March 3, 2012

Dîner Amical
Fairmont Palliser Hotel

Calgary, Alberta

March 3, 2012

While all Chaine Dîner Amicals are carefully planned and professionally executed, every now and again a particular event will shine very brightly in the experience, sparkle in the retelling, and glow in the memory.  The Calgary Bailliage was privileged to experience just such a singular presentation at the Fairmont Palliser Hotel on March 3, 2012.  Our hosts, General Manager Dan McGowan, Executive Chef, Greg van Poppel, and the Maitre d’ Neil Reimer went far more than the extra mile to make sure the evening would be an outstanding success.

Chef van Poppel took as his theme the bounty that can be foraged, gathered, hunted or fished in the varied natural environments encompassed in the Canadian countryside.  Throughout the evening, the natural ambiance of the Ballroom was embellished by slide presentations featuring the ingredients central to each plate in their natural state, the landscape that had produced the accompanying wine, and the natural beauty of the location featured.  Each course had its own set of images, and the lighting in the room underwent subtle changes to enhance each experience.

The champagne reception featured three taste-pleasing hors d’oeuvres;  lobster garnished with caviar in a tiny puff of choux paste, poached pear and brie on a dense, grainy base, and steak tartare in an elegant pastry case.

Once seated at the table, review of the menu hinted at the experience to come.  Each course was named for the geographical context of the main ingredient.  Many of the wines were fine examples of Canadian production.  The descriptions of the dishes were enticing.  Keen anticipation was kindled.


Ocean and Embers
Smoked Pacific Salmon
Sweet Red Spinach and Fennel Salad, Kefir, Cedar Embers

The delicate smoked salmon, with its bubble of Kefir and garnish of sustainably produced Divine sturgeon caviar and toasted pine nuts, was accompanied by a small dish containing a cedar branch and cedar shavings over a very hot stone, which provided a subtle aroma designed to heighten the diners’ experience, and stimulate conversation.  The wine chosen to accompany this delicate dish was Tantalus Riesling 2010, Okanagan, which paired very well.

Haida Gwaii
Hecate Strait Sablefish, Tubers and Clams
Cloudberry Reduction

This course featured line-caught fish and clams from British Columbia.  The fish could not have been more perfectly prepared, with meltingly tender flesh and crispy, well-seasoned skin.  The bed of potatoes, crunchy crosnes and micro parsley root was punctuated by plump little clams, all surrounded by a cloudberry and red wine reduction.  Haywire Pinot Gris 2010, Okanagan, did not overpower the delicate flavors on the plate, and complimented the profile.

Woodland Forest
Foraged Mushrooms with Roots and Leaves
Several Walnut Accompaniments

Tremendous attention to detail was obvious in this beautiful salad.  There were five varieties of foraged mushrooms from British Columbia, including Yellowfoot, Hedgehog, Bluefoot, Maitake and Hon Shimeji Brown and White.  A whisper of air-dried beef leant a smoky, salty note.  Tiny, sweet, whole radish, leek, carrot and beet graced the plate.  Delicate leaves of borage, silver sorrel, red frill mustard, nasturtium and hearts on fire met the contrasting flavors and textures of walnut emulsion, cream, pudding and smoked glazed pieces.  Tantalus Pinot Noire 2009, Okanagan, completed the picture.

Tidal Pool
Icy Spot Prawn Broth
Citrus-Ginger Gelée, Uni

This was an original, unique and daring palate cleanser.  The chef took his inspiration from the tidal pools that can be found all along the British Columbia coastline.   Visually stunning, the almost-frozen broth shimmered over brightly flavored gelée and uni, with the intention of invoking the freshness of the sea while cleansing the palate.

Boreal Fringe
Chukar Partridge and Bacon Tempura
Toasted Grains, Braised Shallots

Leaving the West coast and moving on to central Alberta, this interactive dish featured butter-poached sous vide partridge breast and confit leg meat, accented with poached pear, wrapped in bacon, and finished in a veil of crispy tempura.  Delicious partridge jus was hidden in the serving vessel under the partridge; diners were instructed to tip the contents onto the quinoa pilaf, thus obviating any danger of soaking the delicate crust.  The plate was accented with crunchy puffed barley and wild rice, and tender rings of slow-cooked shallot.  North Valley Pinot Noir 2009, Willamette Valley, brought a strong note as a pairing.

Rocky Mountain Country
Slow Roasted Loin of White Tail Deer
Crispy Potato, Pumpkin, Spice Trails

The fine texture and lean savory flavor of slow-roasted Alberta venison was supported by pureed Red Kuri Squash, pumpkin oil, and spiced venison jus.  A crunchy potato garnish provided textural counterpoint, and ‘trails’ of candied orange zest, salt spiced with star anise, clove and licorice root, and a mixture of Cubeb, Long Black and Penja White peppers contributed bright notes.  Clos du Soleil Bordeaux Blend 2007, Smilkameen Valley was a rare treat as a pairing.

Fromagerie du Presbytère
Organic blue d’éÉlizabeth
Study in Apple, Brioche

This raw milk cheese from Quebec was a wonderful treat for lovers of blue cheese.  Intensely-flavored apple confit and a salad of mache and arugula dressed with an apple verjus vinaigrette and sweet organic apple juice reduction complimented the cheese to perfection.  The very pale Jakoby “Pur” Riesling Spatlese 2008, Kinheimer Rosenberg, was unique in itself, and an excellent pairing with this course.

Early Spring Garden
Guanaja Chocolate Soil
Flavors of Strawberry, Hazelnut Tuile
Verbena and Hyacinth Vapors

Once again Chef van Poppel chose to enhance the pleasure of the course with an aromatic element.  A bowl containing lemon verbena tisane and hyacinth blossoms provided a light fragrance to compliment a stellar dessert.  Guanaja chocolate crumble created the base for an intensely flavored strawberry frozen gel that had been sprayed with chocolate to form a fragile, delicately textured shell.  Topped with a hazelnut tuile and soft strawberry meringue, the plate was accented with candied lemon verbena leaves and small cubes of sugared jelly.  Domaine Madeloc Banyuls Robert Pages, Roussillon was a delight in itself, and a compliment to the dish.


A classic ending to a decidedly forward-looking meal, small marzipan animals decorated a presentation of chocolates and praline.

Throughout the entire meal, the service was exemplary.  Friendly and well-informed wait-staff presented the dishes smartly, cleared promptly and politely, and were ready to assist at any moment.  Quietly present but never intrusive, the servers comported themselves with excellence.  Plates acknowledging outstanding effort were presented to Executive Sous-Chef Sukant Dakua, and Assistant Banquet Manager Neil Reimer, who oversaw the service for the evening.

Echanson Vincent Parkinson was moved to declare, during his accolade, that every course, one by one, was undoubtedly his favorite of the evening.  His praise of the service, the meal, and the entire experience was enthusiastic and sincere.  We are all grateful for the continuation of our Bailliage’s long and happy association with the Fairmont Palliser Hotel.

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