.

Coffee and (never again) cookie at Evelyn’s Again

After some satisfying time with a book, I did some window shopping. I passed by the cutest burger car, and a potential spot for lunch on a future visit – Shakes, a cafe that serves Bubble Tea, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs and Vietnamese subs – what versatility!

The Eddie burger Bug

Before departing Banff, Mack met up with me for lunch at The Bison, as I had been eager to try some of their more casual fare in the lounge. It was nearly a full house downstairs, and as a result, took the staff several minutes before acknowledging our presence. Our eventual server apologized for the wait, and after that, our experience was a smooth ride.

Even though the cheese and charcuterie board was incredibly tempting, we decided to split two hot entrees, with the hopes they would warm me up from my time outside. The bison chili ($9.95) was smaller than we anticipated, but great all the same – the meat had been finely ground and nicely seasoned, and even without intense heat, had great flavour. I only wished it had been served to us a touch warmer.

Bison chili with Sylvan Star cayenne gouda (the bread ‘n’ butter was mighty tasty too)

The baked mini potato skins, with a slice of venison pepperoni, Sylvan Star cayenne gouda and creme fraiche, were wonderful. Satisfyingly crispy on the outside, but perfectly cooked on the inside, the combination of the potato, meat and melted cheese was incredibly comforting, and was exactly what I needed at that moment.

Baked mini potato skins

Based on our other experience, I’d have to say I prefer the casual side of The Bison, if not only because I prefer the lounge menu and its casual atmosphere.

Thanks again for a great weekend, Banff – I’ll be back soon!

221 Bear Street, Banff, AB
(403) 762-2467

Evelyn’s Again (2 other locations)
119 Banff Avenue, Banff, AB
(403) 760-2907

The Bison
208 Bear Street, Banff, AB
(403) 762-5550

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

Short but Sweet: The Bison Restaurant & Lounge

This guest post was written by Mack, an Edmonton-based geek who fancies himself a part-time foodie. You can find him online at his blog, and on Twitter.

A little over a month ago, I was in Banff, AB for CanUX 2008. I had a great time and learned a lot. One of the best parts about the event was that all expenses were included – registration, lodging, and meals. We ate our meals at the restaurant at The Banff Centre except dinner on the last day, which was not included. I decided to take advantage of that and stopped The Bison Restaurant & Lounge on my way out of town. Sharon had recommended it to me in case I had time to visit a local establishment.

The restaurant is located on the second floor of the building, with the Mountain Bistro General Store underneath. Much of the building was closed for renovations at the time, but fortunately the restaurant was still open. I climbed the wooden staircase and was warmly greeted and immediately seated in the nearly empty restaurant (there were a handful of people in the lounge).

My waiter was attentive during my short stay, but not overly so. He answered all of my questions, but mostly left me to scope out the coppered kitchen and surf on my iPod touch (there was open wireless nearby). I would describe the interior of the dining room as sophisticated, with dark wooden tables and chairs, wine glasses at every table, and funky dim lighting.

I looked through the menu, including the “local for locals” insert, and eventually decided upon one of the wood fired pizzas. I chose the Smoked Bison, Caramelized Onions, Edamame, and Fresh Mozzarella pizza for $17. I wasn’t overly hungry, but the waiter assured me that the pizza was a good size for one person. He was right.

I didn’t have to wait long for my pizza to arrive. It tasted just as good as it looked! I thought the smoked bison together with the fresh mozzarella was the best part. The caramelized onions seemed to disappear in comparison, and the firm edamame beans didn’t quite fit with the rest of the pizza though they tasted fine. I thoroughly enjoyed the dish.

I’d love to take Sharon to The Bison to try one of their more interesting dishes next time! I think she’d really like it. If you’re looking for something unique in Banff, give The Bison a try.

Bison Restaurant & Lounge
The Bison Courtyard 213
211 Bear Street, Banff, AB
(403) 762-5550
Monday-Friday, 5pm-10pm, Saturday-Sunday, 10am-10pm