Week the Ninth.
Banff Springs Hotel.
Shopping, Spa-ing and Stuffing my face. 'Twas a swell 4 days indeed.
**Before you proceed (all three of you...haha...just some poorly executed self-deprecating humour...I'd stick in a sideways happy face here but it would just look weird before the end parentheses), be forewarned that I took pictures of pretty much everything we ate on this trip, so you will be bombarded by a crapload of images of ridiculously delicious food**
Banff, Alberta is one of Rob the Husband's favourite places on the planet, and it has definitely become one of mine. It certainly helps that it's the home of the spectacular Banff Springs Hotel, which just happened to be having a room promotion over Spring Break, which we just happened to take advantage of. This was our first vacation together since embarking upon the vegan journey, and I was a bit skeptical about how the eating was going to go over in terms of interesting vegan options in Banff. I had pretty much resigned myself to having to do a lot of cheating if we were going to get to enjoy ourselves.
As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about, and this trip was just full of pleasant surprises.
As we were checking in to the Banff Springs, the concierge proceeded to inform us that there was a promotion going on, and we could upgrade to the fancy shmancy Gold Floor for significantly less than the upgrade usually costs, so I was totally like, Yes please! The Gold Floor is just like all the other floors in the Springs, except even more awesome...it has its own concierge, check in and check out, lounge, complimentary movies, breakfast buffet, hors d'oeuvres, and just really stellar service overall. The room was top-notch and even had one of those crazy euro-showers that sprays from all angles. Crazy.
We were a bit concerned about the breakfast buffet and hors d'oeuvres since it was unlikely that there would be too many vegan options, and we were right, but there was enough to make due. Oatmeal and I became good friends. Some breakfast snapshots over the course of our stay...
Haha...you can see Rob's face in the reflection above my grapes :)
Yah, there was definitely a lot of oatmeal consumption.
We actually bought some Earth Balance Butter so we could put it on our toast in the mornings at the buffet.
I am such a nerd.
Hors d'oeuvres were served every evening at 5pm, and this was when I found myself really missing prosciutto, but there were lots of fruits and veggies and hummus to keep us happy, with the occasional non-meat item that we figured wasn't glaringly dairy-oriented.
The majority of the food, sadly, we had to leave on the buffet table, unsampled.
But enough lamentation.
For our first dinner out, Monday 9.0, we checked out Nourish Vegetarian Bistro. The reviews were incredible, so we were super excited to give it a go.
The place is cute...hippie and cozy and really chill, and the menu featured some really creative items. There were a lot of vegan options, and most things that weren't vegan could be made vegan for you. We ordered the Shepard's Pie and Gourmet Falafel, with Apple Pie for dessert.
The reviews were not unjustified. This was seriously some of the best food I've ever tasted.
Not just vegan food, but food. Period. I am seriously in love with Nourish.
There are a TON of ingredients packed into each dish...things that you would never expect to go well together, like strawberries and falafel, coexist beautifully. The food is SO INCREDIBLY CREATIVE and flavourful, and I can't get over how much each dish has going on to make it what it is.
For the rest of the trip, whenever we mentioned Nourish to locals, they only had incredible things to say about it. You know a veggie restaurant is special when you hear people say, "I'm not even vegetarian, but [insert wonderful food review here]." And it is rated the number one restaurant in Banff.
Nourish is closed on Tuesdays, so on Tuesday 9.0 (shopping day!) we had lunch at Coyotes, another Banff staple. Love this place too, and it was pretty easy to get a vegan meal with a few menu substitutions...veggie burger, black bean quesadilla, and lentil soup.
Which brings us to dinner. And another visit from my good buddy, Motivation.
Since I started this vegan thing two months ago, there have been some pretty awesomely timed, vegan-friendly "motivators" that have encouraged me to stay on this path. A week into my journey, Oprah aired her one week vegan challenge show. Vancouver's first vegan shoe store, Nice Shoes, opened this month. Natalie Portman (the most beautiful vegan on the planet) won the Best Actress Oscar a few weeks ago.
Coincidence? Perhaps, but I prefer to think that my buddy, Motivation, has some pull in high places.
Case in point: Fairmont hotels are now, as of January 2011, offering a Lifestyle Cuisine Plus menu for their guests, providing various dining options for those with health conditions, allergies, and lifestyle choices that would prevent them from being able to order off a conventional menu at one of the hotel's restaurants. Vegan options are included on this menu. Which means I can eat at any Fairmont restaurant (including our absolute favourite at the Springs, Grapes) and order a vegan meal.
Which we totally did... Thai Carrot & Ginger Veloute and Miso Soup...
...Vegetable Coconut Curry and Vegetable Napoleon...
...and Peach Melba with Lemon Sorbet for dessert...
Was it as good as our meal at Nourish? Nope, not by a long shot. And it was more expensive. But it was a vegan option, we were thrilled that they offered it, and we got to enjoy it at Grapes. Maybe in the future, Fairmont will have an even more extensive Lifestyle Choices menu with even more creative options and more exciting flavours. But for now, what they offered was definitely appreciated, and it's so cool to see such an awesome hotel chain taking a step in this direction.
Now if only they'd get rid of the friggen foie gras at all of their restaurants.
But I digress. We ordered off the Lifestle Choices menu again for lunch on Wednesday 9.0 (spa day!).
These Thai wraps were not only vegan, they were also raw. Light and crisp...perfect spa-ing food, and once again I was grateful to have a convenient vegan option available.
But what I was really excited about was going back to Nourish for dinner that night. A little too excited, it would seem, since I totally overdid it when it came to the food for our Wednesday 9.0 dinner...
Soup of the day (Kaffir Lime Yam Coconut):
King Kong Noodles (if a name like that doesn't limit the amount of food you order, you've got issues. Apparantly I have issues):
And you bet your ass I ordered dessert...
Steamed Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding:
OK, how pretty is this food? Seriously, you can tell that it's made with love. Every time our waitress put something down on the table I was like, Awwww, it's so pretty! (Yes, I am totally annoying and girlie like that.)
And it tastes just amazing. For real, this food is SO GOOD, and it's fascinating to observe what comes out of each dish as you're eating. Like the noodles, for example. They have blood orange in them. Friggen blood orange! Who would have thought of putting blood orange into a bowl of noodles?? The brilliantly talented folks at Nourish, that's who.
See that? That's a piece of pineapple in the lychee garnish of my pina colada smoothie. Yes, pineapple stuffed lychee excites me.
In my defense, I ordered the noodles and burrito with the intention of taking most of it to go, since I knew we'd be hungry later and it would make an awesome late night snack. Which it totally did. Plus I wanted to try as many things on the menu as possible since we had to leave the next day.
Wanna guess where we went for lunch on Thursday 9.0 before heading home?
Stuffed Mushrooms on greens:
Gourmet Falafel (again...this was our favourite for sure):
Portabella Mushroom Melt with Yam Tenders:
I think I've raved enough about Nourish for one blog post, but yes, it really was THAT awesome, and made eating Kind in Banff totally easy.
My one slip up was a chocolate chip yogurt cookie from Evelyn's cafe. I always look forward to these cookies every time I come to Banff, and I got one on our last day this time around. But it turned out that the cookie really doesn't thrill me anymore as much as it did in the past, so I think it's safe to say it's out of my system now.
I even got to shop Kind on this trip....six pairs of Toms Shoes and some awesome finds at a thrift store. Alicia's first shopping stop is always used clothes, and considering that I spent $26 on a pair of jeans, a cute skirt, and a Paul Smith shirt, I might have to start exploring the previously enjoyed clothing world more extensively.
AND we got up close and personal with a deer...
Just another reason not to eat Bambi. It just seems odd to marvel at her beauty and grace and then floss her out of my teeth the next day.
Oh Banff, how I miss you already.
Monday-Thursday of Week the Ninth was stupendous, and I'm seriously bummed that four days of shopping, spa-ing and stuffing my face had to end.
But on the plus side, it's Friday!
Oh shut up...you secretly love it.