When you overnight at Sunshine Mountain Lodge, you can make first tracks in the morning. Or, if you wake up late, like me, and barely manage to get out of your room by the 11am checkout time, you’ll discover that you can still get a breakfast croissant at Java Lift. With enjoyable midday temps.Added bonus to sitting outside? The mochas here come with marshmallows.With the lift for Mount Standish just ten steps away, it seemed like a natural choice for the first run of the day. At the summit of Mount Standish, the clear view of the BC Rockies made our mission clear: it was a bluebird day to ride the provincial border.Turns out there’s a lift for that.As you ride up, you cross into British Columbia — the Beautiful, as their license plates say.Two towers later, you’re safely back in Wild Rose Country.These are our Alps: the Canadian Rockies.Without the drive to the hill or the gondola ride to the lifts, a half day felt like a full day. It also felt like it deserved a few beers, which, as you know, are my favorite thing to imbibe at Trappers Saloon. Or outside Trappers Saloon. A relaxing ride down Banff Avenue (a green run, although downloading on the gondola was also an option) would reunite us with our luggage at the base lodge. And with the massive snowstorms lately, the skiing should be just as satisfying right through closing day on May 19.
After a day on the slopes, should you choose to forgo your option to go home and stay at a Sunshine Mountain Lodge fantasy suite (apologies to both The Bachelor and the Lodge) … first you tub, then you dine. The hotel claims they have the largest outdoor hot tub in Banff, but I would go even further and say it’s probably the biggest in the province. With the admirable masonry of the high stone walls to block the wind, bring a brew (in a can, not glass) and sink in.After you towel off and slip into something less waterproof, there are several dining options to choose from. If you’re feeling rowdy, you can walk 20 steps from the hotel to Trappers. You can enjoy casual fare inside the Lodge at the Chimney Corner Lounge and Sports Bar. Or you can upscale your evening to the more formal Eagle’s Nest Dining Room, where the chef will start you off with an amuse bouche. We split the Caesar Salad on the excellent advice of our excellent server (Aussie, of course, like almost all the staff here), because it would have been too much for one person, if you’re intent on several courses. It had just the right amount of dressing (over-saucing is a constant dining concern for me) and an added touch of crisped pancetta.This is my Pained Blogger look as I take a shot of the Dreaded Food Porn. Normally I try to avoid it. There’s nothing I hate more than whipping out my camera during a meal. It’s just so rude! Plus my Venison Osso Bucco (incredibly tender and tasty) and Risotto is getting cold. But at the Eagle’s Nest Dining Room, the food takes center stage. Except for the lovely log beams, the room itself is not the ultimate in ambience. It doesn’t detract from the experience because the service and the food, which are top-notch, are what it’s all about. Except for when you desire a dining photo that doesn’t scream Food Blog 101.For dessert, we decided on a change of scenery, and our waitress kindly accommodated. This is when I realized the Chimney Corner Lounge is called that for a reason. The focal point of this classic ski-lodge lounge is the enormous chimney. Another intimate sitting area with a separate fireplace sprang from the same rocked-in chimney to our right. I was going to check out the other sides to see if there were even more fireplaces, but then I got too comfy, sated with the most incredible piece of chocolate cake. It could be the walnuts that made it so delicious. Or perhaps the vanilla creme on the side. I was also dazzled by the spotlight illuminating the deer so perfectly. Please excuse the lack of full reportage of the chimney situation.
Time to roll on back to our room to get a good night’s sleep for the ski out tomorrow.
For the third and final post of Girls’ Trip to Seattle, some random stuff I enjoyed around town.Craving a croissant? Head to Le Panier on Pike Place, right across from the public market. It’s worth fighting the crowds for a seat.No one’s really fighting anyhow, since everyone is in their flaky, buttery, caffeinated happy place. Nice manicure, Emily! And that LV bag would put me in a happy place even sans croissant.I’m not gonna go on about the fish tossing, since I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but Pike Place Market is also a wonderful place to pick up a bouquet of fresh flowers and locally grown eats. Walk over a few blocks and you’ll find the significant stripes that surround Banana Republic’s coolest rehab, converting the old Coliseum Theater into a retail mecca that on this occasion had some hot pink cords discounted 75% that I could not resist.Even those who claim to abhor malls, like myself, will be charmed by the University Village Shopping Centre in Seattle. Shops line the streets, while lane-ways in between are pedestrian only. Umbrella stands on every corner offer a caring nod to the reality of the ecosystem here.The ultimate proof I was in Seattle: a Microsoft Store. Located across from the Apple Store. And totally empty. Kidding! I took this photo after closing time. Still… Once you go Mac, you never go back.Besides my general mall malaise, I’m not one for chain eateries, but the Joey Restaurant Group is Canadian. Turns out Joey Kitchen has made a few forays into the Evergreen State. This is their flagship Washington location at Uni Village.With the ultimate Canadian touch inside: washrooms is Canuck for restrooms.And the Great Wheel rolls on. See you on the next spin, Seattle!
Wondering when I was going to make good on that long-lost threat to post Part Two of Seattle Girls’ Trip? Wonder no more! After a ridiculous delay, here it is. To be followed, maybe even tomorrow, by Part Three!Tucked into a corner of the Seattle Four Seasons’ art-filled lobby is ART Restaurant. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel full of ocean view rooms, the restaurant is a destination in its own right, offering a taste of that five-star service along with its tasty food.The first clue that this dining experience would be inextricably linked to the lighting was the sign.Inspired by the ferris wheel lurking outside on the Seattle waterfront, perhaps? This is the ART Lounge, which could be the definition of Mood Lighting.Waiting for your table at the bar near the soft glow of those LED-infused shelves, if you checked your coat, you’ll discover even the minor details are not minus aesthetics.As I perused the locavore menu, the green sheen in the air made sense. Any Pacific Northwest restaurant worth its west coast salt requires a market-to-table philosophy. Besides, Pike Place Market is practically right next door. Nor did I notice the subtle switch to a tangerine hue as the appetizers arrived. I was too busy inhaling the Potato Gnocchi with chanterelles and melted leeks as well as the Crazy Salad, which was not psycho but a delightful fresh mix of local greens. Home-made tortilla chips arrived in the brown paper with the sticker, which I thought was a little casual for a Four Seasons… but that didn’t stop me from wolfing them down. To the left of my wineglass, you can see the Dungeness Crab Cake Bites peeking out of the brown paper in their black pot. Heads up: they are deep-fried, which I did not expect. I prefer my Dungeness to taste like crab, not breading.It was after the appetizers were cleared that I really became obsessed with the radiance of the room. It reminded me of the spectrum lighting of the Muttart Conservatory glass pyramids in Edmonton, of all places. I used to stare down at those I. M. Pei-ish designs during desolate winter nights (that would be November through May) from my condo.Just because I have three wine glasses lined up here, don’t start thinking it was my vision. Because look! The color changed again. Back to the food. Emily, my dining companion, was in Locavore Carnivore mode, so she had the 8-ounce Beef Tenderloin but ducked out of the picture just in time. So annoying to dine with a blogger. I had the Seared Kodiak Halibut: Fennel, Miscela. Both dishes were delish.For dessert we split a Warm Cup O’ Chocolate Cake. Lovely.When the spectrum pivoted to pink…… I know it was a good time to leave, since my pants matched the current luminosity. But……before I got too smug about the tandem incandescence, it changed again.Rolling out to the steamy cityscape, I tried to resist admiring the Big Wheel, but it would become a constant thread throughout my Girls’ Weekend in Seattle. Now, after a night dining within the artful glow of ART, it seems like a perfect pairing.
If you happen to be at Raw Bar one evening, mulling the idea of dessert over a glass of Moscato, look no further than the woman on the left — the one that’s about to blow up on national television.Hotel Arts’ Pastry Chef Karine Moulin will hit the airwaves this Monday, as the fourth season of Top Chef Canada starts its weekly run on the Food Network. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Karine says of the culinary battle against 13 other chefs on the show. “It was a really tough competition.”Why did she choose the pastry profession? “I really enjoy the sweeter side of things,” says Karine, who was raised in Quebec. “I grew up always having something sweet after every meal, so it’s ingrained in me, I think.”Karine does the desserts for both restaurants at Hotel Arts. The dishes for Yellow Door Bistro are French-influenced, like the I’le Flottante above. Desserts for Raw Bar, like this Valhrona Dark Chocolate Pate, are Asian-inspired. That would be the lychee salad on top and the mandarin sorbet, if you’re wondering. And good to know that Katie Mayer, Hotel Arts Marketing & Media Relations Manager, isn’t above a little photo bomb action.Hand painted truffles, served at both restaurants, will help you wash down that wine. Come down yourself Monday nights. Raw Bar will be hosting weekly viewing parties for Top Chef Canada, which airs at 7pm Calgary time. Bon appetit!
With an icy nod to a species of the verge of extinction (Bus and Stan Fuller’s former decor mascot) Earl’s Tin Palace re-opened last night in Calgary, with an invitation-only VIP bash. With our weather right now, that sculpture should be good for weeks.
Normally I wouldn’t get overly excited about an Earls opening. The casual food and dining chain opens another restaurant every few months these days, both in Canada and the US. With their reliable, reasonably priced food and tasteful ambience (now that the parrots have flown the coop) it’s always a safe bet. But this particular Earls has a special place in my heart, because it’s in the heart of Mission, one of my favorite areas of Calgary.This is what Earls looked like after the June 2013 flood hit Fourth Street.This is the same corner (24th Ave and 4th St SW) from Fifth Street. I couldn’t get any closer because it was under several feet of water. Summer was ruined for the vibrant neighborhood. As work dragged on through the winter, I can’t tell you how many times people said to me, “Let’s meet at Earls Tin Palace.” But we couldn’t. It was still rebuilding after the flood.So last night, it was wonderful to walk in side and see this. A standing room only crowd having a fantastic time, while admiring the updates. The tired rows of Bombay Sapphire bottles above the bar are gone. Subtle bricks and wood accented by industrial style lighting give the room a fresh take.Calgary’s finest partiers included a Mongolian horseman, aka Jason Gogo.An army of Earls Girls kept up with the crowd hungry for sushi and sliders from their favorite haunt, now a Kitchen + Bar.The Earls re-opening ended up being a celebration of the big picture: Mission, back on its feet. Calgary, taking care of its own during the flood. My dear friend Cynthia Moore rocking blue leopard print after almost losing her life to flesh-eating disease one year ago this week. And me, with my nose intact after cancer surgery one year ago this month. Not to mention a few drinks in honor of the Best New Blog honor. Glad to see you back, Earls Tin Palace!
The next day it was time to say goodbye to Buffalo Mountain Lodge, part of Canadian Rockies Mountain Resorts’ collection of rustic lodges and contemporary restaurants. Tucked away on Tunnel Mountain, even with free wifi and parking, the lodge seemed miles away from civilizaton. Yet it’s just a five-minute drive to the hustle and bustle of Banff Avenue.Although your commute may be extended if you slow down for wild animal photo ops, which are almost guaranteed when you go to Banff.In the charming mountain town of Banff, on the corner of Bear and Caribou (most of the streets in town are named for animals) you’re positioned to begin Romantic Activity #6: Gallery Tour.At Canada House Gallery, they have an enormous selection of works by Canadian artists. After 40 years the gallery is still a powerful presence in the Canadian art scene. Many buyers drive in from Edmonton or Calgary to Banff, not for the ski hills, but the art.Even though I’m a sucker for any art featuring a horse, look carefully at the paintings in the background. They’re a sneak peek from the Animal Farm reception at the gallery this Saturday, Feb.8. Painter Grant Leier will be in attendance. Further down Bear Street you’ll find the Willock and Sax Gallery, which carries Western Canadian art, focusing on our fine Alberta artists. And in the other direction is the Whyte Museum. Which I fully intend to visit one day.If you’re running out of time, like we were, keep your eyes peeled for the public art sprinkled throughout Banff. Currently, some displays are more patriotic in nature. Yeah!Even if you’re rushing to hit the highway, you can still carve out time for a coffee from Wild Flour Bakery, since it too is on Bear Street. Not only do their goodies taste delicious (I recommend the mint Nanaimo bar: not too creamy, not too minty, with a thick layer of solid chocolate on top and a bottom layer that doesn’t flake apart. Can you tell I’m a connoisseur? I have to be! I grew up a short ferry ride away from Nanaimo) they are all kinds of gluten-free, vegan and artisan.
On Day 2 of our romantic retreat to Banff, it was beautiful — and almost unbearably cold. Suddenly, admiring the view from Room 1108 at Buffalo Mountain Lodge…… ,with its lofty timber ceiling, seemed more important than going snowboarding. Definitely more romantic. But you can only stare at the ceiling for so long. What’s a winter trip to Banff without a trip to the skihill? Even if it’s -18 Celsius at the base, not counting windchill? Surely there’s something romantic about facing frigid adversity together.At Sunshine Village, this snowboarder sucks back some nicotine to face the day. However, in keeping with the gondola theme of Banff Romance, I’m going to recommend heading into the building on the left. Located ten steps from the gondola, the base lodge has super-hot coffee and a nice selection of muffins and sandwiches. Which works out well, because the gondola ride is the perfect length to enjoy a coffee and a muffin.After the gondola, we opted to get on the Angel Express quad, which sails past the Bra Tree. Note to self: stock up on colorful skivvies before Valentine’s Day.It was a good day to be a panda. That suit had to offer some extra protection against the extreme cold.A sign helpfully reminds skiers that there are other, warmer places in the world. But it was time for Romantic Activity #4: Snowboarding. So I took a few runs in the name of love. Care to join us, Bono?With the lack of fresh snow recently, I was surprised to find the groomers weren’t icy at all. Even still, the ridiculously cold temperatures drove us inside after just a few runs. In the Day Lodge, I tried to re-hydrate, but the cashier wanted me to pay 25 cents for the paper cup. I didn’t have a quarter. I didn’t see any water fountains. The cashier took a hard line on my lack of coinage and refused to give me the tap water. Is that even legal?
Skiers paying $85 to ski Sunshine Village should have a free water option. Put out some jugs and plastic glasses, Sunshine.
A few days after this was posted, Sunshine’s Director of Sales & Marketing emailed me to say: “We have since followed up with our staff to remind this is NOT our policy.”
With a bad taste left in my mouth from the Day Lodge (literally!) we chose Mad Trappers for lunch (pictured above). Located in a classic old log-cabin near four lifts, it’s a wonderful place to get a beer and contemplate your next run. Even while you’re still wearing your jacket and toque. Because on a day like this one, there’s just no point taking it off.A few wisps of clouds marred my perfect view of the Rockies. Better stop taking photos and start riding. Because no matter what the temperature may be, any day spent on a snowboard is a good day!Back at Buffalo Mountain Lodge, even the roaring fire in the lobby lounge, with alcohol in close proximity, couldn’t keep me from…… Romantic Activity #5: Winter Hot Tubbing. The nice thing about this one is Buffalo Mountain Lodge has the hooks for your towels and robes inside a little room just steps from the tub. Very important when the temperature is still plunging.After a day facing the elements, the last thing we wanted to do was fight them to find dinner. Luckily the Sleeping Buffalo Restaurant at the lodge, allowing us to dine under beams untainted by nails. (Really! It’s an old-fashioned construction thing.) To start, we nibbled on the Charcuterie Board, a Banff bonanza of Elk Salami, Smoked Buffalo, Smoked Peppered Duck Breast and Wild Boar Pâté (to die for), among other things. For my entree, I had the rack of lamb, cooked just the way I like it, medium rare. Nice, but not mind-blowing. Next time I think I’ll try the Northern Caribou. The seared medallions of meat are a house specialty.
With V-Day hot and heavy on the horizon, Banff is a serene place to cool your jets in the interim. Designated a United Nations World Heritage Site in 1995, Canada’s first national park always offers an incredible experience — whether you live close by in Calgary or on the opposite side of the world. Romantic Activity #1: take your sweetie to Sulphur Mountain. The gondolas fit four people, but if they’re not too busy you won’t have to share the ride with strangers. Hashtag: Room For Romance! Taking the gondola is touristy, but fun. You can hike up instead, but when would you cuddle with your significant other? Plus, there’s a Starbucks conveniently located at the bottom, in case you need a toasty beverage while you float up 2,292 feet. I probably should have gotten one to keep my jaw from dropping at the view. At the top, a vista of six mountain ranges awaits. Looks like the golf course down at Fairmont Springs is awaiting a good thaw.I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say this is probably the only mountain summit boardwalk you’ll find in the Canadian Rockies. If you’re not up for braving the cold, there’s a restaurant and a cafe in the gondola station. And, of course, a gift shop.But if you do take the one kilometer-long Summit Walk, not only will you discover signage pointing out which peaks you are peeking at…… you’ll make it to the Cosmic Ray Station. Back before being a meteorologist was a glamorous TV news gig, Norman Bethune Sanson climbed Sulphur Mountain (named for the hot springs on its lower slopes) on snowshoes in 1896 to record weather observations for the Banff area. Then he was hooked. He hiked up the steep three-mile trail over a thousand times over the next thirty years.After that rocky mountain high, it was time for the hotel. I empathized with the ice sculpture upon check-in, but the Buffalo Mountain Lodge offers one of the best warm-ups in Banff.Thawing options (aka Romantic Activity #2: apres-Gondie) include a full-size claw-foot tub on a heated slate floor…… and a wood-burning fire. When we arrived, paper and kindling was ready to light in the fireplace. With extra wood just outside the front door if you need it. For Romantic Activity #3: Dinner, I returned to an old flame to get my full-on foodie on ~ the Bison. Sourcing many of their ingredients from local farmers, the restaurant takes its inspiration from the region. After an afternoon sourcing my warmth from the heart instead of the temperature, there was no energy left over for in-depth menu perusal. Ordering the bison at Bison seemed like the right thing to do. And it was. Prepared in the open copper kitchen, the Carmen Creek Bison Ribeye was a massive slab of meat of smoky, saucy deliciousness. The lean bison meat was marbled and flavorful. And necessary to fuel us through Day 2, when we will face the choice of snowboarding in sub -20 temperatures or staying by that wood-burning fire. Stay tuned.
Happy New Year! Blue Besos is starting the year with a travel blast. Future posts will feature dining out in Vancouver, a Seattle girls’ trip and snowboarding in Revelstoke, but first let’s partake in some tropical thunder. Maui is one of the most beautiful places on earth. If your vacation brain has enough juice to plan a few day trips in between those pineapple-soaked cocktail umbrellas, you’ll have the holiday of a lifetime. If you can drag yourself out of bed early enough (perhaps you’re a morning person and this isn’t an issue for you, but a deep love of sleep is my nemesis) a lava hike is a lovely way to start the day. Drive til the end of the road in South Maui. At La Perouse Bay, known for great snorkelling, there’s a lava field that stretches for miles, from the last eruption on Maui. Haleakala Volcano blew her top back in 1490, or 1790, depending on who you talk to. Walking through it is like taking a walk on the moon, except with gravity. Or maybe Saturn. The loose lava rocks on the path are potential ankle busters, so you have to keep an eye on your feet, which is a challenge, because at this time of year the whales are going crazy, jumping out of the water and in general just trying to distract you. Also, be on the lookout for the random goat that crossed my path.Jawz food truck is perfectly positioned for your lava-induced appetite just ten minutes up Makena Alanui Road. A dude from North Idaho, who’s been known to snowboard in Alberta when he’s not hanging loose, serves up fish and shrimp tacos. To be clear, he wasn’t hanging loose over the taco fixings. They weren’t the best tacos in the world, but with some BYO Coronas to wash ‘em down, they’re like a mirage come true.Conveniently located right across the road from the taco truck is my favorite beach on Maui. So far. A long, treed path separates Big Beach from the well-maintained free parking lot. It’s also one of the few beaches I’ve seen with lifeguards, who occasionally make ominous announcements via loudspeakers about the spinal injury potential of body surfing.Besides the super-soft sand and the snorkeling along the edges of this cove, the lovely thing about this beach is that it is in a state park, which means no hotels or condos along the shore. The only thing looming behind you is a cliff dotted with trees.But if the absence of beach bars makes you miss the party, there’s one in the cove next door! Accessible by scrambling over a narrow cliff path, Little Beach is a favorite with the clothing-optional crowd…… and the drum circle on Sundays.Back on Big Beach, which empties out quickly at the end of the day, the sun sets over Kaho’olawe, a truly uninhabited island.Next, stroll through the zen front entrance of the newest luxury hotel on the beachfront boardwalk, Maui Andaz, a short drive north in Wailea. Worth walking through just to appreciate the Miami-meets-onsen design aesthetic…… it’s even better if your final destination includes Chef Morimoto’s most recent restaurant in his current world takeover (watch out, Wolfgang). Set poolside between the hotel and the beach, Morimoto Andaz opened in Fall, 2013. Behind that locally sourced tuna and softshell crab rolls is a sake tasting. Oyshi.If the sake gives you a thirst for dramatically lit photo shoots, pause to ponder the infinity pool’s lava rock wall. And check back for mmmore of my favorite Mmmaui days.