Hospitality company shows that tasty mountain food isn't just for the bears
By Cory Schachtel | July 20, 2023
You can probably guess that one of the best parts about covering Edmonton is covering Edmonton’s food scene, because it’s a very tasty scene. We will always recommend the best local fare, and “best” doesn’t always mean high end and fancy.
But sometimes, we get invited to try food at high-end, fancy establishments elsewhere in Alberta, like when hospitality company Pursuit invites us on a sneak-peak excursion to one of its soon-to-open establishments in Jasper. It’s a burden we happily bear.
Speaking of bears, they were out in full force this spring, even along the foothills before Highway 16 reached the mountains. I haven’t seen so many in a single one of the dozens of Rocky Mountain trips I’ve taken. Hopefully it’s not because people have been feeding them, because that’s dangerous, and good food is wasted on their primitive palates.
For this trip, along with other food reviewers from Alberta and B.C., Pursuit invited international palates as well. We were excited to make a new friend from Utah, but were kinda disappointed when our resident Florida Man ended up being… just a regular guy. Dude was polite enough to be Canadian, and he even loved hockey (yawn).
Introductions complete, we walked down the block from our hotel to Terra, which opened last year. Today, the restaurant — which has as great a mountain view as you’ll find in the province — is fully set up and feels like its own establishment, separate from The Crimson hotel to which it’s attached. The vibe is more family friendly than we would have guessed, but the “locally farmed and foraged” menu is undeniably elite.
Showing great restraint, we didn’t fill up on sourdough bread. Then we started the meal with Pea Soup (with ricotta and house-cured guanciale), Roasted Rainbow Carrots, super-addictive Corn Ribs and even more sourdough — this time in the form of chips dipped into a mushroom parfait. We could have happily filled up on meat-free appetizers but managed to leave just enough room for the protein-packed main course.
When salmon is on the menu at even a mid-level restaurant, I almost always get it — unless there’s duck. So I went with the duck (the Riccioli Pasta with wild greens was tempting, but my tastebuds reject asparagus like green poison, and I didn’t want to offend the chef). And look, we hate using food-writing cliches like “melts in your mouth,” but there are only so many suitable adjectives for meat so tender it feels like you don’t even have to chew. It comes with garlic mushrooms (Terra prides itself on its mushroom dishes and sides, for good reason) and maple soy sauce, which combine to add subtle flavour without overtaking the dish. But if you think back to the last time you tasted a meat dish that sparked the melt-in-your-mouth cliche in your mind — that’s what this was like.
For dessert, I went with the Rhubarb Strawberry Panna Cotta, because I’ve never had rhubarb strawberry anything that wasn’t a perfect post-meal treat. It was sweet and savoury, crunchy and gooey, and probably the first time I’ve tried spruce tree tips (the tender new shoots that emerge in early spring) since I bit one off the tree in our backyard as a kid. In a different setting, I would have licked the plate clean, but Terra isn’t that family friendly.
De’d as a Do’g
That concluded the first day’s schedule, but a few of us weren’t ready to pack things in, so we wandered down to De’d Dog Bar and Grill, which has existed in many forms (a barber shop, Jasper’s first — and presumably last — Radio Shack, Joe Clark’s campaign office) as part of the Astoria Hotel since 1927. In 1995, the son of Astoria’s original manager — a guy named Socrates Andrew — dubbed it De’d Dog, and it’s been a Jasper nightlife destination ever since.
To put it bluntly, De’d Dog is the opposite of Terra. It has that historical musk you only get from a nearly century-old establishment that says shit has gone down here. The floors creak, the sound system is intermittent, and the vibe is beyond relaxed — perfect for post-meal conversations between new friends (including disappointingly normal ones from Florida).
Back on Pursuit’s schedule, we all walked back to D’ed Dog the next day — then took a few steps to the left into Papa George’s Restaurant. It’s a homey place with a wood-based, ‘90s décor, pretty much exactly what you probably picture a place named Papa George’s to look like. It’s tough to screw up breakfast, and this was no exception. But I have to ask: Am I late to banana bread French toast? Because it seems to be the greatest thing since sliced…regular French toast, and I haven’t seen it often. Either way, it’s something more Edmonton establishments should adopt.
We then boarded the bus and let our breakfasts settle on the trip to one of the most beautiful places on Earth: Chaba Imne, also known as Maligne Lake, uniquely surrounded on three sides by the same mountain range. You’ve likely been there before, or at least seen pictures, so there’s little I could write that would do it justice. I’ll just add that taking the boat tour out to Spirit Island is totally worth it (the 20-year-old Australian tour guides had their shtick down like a silly SNL sketch). And as we cruised on by the ever-shrinking glaciers, I couldn’t help but think we could all stand to treat more parts of nature the way Stoney Nakoda people have treated Spirit Island for thousands of years: by leaving them the fuck alone.
Our itinerary said we were going to Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen for a “light lunch,” which was funny because that’s not a thing there. Garlic Bread, Kettle Chips, Smoked Wings, Triple Feature Sliders — that’s how lunch started. Then came the Open Faced Crispy Smoked Buttermilk Chicken sandwiches, with tomato jam, white barbecue sauce and pickled onion (my favourite dish of the meal), followed by a special Frankenstein monster of a platter with baby back ribs, beef brisket and sausage, and beans and macaroni on the side. We did not order dessert.
After a much-needed food-coma-recovery nap, and quick cocktail reception at the Forest Park Hotel, we boarded the bus once more for the main course of this food tour: Aalto, which just opened up 10 minutes away from Jasper at Pyramid Lake Lodge.
When we dined there, it was still very much under construction (the website says the inspiration “comes from Scandinavian and classic mountain lodge design elements”) so there’s not much to say about the decor except that the view blows Terra’s out of the water… because there’s the water of Pyramid Lake to go with the epic mountain range. Luckily, my place card was on the side of the table looking out the giant, lake-facing windows, though my dinner mates might not have appreciated my distracted replies.
We started, once again, with bread — this time Rye Brioche with hay butter, which is my new favourite butter. The pickled raisins and caramelized onion purée sweetened the Seasonal Lamb Tartare, which we scooped up with nettle lavash. The Kennebec Dumplings were bigger than your average dumplings, and as someone who’s not big on sour cabbage or radish salad, they were great.
I’ve never had an entirely lake/ocean-based charcuterie board before, and I’m not sure I want to again, since it would be tough to top the one we had. The website says Aalto specializes in “lake-food — a mountain-fresh interpretation of seafood that spotlights regional ingredients,” which applies perfectly to this shareable dish. Once again, the winner was the duck — this time in salt-cured form (and the salmon and caviar are always safe bets).
We shared the mains, too — Certified Angus Beef Coulotte with Sauce Périgueux and B.C. Gindara Sable Fish that came with fermented plum ginger cream, which softened the meal’s salty bite. The mouth-melting cliche came to mind once more, and the fish and beef together made a flavour more savoury than the sum of its parts. Everything ended on a sweeter (yet still savoury) note with the Semior Bun sitting on marzipan custard and rhubarb ice wine compote.
A feast like this takes time, so in between servings we wandered out on to the patio, and a few of us walked down to the docks for a photo. While we milled about on the stairs not wanting to leave, someone yelled “Bear! It’s a grizzly!” It was past the parking lot, on the lake side of the road we came in on. I only got a quick glance, but I swear it had a look of confusion, like this was its old stomping ground and all of a sudden these damn humans showed up dressed in their finest to sample area food it’s eaten its entire life. We whipped out our phones but couldn’t get good shots before its big furry butt disappeared into the bushes, off to forage a fresh meal of its own.
Like this content? Get more delivered right to your inbox with Ed. Eats
A list of what’s delicious, delectable and delightful.