In a previous article about the unique dining experiences around Phoenix, Arizona, I wrote about why my husband and I love to celebrate significant occasions, not just in fine-dining restaurants, but in those which create a special ambiance. Sometimes we are in Calgary, Alberta, when such celebrations occur because we visit one of my daughters and her young family once a year. Thus, we have also collected unique dining experiences around Calgary.
Note: Later on, I will also share with you such places in San Francisco, where my eldest lives, and Melbourne, Australia, where my youngest calls home.
1. River Café, Prince Island, Calgary
We were one of the first to cross the Canadian border when it finally opened, being absent from my Canadian family for almost two years. But it also meant we had to find a special place for our 13th wedding anniversary. Luckily, we found River Cafe, located in the middle of Prince Island on the Bow River next to downtown Calgary. There was no access for vehicles, and the only way to reach it was to walk. Fortunately, you do this from the southern Bow River Pathway at the end of the beautiful Peace Bridge all the way to the restaurant in a park concession building amid lovely Prince Island Park.
But it is not just the amazing setting that’s great about this dining experience. The upscale menu is composed of dishes made from fine locally sourced meats and seafood. Its website says: “Canadian Seasonal Cuisine…supporting regional and local purveyors, farmers and coastal fishermen practicing responsible stewardship of the land, rivers, and sea.” My husband had fire-grilled Springbank bison strip loin cooked medium rare accompanied by grilled Sudo Farms baby cabbage, wilted Ark Farms Swiss chard, and juicy Saskatoon berry jus gras. I chose the Haida Gwaii halibut with flavorful Canadian dashi, spongy shiitake mushrooms, and Sudo Farms wilted bok choy oozing with scallion oil. We loved all of it, including the sweetened old-fashioned rice pudding that melted in your mouth.
2. Prince Of Wales, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
Also on this latest trip, during our lone weekend with my Canadian family, we also camped at Waterton Lakes National Park, two and a half hours from the city. Its upper Waterton Lake lies partly in the U.S., and that is why it is partnered with Glacier National Park as an International Peace Park. The kids had nightly fire pit fun, a Waterton Lake beach escapade, a short hike at Red Canyon, and a boat race on Lake Cameron. And the afternoon tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel stood out.
The colorful hotel sits atop a bluff, visible from every angle as one drives around the park. Sitting in the lobby waiting for our turn at the long table, we loved the views through the ceiling-to-floor and wall-to-wall giant windows. The wait was also pleasantly distracted by the building craftsmanship, the giant chandelier hanging over the lobby, and the interesting items at the gift shop.
Afternoon tea could have been just the same as other ones we had tried like “the most expensive” at the Ritz-Carlton in London and “the best in the world” at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia. But what made this one different is that there were special treats for the little ones, who do not really care for fruit scones with clotted cream or delicate finger sandwiches of salmon or crispy cucumber. They had small plates of fine little chicken nuggets, small brownie bites, and craft flowers fashioned with sweets. They may not have been presented as part of the traditional three-tier platters, but those little pieces were quickly gone!
3. Devonian Gardens, Downtown Calgary
My daughter knew that I wanted to shop for a few items so when we got back, she brought me to the CORE Shopping Center on 7 Ave SW in downtown Calgary. Imagine my delight when I discovered The Devonian Gardens inside. It’s a one-acre botanical garden and urban oasis on the fourth floor, with at least 500 trees, 50 plant varieties, a living wall, several fountains, a few fish ponds, and a playground for kids.
With the food court wisely situated right next to it, my daughter led us to her favorite Thai kiosk. We all ordered the popular Pad Thai for under $7 Canadian ($5 U.S.) and happily brought along our little noodle baskets and had an inexpensive delectable lunch at an empty nook amid the garden’s greens at the center of all the busyness!
4. Calgary Tower 360, Downtown Calgary
Also in downtown Calgary, no one will miss the iconic landmark of the city called the Calgary Tower. But not everyone makes it a point to dine there. As a rule, we thought such places emphasize location and view, but do not necessarily have great food. And then my daughter gifted us with a dinner for two at the Tower’s Sky 360 for our anniversary one year when I was again babysitting the kids.
We were so lucky to get to test our hypothesis without it costing us anything. And, we were even happier to find that our original hypothesis was not entirely correct. The food upholds the Alberta tradition of some of the world’s best beef, grilled to the exact doneness — with some pink for me — we ordered. And the chocolate dessert was innovatively topped with fancy meringue.
The location, with sweeping 360-degree views of the expansive city, made the dining truly special. After this highly positive experience, we also dined at The Loupe Lounge in Seattle’s Space Needle and The Top of the World Restaurant at the STRAT Hotel in Las Vegas. These experiences also taught me not to leave my drink on the ledge because then I would have to wait for the floor to turn 360 degrees before I can take the next sip!
5. Lakeview Lounge, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
The second Sunday of May is when much of the world celebrates Mother’s Day. Despite what I did or did not do, my children, like most children in the world, always try to make that day special for me. A few years ago, it was a luxurious weekend getaway in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. Not to be outdone, Bill took care of my pre-Mother’s Day meals. He drove me to Lake Louise, that postcard-pretty place about 30 minutes from Banff and 2 hours from the home of my daughter. I had been there twice before, the first time, without Bill. This second time with him was in late spring, so the glacier was still in its full glory and, though we could not canoe around the lake — like the first time — with the water just starting to thaw, the sight was more impressive.
This time, Bill led me to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise where he had reserved a table at the Lakeview Lounge. I thought that the place was way too expensive for us! As we sat in front of a huge picture window looking out onto the perfect Lake Louise scene for a pre-Mother’s Day lunch, I swear that the basic burger I ordered tasted like the premium steak for the queen!
6. Rundle Lounge, Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
After lunch, we checked in at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel where my children had booked a suite for us. The hotel is a large, castle-like building built in 1888 from the time of railway tourism. It’s set off on its own in a wooded area and our well-appointed room looked out to the Bow River tumbling over a magical cliff-like rise. We quickly went to the pool outdoors. It was heated with views of the Bow Valley Mountains, too.
I could have stayed there forever, but Bill pulled me away. He had reservations for my pre-Mother’s Day dinner at the elegant Rundle Lounge. There, we again had the famed Alberta beef as we shared the Prairie Heritage house dry-aged New York strip loin accompanied by succulent Canadian lobster tails in garlic butter. And the views were even more spectacular at the wide balcony off our table.
I absolutely love dining experiences like these where the scenes are extraordinary or the food is exceptional, or — as we have experienced on some of the special occasions of our life!
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