I was definitely the wrong person to hit up when Michelle asked me to talk her out of spending $120 on a ticket to the Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts Four Chefs dinner. Things escalated quickly and we ended up getting a ticket for Matt as well!
The concept is simple and fun – CRMR brings together four chefs from some of their gorgeous restaurants and asks them to gather at the Lake House to create a main course as a pairing with wines specially chosen to be featured at the dinner. The diners enjoyed a sunset view of Lake Bonavista, tasted four incredible dishes with wine pairings, listened to the chefs and winemakers chat about their offerings, then voted for their favourites and ordered discounted featured bottles at the end of the night… Ideal!
In typical Hungry in Calgary style, we arrived very early to a near-empty dining room, where we were greeted with glasses of Dr. Loosen Sparkling Riesling. The event sold out on the first day, so the room was soon packed with eager foodies – always a great sign!
The first course was prepared by chef Gareth Colville of the Lake House itself. He was assigned the 2015 Dr. L Dry Riesling from Mosel, Germany, which he paired with a corned bison crépinette with chili spice tempura scampi tail, purple potato purée, pickled vegetables and grapefruit sabayon. The bison brought BBQ brisket to mind and when eaten with the pickled vegetables, it was reminiscent of ginger beef. The veggies were topped with a dollop of grapefruit sabayon, but the citrus seemed to be overpowered in the buttery sauce. The tempura was crispy and delectable, though we didn’t catch the chili spice promised in the dish’s description. The potato purée was smooth and comforting, but it clashed slightly with the tempura and pickled veggies. Despite the lack of harmony between the elements of the dish, each piece was tasty and the wine was lovely. Big time wine lover Michelle summed it up best: “I’d finish the bottle, but the pairing didn’t sing.”
For the second course, Divino chef Sonam Pontsang came up with a poached and grilled octopus dish to go with the 2014 JJ Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon. The generous portion of octopus was accompanied by a red pepper purée, roasted fingerling potato, cilantro paste, charred broccolini and a few small dabs of crème fraiche. This was a fantastic pairing with the smoky, tender octopus and the fruity, drinkable pinot noir. The purée was rich and savoury and I didn’t realize until the chef mentioned it that it was spiked with Roquefort cheese. I was surprised by how much I liked the charred broccolini – I loved the crunchy texture and salty accent it added to the dish. I feel like I also need to add that this was the most enjoyable and perfectly cooked octopus I’ve ever eaten, which is a big deal coming from a person who usually just feels guilty eating the tentacles of this incredibly intelligent animal while they point accusingly from the plate.
Next was the sous-vide and roasted grain fed veal. The plate came out with thin slices of chilled veal, a creamy tuna dressing (yes, a dressing made from tuna), caper berries, tiny cubes of raw carrot, a slice of rare albacore tuna and an arugula salad with finely diced yellow tomato. This was a cold dish paired with a very sweet 2015 Dr. Loosen Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett. I wasn’t sure about a cold entree or such a sweet wine, but they balanced each other nicely and would have felt perfect on a patio on a warm summer afternoon. Chef Thomas Neukom is currently working on opening the Loft, CRMR’s newest concept located at the Granary Road Market 10 minutes southwest of Calgary. We were lucky to be seated next to a Lake House staff member who filled us in. When the Loft opens this summer, it will be a sit-down venue in the loft of the market with a casual menu focused on fresh, local ingredients.
The last course was Lapin au Vin – rabbit braised in wine for over four hours, then served in a brioche bread bowl with oyster king mushroom, pancetta and fresh sunflower sprouts. The fatty rabbit stew soaked gloriously into the buttery brioche crust. The large, tender chunks of rabbit, mushroom and pancetta were savoury, moist and a perfect partner to the 2014 J Christopher “Lumiere” Pinot Noir from Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon. As Cilantro’s chef Lancelot Monteiro mentioned when he spoke to us about the dish, the wine had a real old world taste and was perfect with this fresh spin on a classic French coq au vin.
After we ate, they tortured us by making us rank each dish from 1 to 4. I won’t tell you how I voted because I nearly spoiled my ballot in protest! It’s not fair to make us choose between four very different dishes but we all held our breath and did our best.
I’m sure you’re dying of suspense, so I’ll be kind and let you know that the lapin au vin took home the big prize, which I understand was simply some well-earned bragging rights. Still, congratulations to Cilantro and chef Lancelot Monteiro!
For a sweet finish (and an emotional Band-aid after the traumatic voting process), we were each served passionfruit and blackberry truffles. It was an even sweeter treat when we learned we’d be offered discounts on the wines we tried that night, so our group may have ordered one or two or six bottles to pick up later from Bin 905 in Mission.
I highly recommend you check out any of the aforementioned CRMR restaurants for what will surely be a beautiful meal. This event was so much fun and we’re clamouring to do it again at our next opportunity – watch the CRMR social media feeds for the next one! Come visit me on Facebook, Instagram or my Pepo channel, Calgary Foodies, to let me know which dish would have had your vote!