I'm going to give you some advice about coming to Banff. Here's the first piece: don't miss out on skiing at Lake Louise, because the views from the top of the mountain are spectacular. Here's the second piece: always bring a pair of very comfortable sweatpants in your luggage. Why would you bring a pair of very comfortable sweatpants in your luggage, you ask? Well, you may not think of Banff as an epicurean epicenter---to be honest, I really didn't---but the food here is surprisingly excellent, and you are going to be eating a lot. Why, the very first thing I did before sitting down to write this blog post just now was to change out of my skinny jeans---which were starting to cut off my blood supply around my stomach---and into some super soft and slouchy yoga pants. Take it from me, having a pair of Official Eating Trousers will come in pretty useful in Banff. And just to be on the safe side, bring them in a size larger than you wear now.
It all started, you see, with the sampling of the elk. After our ice skating adventure at the Fairmont Lake Louise, we checked into our hotel, the charming Deer Lodge. Any lingering disappointment I'd had about staying here instead of the Fairmont vanished the minute we set foot inside the cozy lobby, strolled the wood-paneled hallways, and turned the key---a real key, not a plastic card!---into our room, which looked a little like the lovechild of a suite at the W and the guest bedroom of that one really fancy relative you have.
The bed was deep and squishy, the heat was cranked up comfortably, and there was a platter of cheese and fruit and chocolate truffles awaiting us in the room, which is the sort of surprise perk I love, but am never able to be cool and blase enough about, because OMG! FREE CHEESE! FOR ME! LET'S EAT IT NOW BEFORE THEY FIGURE OUT IT WAS REALLY SUPPOSED TO GO IN JENNIFER ANISTON'S ROOM DOWN THE HALL!
Before I could inhale the entire cheese platter---trust me, I could have done it---we did a quick change of clothes (there had been something of a Rather Bad Mustard Incident earlier in the car, involving a sandwich somewhat exuberantly slathered with condiments) and headed downstairs to the hotel restaurant, the Caribou Lounge, to have dinner with a lovely woman named Jennifer, who turned out to be (and I'm sure she'll want to put this on her business card, right next to her official title) The Woman Who Had The Distinction of Introducing Us To Elk.
Jennifer, you see, ordered us a Game Platter, which consisted of elk salami, air-dried buffalo, venison ham, game pate, smoked pepper duck breast, and the wonderfully-named mustard melons, which were pretty much exactly what you'd expect them to be: melons marinated in mustard and popped into the mouth between thumb and forefinger amid sighs of satisfaction. Jennifer also brought me a Canadian wedding magazine because she'd read on my blog that I was engaged, and that---together with her insistence that we order a glass of wine as soon as we sat down---pretty much cemented my desire to move in next door to her in Calgary immediately and become her instant BFF. Tell me: is there anyone from Canada who isn't awesome? Because I can only think of Celine Dion, and you know what, even she's probably a lot of fun once she's allowed to take off her rhinestone jumpsuit and put on her Official Eating Trousers.
Dinner at the Caribou Lounge was amazing: I had warm duck confit with Belgian endive, lentil salad, and apricot chutney, followed by grilled heritage pork chops, sweet potato mash, caramelized apple and onion, and maple balsamic glaze. Sean, to his credit, continued the elk theme with roasted quail and seared foie gras to start, then grilled elk striploin with elk shank ravioli and morel mushroom glaze. We finished with a hot caramel pear puff tart with vanilla mascarpone ice cream and a double chocolate truffle and raspberry delice with a red berry medley, and if you've managed to get through that entire paragraph without salivating, you're a better woman than I am. Also, I am pretty sure that you now understand completely the need for a pair of Official Eating Trousers. Honestly, they're just as important as your passport if you're coming here.
Bright and early the next morning, we made the five-minute journey to the ski area of Lake Louise, because skiing in this part of the country, of course, is virtually unparalleled, and we wanted to have the chance to try it out for ourselves.
While Sean headed out on his snowboard, I took a private lesson with perhaps the most patient, kind, and gentle ski instructor I've ever had the pleasure of sharing a chairlift with: her name was Susan and she was from Edinburgh, and I must credit her with ridding me of several years' worth of bad skiing habits in the space of an hour and a half. It's important, I think, when you're taking a lesson with a ski instructor, that you don't feel that they're sort of secretly laughing at your lameness inside, and Susan never ever made me feel silly about how often my skis crossed in the beginning or how frequently I had to employ The Seriously Embarrassing Snowplough to get myself out of danger, and if there was some sort of medal I could give Susan for being an excellent ski instructor, I would do it in an instant. Thank you, Susan. I fell over approximately 86 percent less today because of you.
Lake Louise has four mountain faces, which adds up to about 4,200 acres of skiable terrain, and after lunch---build-your-own-pasta station for me, prime rib and roasted root vegetables for Sean; streets ahead of the usual rubbery ski lodge fare I've become used to---we did our best to cover most of them, though our legs were in danger of giving way towards the end of the day, and it was decided that hot chocolate with Baileys was the best course of action, sipped on the lodge patio overlooking the mountain where we could watch other people exerting themselves while we no longer had to.
After a quick shower back at Deer Lodge, we headed out for dinner at the Lake Louise Alpine Center, and if you click on that link, you'll probably be as befuddled as we were, because the Lake Louise Alpine Center is---of all things---a youth hostel. "BlogHer wants us to have dinner in a youth hostel?" I asked, because it seemed a little odd, but the joke turned out to be on me, because the restaurant in the youth hostel, Bill Peyto's Cafe, was excellent: cozy and warm and full of people of all ages from all over the world. I ordered a BLT, half because the charming waiter---he called me mademoiselle, how can you not love that?---told me it was particularly good, and half because I was curious as to whether it would come with Canadian bacon since we were in Canada. (Spoiler alert: it came with regular old bacon. It was also, for what it's worth, probably one of the top three BLTs I've had in my life.) (What, you don't keep a running list of all the BLTs you've ever consumed, ranked by deliciousness? Well, that's just weird.)
Possibly the most exciting thing that happened at Bill Peyto's Cafe, though, was that we finally got to order poutine, and Internet, I will have you know that we only did that because you all urged us to do it in the comments.
It was.....well, I guess I wasn't really sure what to expect, but any dish that combines french fries, cheese curds, and gravy has to at least win an award for originality, if nothing else. Also, we finished the whole plate, if that tells you anything. Which I think it probably does.