With Saltlik Steakhouse recently becoming part of the growing Joey Restaurant collection of establishments, Executive Chef Chris Mills, along with the always enjoyable Director of Marketing from Joey, Britt, decided to host a tasting meal this past weekend. If you don’t remember, I had my first encounter last year when Chef Mills came through Edmonton on his James Beard preparation tour. With memories from that meal being some of the best I’ve ever had, there was no question that we’d make the drive out to Banff when I was invited.
Arriving for our one o’clock lunch appointment, Sarah and I found ourselves upstairs in the cozy, wood framed dining area. The room provides guests with a brilliant view of the mountains as well as the comfort that many would come to think of when chalets run through your mind. Grabbing a table right beside the action, Sarah and I were introduced to the team at Saltlik, while Chef Mills and Saltlik Chef, Jennifer Ruszczak, broke off to start the meal.
The small group of us that were gathered, were treated to a trio of appetizers before out set menu was delivered. It included Lobster Potato Skins, Duck Tacos, and Curry Chutney Cheese Pate. The collection of quick bites were so uniquely different from each other, that it I found it hard not to find something in each that I thoroughly enjoyed. The lobster potato skin was very new to me, and if you can’t tell from above, included a decent chunk of lobster that made this a rich and tasty appetizer. The duck tacos were elegant, without being over the top, and would be a hit at any party. I do think this was Sarah’s choice of the three. Being a bit of a sucker for Indian flavours, the magno chutney topped curry cheese pate was also sublime way to finish the collection.
I think one of the best parts of this experience, was seeing Chef Mills work and plate around a kitchen that was very foreign to him. As someone, like many of you out there, who know the feeling you get when uttering the words. “where are the cups” or “where’s the knives”, I can only imagine this feeling is compounded when applied to a kitchen at this scale. With that said, the new kitchen dilemma, along with a very busy lunch rush from the diners down stairs, meant we were lucky enough to see everything but the actual cooking.
Our first plated meal of the day was Beef Carpaccio – seared tenderloin, extra virgion olive oil, Granan Padano, rocket & mustard aioli. On the side, were lightly toasted and herb crostini’s. The meat was thin, tender and delightful going down. The combination of Dijon and onions, worked well with the table side plating of fresh Granan Padano.
The salad that arrived next was a welcome sign of spring and all the things to come; Spring Vegetable Panzanella – escarole, spring peas, zucchini & mint with sherry currant vinaigrette. The bite of mint, Macedonian feta cheese, freshly fried croutons and thinly sliced raw zucchini (a first) were just four obvious notes that came out of the dish and into our mouths. It may sound like an overwhelming taste experience, yet it really was anything but. Clean and crisp like spring.
The Wok Fired Calamari – sea salt, pepper & poblanos, charred serranos – that arrived next was a nice take on something that now is so popular and common. The batter wasn’t nearly as golden as one might expect, but then again, it was thinner than most and came with hints of the wok heat that added to the squid. I have to say, the mixture of charred peppers was amazing, allowing the control of heat to be in our hands, while the grilled lemon was a gorgeous addition and offered a kick of citrus.
Seared Scallop with Lobster Mashed Potato – east coast lobster & a hint of tarragon butter, crispy & mashed potatoes – was next up, and I have to tell you this dish almost wrapped me up in a blanket and put me to bed. Luxurious mashed potatoes, loaded with east coast lobster and topped with a perfectly cooked scallop. I don’t even know if there is anyway else to explain it, but this was easily the top dish. Anyone for a second or third round?
You may be wondering, like me, where the steak was. After all this is a steak restaurant. And here it was, dish number 5; Grilled Skirt Steak Blistered Tomato Vinaigrette – marinated & grilled medium. The steak was cooked longer than I would have liked, but it did little to deter the tastiness of the dish. What really surprised me though was the amazing base of fingerling potatoes, blistered tomatoes and horseradish cream. I think you could have put a leather shoe on that base and it would still be have been edible. Winner winner, skirt steak dinner.
Our dessert was a Tasting of Chocolate Ganache & Classic Carrot Cake – two Saltlik standards. The carrot cake was my surprise of the night, as I tend to lean towards chocolate. As well, I tend to stay away from really sweet desserts and couldn’t have been happier with the slightly sweet make up of both. Which basically means, I could go back for bite after bite and not feel bad about it. Candied orange peel, fresh vanilla bean ice cream, cream cheese and carrot cake, enough said!
While not nearly as fancy as the James Beard meal, this meal, along with the table side banter and lessons we all learned about food, proved to me again that Chef Chris Mills is a master at what he does. From his friendly coaching style to his understanding of food and it’s place in our lives, I count myself lucky to have eaten two meals prepared by him. Now, as far as the Saltlik goes, I totally think it’s worth the diversion that would take you just one block from the main drag. Affordable comfortable food that has notes of real luxury, make this a hit in my book.