Bites at The Bison

Banff restaurant accentuates the local and sustainable

When I was in Alberta last weekend for speed skating and Alpine skiing World Cup races (and to do some skiing too), I actually did have a few free hours one afternoon. The temperatures were too bone-chilling even for me to  wander among Banff’s beguiling galleries and tempting shops. I went downtown for only one group dinner. Happily, it was worthwhile, because The Bison Restaurant and Lounge serves good food in a two-level establishment with a salumi and cheese bar on the ground floor and an upstairs restaurant and lounge separated by a wall.

The attractive restaurant features paintings hanging on putty gray walls, a sloping ceiling, slate floors, bare-wood tables, sturdy wooden chairs, an open kitchen and one wall of big windows that at this time of year look out onto a snow-covered deck that must be a summer evening delight. There is no official Slow Food convivium in Banff, but The Bison adheres to Slow Food principles. It buys as locally as possible — local extending west to neighboring British Columbia for Okanagan wines, seafood and some summer produce and east to Saskatchewan for berries and other farm products. The breads come from the  Wild Flour Bakery right next door, the crackers are Lesley Stowe’s Raincoast Crisps from Vancouver Island and instead of extra virgin olive oil, The Bison cold-presses rapeseed into its own canola oil using EV methods.

The Bison caters to groups with three limited menus. Our group was presented with a choice of two starters, three main courses and two desserts. Among us, we had each of the offerings that our waiter said are similar but not identical to a la carte selections. Our choice of house wines was between a white (Quail’s Gate Chardonnay from the Okanagan) and a red (Parducci Pinot Noir from Mendocino).

Starters

Below, attractively adorned Curried Coconut + Pumpkin Soup, with a strong curry flavor, a secondary pumpkin flavor and an undercurrent of coconut. The coconut, of course, is one exception to the local sourcing.

The House Mixed Greens provided a cornucopia of flavors, textures and colors: crisp green lettuces plus black mission figs, maple-roasted walnuts, watermelon radish, fennel and a fine Saskatoon berry vinaigrette.

Mains

A circle of color and flavor is the way The Bison plates its Pan Roasted Chicken Supreme (below). Fennel jus flows down over carrot puree and encircles it. The carrot and stewed navy beans together comprise the foundation for the boneless chicken breast that in turn is topped with a toasted almond and apple salad.

The thick-cut, grilled Alberta AAA strip loin is served atop mashed potatoes, braised winter greens, caramelized onion jus. This tall piece of meat is topped with fennel and a sprinkle of herbs for a bit of green.

Pan-seared Pacific salmon is served skin side up on a bed of braised vegetables and wild rice topped with cracked fennel butter.
To Finish
The Bison’s classic, chiffony cheesecake (below) is baked in a thick butter crumb crust and served with a fresh strawberry, a persimmon, Saskatoon huckleberry sauce and a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

A clear glass holds the chocolate pudding with raspberry chantilly cream topped with  a persimmon, and a strawberry and two chocolate chip cookies share space on the plate.
The Bison Courtyard, 211 Bear Street, Banff; 403-762-5550.

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