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Winter Holiday at Banff Springs!

I'm a Canadian-expat from Montreal now living in San Francisco with my wife, and I am really, really, really looking forward to experiencing a snowy white Christmas with my SoCal sweetie in the Canadian rockies!!! I haven't been out of the States in over a year and while we spend a fair amount of time in the foothills of the Sierras and up in Yosemite on weekends... nothing compares to the winter white blanketed Rockies over the holidays!!

I haven't been to Banff in almost a decade and would love to get some restaurant and food recommendations. We'll be at the Fairmont for 4 nights (Dec. 19 - 24) and we have no prerequisities, other then delicious meals! Any type of cuisine from casual and comfort to fine dining and white tablecloth formal works; any price level is fine. Regional cuisines with locally sourced ingredients (I suppose that would be carnivorous ingredients at this time of year!) would be wonderful. We just want to eat the best food possible on our trip!

Thanks for any and all suggestions you can offer... see you soon Canada, my home and native land!!! : )

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  1. Let's get a bit more specific...

    I would like recommendations for 4 dinners. I don't have any expectations whatsoever. Interesting and/or unique regional menus would be nice. We'll follow your direction towards the most proficient kitchen however. Chef driven restaurants for our evening meals please. Ambiance is important as well. I probably don't need to say it, but nothing with TVs playing sports broadcasts or anything like that... cozy lodge-like dining rooms would be best and if there are any old buildings with historic architecture/interest then that's a plus.

    We'll also need 4 lunch recommendations as well. Again, no requisties here... from bistros to burger stands, gastropubs to tasting menus... we'll go wherever the best meal is afforded!

    Breakfasts are not too important for us unless there are any local spots that should absolutely not be missed, either because of exceptional food, interesting menu or the setting and ambiance. We're otherwise happy to fend for ourself in the AMs.

    5 Replies
    1. re: OliverB

      And how does Eden at the Rimrock Resort Hotel fare?

      To be honest, I haven't been all that impressed by the photos I've seen on Tripadvisor of restaurants like The Bison, Bear Street, etc. They look like your (possibly above) average mountain resort family style restaurants where the focus is on large platings of meat. Eden looks interesting though, and I wonder if any Chowhounders can offer feedback? What's the average dinner/drink tab for two and is it strictly degustation service or can you order table d'hote as well?

      1. re: OliverB

        It's been years since I've been to Eden, but it was a wonderful experience. Fine dining, complete with sommelier and great service. Don't confuse it with Primrose, their other restaurant.

        For casual and rustic, I like the Sleeping Buffalo Restaurant and Lounge. It has a lodge style atmosphere complete with fireplaces. The cuisine is regional; they raise game on the CRMR ranch. Good for dinner. Have a look on urbanspoon for reviews and photos.

        Have you considered a drive down the road to Canmore? They have some nice places to eat too.

        1. re: Office Broccoli

          Thanks, what would you recommend in Canmore?

          I'd be fine with driving a bit if the food merits it.

          1. re: OliverB

            Trough Dining Co. would be good for dinner. For lunch, a stop at La Belle Patate perhaps. The owners are from Quebec and I enjoy their poutine. I also like Valbella for their locally made meats and meals. More for lunch or takeout.

          2. re: Office Broccoli

            I stand "corrected".....it was the Primrose where we had dinner at The Rimrock with the "average" dinner & confusion with the bill. Apologies!

      2. Oh memories of Christmas at the Banff Springs...the great thing about it is, you don't have to leave the hotel if you don't want to. We had great sushi on Christmas Eve, and a wonderful dinner at the Waldhaus (which I thought would be a cliche of raclette etc., but i ate a delicious venison pie), and quick and tasty lunches at the Castle Pantry. Also there will be lots of buffets, we had one at the Bow Valley Grill (good), and one upstairs in the ballroom (better). Try the Banffshire club, if your budget allows (mine did not).

        3 Replies
        1. re: tibbles

          Thanks Tibbles; room service is definitely on the itinerary!!

          I'm glad you mentioned Waldhaus because I love the old Swiss mountain lodge look and feel, but wasn't sure about the food. Glad to know they do rustic cooking well! I also really love the historic great lodge charm of the hotel wine bar (I think it's called Grapes) with it's rich wood panelling and magnificent views over the Canadian rockies. According to the website, it was originally established in 1926 as a writing room, and it looks frozen in time. We're planning to have at least one late afternoon lunch there; probably upon arriving on our first day. It's tough to go wrong with simple charcuterie plates and game meats in a place like that, I'm sure. Thanks for the tip on The Banffshire Club too! Hotel restaurants are usually something I avoid while travelling (we make exception for places with historic interest and vintage ambiance) but it sounds like Fairmont's doing things right in Banff!

          I'll be counting down the days until Christmas! : )

          1. re: tibbles

            Also, in terms of local spots... everyone seems to mention The Bison, The Maple Leaf and Bear Street Tavern. Are these considered a "best of Banff" roundup? Would they hold their own in a city like San Francisco or New York... or are they rated highly more in the context of the surrounding area? Is there a top pick of the bunch? And what about the touristy fondue place (Grizzly something-or-other) - best to avoid or is the fondue any good? I'd sooner go to Waldhouse for that type of meal regardless of which ranks higher because I love the setting, but I'm just curious!

            EDIT: Just checked and The Grizzly House has been around since '67 and it looks like a lot of fun! Not expecting a fantastic meal there, but it's certainly got atmosphere to spare!

            1. re: OliverB

              Actually the food is quite good at Grizzly House. The place is rather old though and everything is covered in a fine mist of grease.

          2. My wife & I spend a fair bit of time in Banff, specifically, Fairmont Banff Springs. It`s such a beautiful hotel & absolutely one of our favorite places.
            In terms of dining spots, we have dined at all the in house venues at the Fairmont excluding the Banffshire(declined to pay those prices tho` its been recommended by friends). The Bow Valley Grille was quite average, The Waldenhaus was good for a cold pint & some "pub grub" on a warm summer afternoon but nothing exceptional there. Can`t remember the name of the Italian restaurant there, very nice environment, impeccable service every time we`ve eaten there but the food? On the average considering the prices. If you`ve eaten high quality Italian cuisine anywhere, you may want to give this a "miss"
            Grapes is a warm, intimate space that we always visit over a fondue & bottle of wine. Again, stellar service but the food is kind of average.
            On a recent stay we elected to dine at Bison.......somewhat on the casual side(we prefer pristine white tablecloths!) but the food was very, very good. In fact, it was by far the best dinner we`ve ever had in Banff. I`d highly recommend Bison based on our experience.
            Places to avoid: Beaujolais.......arguably, the worst dinner we`ve ever had anywhere at a restaurant that purports to be "fine dining". Eden at the Rimrock was OK. We spent several days there(Fairmont was completely booked!), nice hotel. The dinner we had was on the average side & the server miscalculated our bill. About 11:30pm the front desk called & requested that we come down to FD to resolve the error our server had made. My response was "How about tomorrow as we are booked in for 3 more days!!" However, I digress!
            For a good breakfast I`d recommend Maple Leaf Grill downtown, the breakfasts are good tho` service can be spotty at times.
            My wife is an absolutely wonderful cook & a "foodie" so standards are fairly high.
            If I sound a little on the negative side about Fairmont Banff Springs it`s because we feel the quality of the food should be a lot higher. We`ve stayed at Fairmont Palliser in Calgary & Fairmont Whistler, both places have much better food esp. Whistler.
            Enjoy your stay in Banff, what a beautiful time of year!!
            Rich

            5 Replies
            1. re: rancher rick

              Thanks so much, Rich - that's really helpful and about what I expected from big resort dining; I appreciate your advice! We'll skip meals at the hotel with the exception of charcuterie and wine at Grapes, and perhaps a lunch at the Waldenhaus. I'll definitely add The Bison to our itinerary based on your feedback. I would like to do the Grizzly House for fondue one evening as well; just because it's purported to be the oldest establishment in the valley and looks like a lot of fun. I think we'll skip The Banffshire also because it sounds like the more expensive and formal white tablecloth dining experiences are liable to disappoint. I suppose economically it's difficult to sustain that level of dining in such a place (remote seasonal destination) without gearing wholly towards the tourist industry; that's why all of the upscale($$$) places are found within the big hotels. I would never visit Banff expecting 'Eleven Madison Park' level dining, but it sounds and looks like all of the high-end white tablecloth establishments are guaged to extract the most cash from tourists as possible without matching quality or value. For this reason, I think we'll play it safe and stick to the more casual spots. It's a shame that there aren't more locally-driven upscale establishments doing a more refined take on rustic regional terroir like you have in Quebec City for instance, at places like Panache and Le Patriarche. I'm also surprised there doesn't seem to be many (or any) quaint bistros focussed on locally sourced fish/fowl/game that *aren't* also serving giant platings of oversized fancied-up burgers to the ski bums and family crowds. Again, something like L'Echaude or the many smaller mid-range bistros found in Montreal. The surrounding environment and seasonal climate would seem like an obvious fit for that kind of cuisine and intimate space. I used to stay at the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac often when I was still in Montreal, and I suppose I'd been basing much of my expectations for Banff dining on what I'd come to know from QC. It seems like Banff is a much younger scene though. Oh well... the food comes second in a place like this and I'm sure we'll have an incredibly magical and memorable White Christmas in the mountains regardless of where we end up eating! That said... any suggestions for our remaining 2 evening meals if we're doing The Bison and Grizzly House? Anything similar to The Bison but perhaps in a more cozy/quiet space?

              Thanks again for the helpfull feedback and great tips!!

              1. re: OliverB

                Have just read your most articulate response & you have a good sense of the Banff "dining scene".
                Another spot to avoid is the Magpie & Stump which is frequented by the young ski bum crowd, not that there is anything wrong with being 20 something. I was there once! I had a meal there last May while my wife was at a conference meeting. I quickly regretted my choice. It`s TEX-Mex but not in a good way! I`ve travelled the SouthWest & love the regional interpretations there. The kitchen staff should be embarassed!
                I wish that I could recommend other places beside Bison but I really can`t offer any. There was an interesting article in the Globe & Mail last year by Ian Brown bemoaning the lack of quality dining in Banff. As you suggest, it`s a "no-brainer" for such an oustandingly beautiful environment.
                I noted your reference to QC with interest. Friends recently spent a week there at the Fairmont & sent us several texts re: wonderful dinners they had during their stay.
                If you should happen to be in Calgary for any length of time, I highly recommend The River Cafe on Prince`s Island in the urban core. Been dining there for several years, its a strong personal favorite & consistently high quality on every level.
                Again, enjoy Alberta & Banff!

                1. re: rancher rick

                  Thanks again for all of your help, Rick! It's a shame there aren't more options in the area but at least we now know what to expect; your posts were really appreciated!

                  I'll make note of The River Cafe as well since we're flying into and out of Calgary. I doubt we'll have much time to spend in the city on this trip though. We're flying out of YYC late evening on the 24th and straight into LAX to spend Christmas Day with my wife's family down in SoCal... the best of both worlds! :)

                  Cheers and Happy Holidays!

                  1. re: OliverB

                    River Cafe may be closed during that time as well.

                    1. re: cellophane_star

                      http://www.river-cafe.com/
                      At the bottom of their webpage
                      "Closed On: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and for the month of January"

            2. Earlier thread on the meats at The Bison
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/904827

              there seems to be a Banff update once or twice a year
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/893371

              1. At the Banff Springs hotel, eat at the Waldhaus Restaurant. The setting is great (so Canadian winter-esque) and the food is great too! Castello's is also great (Italian).

                I also really like the Bison for brunch, lunch or dinner and Wild Flour Cafe for casual breakfast (love their birchermuesli and healthier desserts).

                I recently attended a conference at the Banff Conference Centre (just down the road from the Springs) and really enjoyed a dinner at their Three Ravens restaurant. Anyone can eat there, not just conference attendees.

                Oh and do go to the Willow Stream spa at the hotel! The mineral baths are INCREDIBLE.

                1 Reply
                1. re: cellophane_star

                  Nice, thanks for the suggestion about Three Ravens.

                  The outdoor pool at the Banff Springs Hotel is one of the greatest places in the universe.