May 3, 2008

Dîner Amical, Chateau Lake Louise

May 3, 2008

Mel Miners, Vice-Chargé de Presse

Under the direction of Executive Chef Felix Pfister, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hosted 29 members and guests of the Calgary Baillage for a Dinner Amical on Saturday, May 3, 2008. Guests included Monica Meier, guest of Norbert Meier, Roger Smith and Jaqueline Holmes, guests of Robert Savin, and Dr. John Gibson, guest of Priscilla Wilson. David Roberts, Fairmont Regional Vice-President Rocky Mountains and General Manager of the Banff Springs, Robert Flatt, Director Food and Beverage at the Chateau, Guy Bittner, Food and Beverage Manager at the Chateau, Tamara Quinn, Assistant Food and Beverage Manager at the Chateau, and Mayah Alima, Director of Human Resources at the Chateau, represented Fairmont.

The dinner was held in the spacious, well-appointed Victoria Room that through its floor to ceiling west windows had a commanding view of the still-frozen Lake Louise and the awe-inspiring Victoria Glacier. Three long tables, positioned in parallel and located evenly in the room, comfortably accommodated the attendees and allowed each participant to enjoy the vista. From its position in the centre of the east side wall, the sizeable Chaine banner, finally located in a venue of proportionate size, oversaw the nattily attired assembly. Given the dimensions of the space, it was pleasantly surprising to discover that each of these tables provided a level of intimacy that enhanced, but was only a prelude to, the social nature of the evening.

Upon entering the room, guests were offered a glass of non-vintage Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catherine Brut from the Niagara Region of Ontario. This very fine example of Canadian sparkling wine, effervescent with a very fine mousse, not only invigorated the palate but also became a perfect foil for the subsequent hors d’oeuvres. Attentive but not overbearing servers offered a triumvirate whose bite sized portions did not induce the guests to demonstrate the oftentimes awkward wine glass – napkin – hors d’oeuvres balancing act while engaged in a dazzling tête-à-tête. (Ladies have the added complexity of an evening purse unceremoniously embedded in one of the free armpits.)

Peppered Bison Tenderloin Carpaccio and a caper gherkin remoulade with crispy yam straw, Nova Scotia Lobster Wrap with enoki mushrooms, granny smith apples, and Indian spiced crème fraiche, and Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna Loin with soy-mirin dip, wasabi aioli on an Asian spoon made the first forays in curbing appetites developed from the day’s vigorous lake side slogs.

Once seated it became apparent that the approach of spring was the theme of the dinner. A simple, yet elegant, bouquet of astrameria of unimposing height, adorned each table without creating the often seen unintentional camouflaging of opposite seated diners. A cleverly created first course of Nage of British Columbia Nettles with a poached egg and a slice of wild boar bacon presented in a unique, white, three-sided bowl provided a colour contrast that immediately invoked the image of a spring flower. Comments about this course described it as innovative and with a great depth of flavour. The Cuvee Catherine successfully carried through this course by offsetting the saltiness of the bacon.

A Rabbit and King Oyster Mushroom Terrine with apple charlotte, served on a distinctive wave shaped plate, arrived next. The terrine, created with a rabbit and chicken stock gel, was obviously a very labour intensive creation which included such elements as trumpet mushroom wrapped rabbit pieces. The warmth of the apple charlotte contrasted pleasingly with the coolness of the terrine. A premier cru Chablis, 2004 Domaine Laroche Vaucopins, was a fabulous choice for this dish. This was an elegant wine, without excess acid, exhibiting typical flint and mineral aromas.

As the sun began setting behind Mount Victoria and the natural light in the room began to fade, the bouquets were replaced by candelabras that seemed to elevate the elegance of the event. But everyone’s attention was soon focused on glasses of 2006 Einaudi Dolcetto Di Dogliani, a relatively young, medium bodied wine with aromas of raspberry and black cherry from Piedmont. The tannins in the wine provided an early clue that the next dish would require some saltiness to provide appropriate balance. Maintaining a comfortable pace to the meal, the servers soon presented a dish of Potato Gnocchi, Tomato and Sea Urchin Casserole with veal tongue carpaccio and rucola pistou. As expected, the saltiness of the sea urchin and grains of sea salt on an accompanying cracker ring allowed the dish to pair favourably with this wine. Perhaps the only criticism of the evening was that in the opinion of some, the gnocchi might have been slightly overcooked.

The lemon-like citrus flavour of the Yuzo Sorbet – Fennel Float prepared our palates and heightened our expectations for the main course. It may be useful to point out that at this point in the evening, most diners allowed the service staff to generously replenish wine glasses without protest. These libations certainly increased our appreciation for the theme of spring in our meal, but undeniably decreased the spring in our steps.

The Joseph Drouhin Cote de Beaune Villages from the tremendous vintage of 2005, was a great partner for the symmetrical presentation of Espelette Pepper Dusted Seared Duck Magret slices held up by a lone pearl onion, all resting on a bed of all spice-braised yam and accompanied with a bigarade sauce. Rarely have breasts looked so good on a bed, but if opposition to the production of foie gras increases, the site may indeed become less frequent.

After the main course the candelabras disappeared only to be replaced with a chocolate sculpture of spring flowers extending from a painter’s palette and highlighted with a large, white chocolate bloom. It was simply brilliant and further amplified the theme of spring while providing a segue to the dessert course of Dark Chocolate and Coconut Delice, Raspberry Sorbet, Passion Fruit Beurre Blanc paired with Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage Port. This can be considered a traditional food wine pairing that utilizes the intense fruit flavours and berry aromas of the port to harmonize with the character of the dessert.

At this point Chef Pfister’s staff entered the room to a much deserved, rousing, standing ovation. Unanimously, the appreciative members hoisted their glasses to toast the fine effort of the staff. During the accolades much praise was given for the marvelous setting, flawless service, and skillfully prepared and creatively presented meal. Special mention was made of the exceptional wine selections that complemented every dish superbly. As is the tradition of the Chaine, and as a token of appreciation, plates were presented to Executive Chef Felix Pfister and to Director of Banquets Rhonda Frazee.

In a special twist to the customary format of a Dinner Amical, the members and guests then retired to an adjacent sitting room to enjoy the Chef’s Cheese Reception. An assortment of Blue Benedictine, Petit Chabichou, Tipperary Cheddar, Le Cendre des Pres, and Manchego cheeses along with Fig Orange Compote, Mustard Seed Compote, and Walnut Baguettes competed with additional glasses of port for attention. The evening’s convivial atmosphere extended effortlessly to the Reception and most of the group became absorbed in lively conversation around the fire. However, defying unreasonable provincial statutes that forbid the satisfaction of concluding a memorable evening with a fine Cohiba while indoors, several courageous members risked reputation and honour by puffing away in an adjoining room. Simply scandalous but well done! The reputation of Calgary Bailliage was not besmirched.

In summation, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise not only satisfied, but it surpassed the expectations of this well seasoned group of connoisseurs. The Baillage should definitely consider this venue for future dinners.

Terry Gudzowsky

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