Saturday, July 31, 2010

One Thing I’ve Learned . . .

whether the food is good or bad, restaurant meals in Canada are expensive.

[Kate] Knowing that we were going to an exclusive resort area where everything is expensive, I did some pre-trip research looking for “cheap eats.” While I didn’t find anything cheap, I did stumble on a web site called Taxi Mike’s Guide to Banff and one of his lunch recommendations was a restaurant called The Rose & Crown. Taxi Mike described this place as: “Nice casual pub with a great variety of Canadian and British dishes. Lunch there is always great! Huge Fish & Chips. Same menu for dinner including Fish & Chips and Shepherd’s Pie... Canadian style! There is a Rooftop patio with spectacular views. Also Live entertainment seven nights a week. Blues, Reggae, Funk, Pop. Dancing encouraged! It's where the locals’ go!“ A quick review of the on-line menu indicated that there would be enough items to pique both of our appetites.

You reach the restaurant by walking up a long and steep flight of stairs. Once you arrive huffing and puffing, you find yourself in a large square room with the center containing a smaller square holding the bar, kitchen, restrooms, etc. The décor could best be described as pub traditional with dark woodwork and a very low ceiling. Thinking that we wanted to eat outside, we took another long and steep flight of stairs up to the rooftop patio. All of the umbrella tables were occupied, and without cover, the roof was too hot and too sunny. Down the stairs we went to the bar area.

My dining companion was having trouble deciding what to order. First he looked at the appetizer menu and thought that he wanted the Sliders Italiano—spicy Italian sausage braised with fresh peppers, onions, and tomato then stuffed with aged cheddar inside of toasted baguette towers. With the sliders, he was planning to order the sweet potato fries served with basil cucumber mayo. If this was to be his lunch, then I would order the Button Bones—marinated bone-in pork bites tossed with lime and rock salt and accom-panied by fresh veggies and ranch for dipping. Or did he want the Fish & Chips (Alaskan ice water fish coated in beer batter and fried and served with fries), house-made Cole slaw and home-made tartar sauce. Or would it be the Shepherd’s Pie—seasoned ground beef and vegetables topped with a potato crown and covered with gravy. So he asked our server. Should he order the fish and chips or the shepherd’s pie? The recommendation was to get the shepherd’s pie—the server’s favorite dish on the menu.

Personally, I think he should have ordered the fish and chips. The shepherd’s pie was a large serving filled with ground beef, peas, corn, celery, carrots, and onions in a beef gravy. But the beef and/or gravy had been seasoned with some peppery spice that had a raw harsh taste and that had given the gravy a reddish tint. When I asked the server what the seasoning was, he didn’t know nor did he volunteer to find out. He eats this and doesn’t know what’s in it?

I, on the other hand, was luckier. I started with a small salad of red and green leaf lettuce with cherry tomatoes and cucumbers and the lime dill dressing. The dressing had a faintly sweet flavor and had more lime than dill, where I would have preferred more dill than lime.

But it was my lunch entrée (ordered from the appetizers list) that was the hit of the meal. Called Mussels Diablo, it was a bowl of thirteen plump and fresh Prince Edward Island mussels in a spicy chipotle cream with peppers, tomato, garlic slivers, and red onion. This was served with garlic bread which helped me sop up every drop of the spicy briny, mussel-infused broth. This was outrageously good.

For dessert, we shared a slice of the deep dish apple pie. The crust, rather than being a traditional rolled crust, was more like a shortbread. On top of this was a thin layer of custard followed by layers of apples and raisins and covered with a crumb topping and caramel drizzles.

So how did Taxi Mike do? My mussels rate 5.0 Addies, the pie rates 4.0 Addies, but Chuck’s shepherd’s pie only merits 3.0 Addies.

[Chuck] Before leaving the Rose and Crown, we noted the activity taking place outside the restaurant at Banff's main intersection. This seemed to be a popular location for photographs.

The town has a population of just under 9,000, but given that about four million people visit Banff National Park annually and hiking, mountaineering, and skiing are popular sports in the area, I would bet that the population more than doubles during many a weekend. The 135 rooms of the Mount Royal Hotel could accommodate many of these visitors.

Mount Rundle (elevation of 9,675 feet), shown behind the Balkan restaurant, is one of several mountains surrounding Banff, which, itself, is located at an elevation of 4,537 feet.

Banff is a very walkable town with its share of souvenir shops, bike and ski rental businesses, and restaurants (even McDonald's) interspersed among the high-end retail boutiques.

Cascade Mountain (9,836 feet) presents an imposing presence, as it seems to prevent any access to or egress from the town. It was named in 1858 by James Hector after the waterfall or cascade on the southern flanks of the peak, but I was trying to imagine how the mountains around Banff would look in the winter when ski runs covered portions of the almost 8,000 acres of skiable terrain.

A third major mountain, Sulphur Mountain (elevation 7,484 feet) seemed to serve as a wall at the southern edge of the town.

We had just come through the prairie of Montana and southern Alberta and had been enthralled with the Big Sky Country, but the majestic Canadian Rockies presented an entirely different king of attraction for us.

The weather was sunny with big puffy clouds and about 75 degrees.

As it turned out, we had chosen the perfect day to make the trip into Banff--the town and the park--because the next four days were overcast and rainy.

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