Food and Travels08 Apr 2010 06:04 pm

Friends of ours happen to live in Lake Louise. This idyllic town is about an hour west of Banff, and consists of a large ski resort, a few hotels, two gas stations and a small strip mall and Parks Canada visitors centre. What it lacks in amenities it makes up for in personality and views.

The friends, Connor and Madlen, met while working at the Post Hotel, one of the finest hotels in Alberta. Connor was a chef at the restaurant and Madlen worked at the hotel. A few years later, they’ve ended up back in Lake Louise under similar circumstances, and asked us to come visit for Easter…particularly to take advantage of the incredible holiday buffet the hotel puts on. I am not a buffet person in general, but I was looking forward to this one based on the rave reviews I had received.

Madlen obtained reservations for our group months in advance, and we arrived for the 11:30 seating a bit early. The dining room was just being prepped, so we took some time to admire the holiday decor in the hotel. It’s a Relais & Châteaux property, so it offers amazing service and amenities. The Post has been open since 1942, originally owned by a British man. It was a sort of ski outfitting lodge, but was popular in all seasons. In 1978 the hotel was sold to a pair of Swiss brothers who retain ownership today. They were circulating the dining room when we arrived, and were on very familiar and friendly terms with many of the guests that day, most of which seemed like frequent visitors.

Chocolate and sugar Easter displays. There were little edible treats scattered throughout.

A floral carnation rabbit and egg tree.

The main lobby had a seating area that I think overlooked a skating rink. It was a bit too warm to go skating while we were in Lake Louise, unfortunately.

I found the hotel cozier, more friendly and with better service than the hyped Fairmont hotels that dot the Rockies. The buffet just sealed the deal.There are a few seatings, which ensures fresh items at each one, and maintains an excellent ratio of diners to servers as well as diners to buffet table frontage. It can be hard to jockey for position at most buffets, and you are expected to move along as if in a cattle line.

There were a few main sections to the buffet: seafood, charcuterie, hot items and dessert. That is definitely over simplifying, however, as the proof was in the pudding. And was that pudding well executed and very, very special.

I’ll let my 36 photos tell the story.

Wide range of European breads, breakfast pastries like danishes alongside pretzels and croissants. To the right, a server was on hand to spoon out a rich-smelling cream of mushroom soup.

Roasted vegetables including asparagus, squash, peppers and eggplant. Salads included Caprese, a few kinds of noodle, pasta. Sprinkled throughout were dressings, marinated olives and numerous other condiments I know I missed.

More salad photos as the section moves into the fish and seafood.

The buffet featured a huge selection of well presented seafood. In fact, that, coupled with the cold cuts and meat trays, were what I considered the strengths of this buffet. The crab was all pre-cracked and the meat was easy just to strip out of the legs.

Lobster morsels and claw meat, with jellied crayfish.

Sugar decor mixed with fresh flowers and carved fruits and vegetables as well as an ice sculpture.

Rainbow trout. Many of the displays were pure art. Other fish for the taking included smoked bass (which was one of the highlights of the meal) and salmon. Lots of salmon.

The oysters were incredibly popular. I’m not sure what kind they were, perhaps Kusshi, as they were a bit smaller and had a very crisp taste. They were also cleaned extremely well. Not a speck of sand in any of the several I ate.

In addition to the oysters there were many sauces and condiments to add to them, or the other seafoods nearby. Curry mayonnaise, mignonette, basil vinaigrette and just plain lemons were some of the ones I remember.

While there was a large selection of sushi and sashimi, I did not care for the piece of tuna I tried (I found it a bit tough and dry) so I stayed clear of most of it. It could have been a mistake, but there were so many other amazing things to eat, I did not miss it. As far as I’m concerned the sushi was the only (small) misstep at the meal.

Connor and Mike’s first plates. They had a strategy: to stick to Atkins style eating, avoiding filling starches.

My second plate, with some hot items, and a lot of protein, including a cabbage wrapped pate (far right), and going clockwise: oyster, venison slice, herbed shrimp, lobster meat, a delicious slice of tender beef and potato gratin.

The hot items were very limited: beef tenderloin sliced to order, eggs benedict, rice, steamed vegetables, halibut in cream sauce and potatoes gratin. However the items were all fresh and were not left to remain cooking in the chafing dishes long.

The charcuterie blew me away. I forgot to ask Connor how many days they began prepping all of the meats, but it had to have been busy in the kitchen. Pâté en croute at centre, with cornish game hens, pâtés and venison slices presented all around it. I found the cabbage wrapped pâté a real treat. The cabbage added a crunch, colour and sweetness to the meat, without the added heft of bacon or traditional wrappings.

More meat slices, some jellied, some not. Each with a carrot maple leaf garnish. Again, all around various condiments and dresses, including horseradish whip, cornichons, mustards and so on.

At this point, I don’t even recall what these photos are of. It looks like vegetable terrines up front and pieces of prosciutto with cantaloupe at back.

Baked salmon at rear and one of the many trays of gravlax at front. There was a definite European slant to the meal, which I really enjoyed.

Cheese and dessert section.

The pastry chef came out during the meal to check on his creations and make sure the children (and children at heart) were enjoying them. The choux pastry profiterole swans were amazing in their detail.

Dessert plate number one for me. A custard raspberry tart, cheese, milk chocolate mousse and a Baileys or Kahlua mousse in a shot glass. Not easy to get out of the glass, but easy to get down.

And more dessert: tortes, jelly beans, crème caramel, various mousses, cakes, pies, squares, fruits, cheeses …

Dessert plate number two. More mousses, crème caramel and a chocolate dipped strawberry.

In good spirits at the end of the meal.

Overall, an excellent meal. At $58 it was not cheap, and Lake Louise isn’t as close to Calgary as Banff or Canmore, but the quality and ambiance of the buffet are enough to persuade me to recommend it to anyone in the area.I definitely think it is worth the trip. Doubly so if you are in the area to burn off calories in some outdoor pursuit.

The attention to detail was overwhelming. I appreciated the wide range of sauces and condiments, the crustaceans being prepared for ease of eating, and the items being carefully placed all over a table in a scattered but attentive way. It really sold the items to me. I didn’t INTEND on getting a creme caramel, but seeing them all over the table made me think about them lots, and I eventually caved and had one.

The ingredients were high quality, and some were even local, such as Valbella charcuterie (from Canmore). The produce was excellent, which was especially wonderful given the season and the isolated location of the hotel. Constant staff interaction (we saw many kitchen staff more than once during service) and item turnover kept the plates fresh and full. The idea of eggs benedict served buffet style sounds horribly amateur and a disaster, but the Post pulled it off. People tend to want huge selection and huge portions at a buffet. I think buffets are more spectacular when executed as the Post does: specialized items (ie., not a Japanese, chinese, Thai, Mexican etc etc section), quality and luxury foods mixed with old favourites and everything fresh fresh fresh.

While it may be a while before I can avail myself of the Post Hotel buffet brunch again, it it a memory that will linger a long time until I can return.

Post Hotel
Lake Louise, Alberta

The hotel also hosts a series of wine makers dinners in addition to the special buffets which are on most major holidays. The next one is Mothers Day.

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