Words & Pix: Stephanie Yuen
No matter what the reason, every Okanagan visit proves to be a lovely break for me!
The most recent one took place this early Fall, when trees were at their ultimate forms of natural beauty; when orchards and vineyards were changing hues. With many shades of red and gold adorning the highways and the random sun emitting warmth into the car, the 4-hour drive was a pleasant one.
We chose this time to go simply because the vines and wineries at harvesting time were calling. Oliver, Summerland and Penticton were our destinations. While visiting wineries and tasting the wines were the main focus, we were both ready and excited to bite into the top-notched restaurants and food programs we heard so much about. The fact that the valley has always been the land of bounty, where orchards, farms and ranches flourish, the region’s developing into a sensational food and restaurant scene is a natural fit. From artisan cheese-makers to lamb-roasting dinner; music and wine to chefs’ wine-paired feasts, Okanagan is now poised as the haven for culinary tourism.
Our delicious journey began at Miradoro (Tinhorn Creek), where Executive Chef Jeff Van Geest (formerly of Aurora on Main & E. 8th), partnered with two Marcs of Gold Medal Plates fame.The two champs from Atelier in Ottawa and Auberge Du Pommier in Toronto brought along their magic wands and the three of them orchestrated an evening of palate supremacy, the ticket price of $155, along with a take-away gift bag of a bottle of Tinhorn Creek wine and other gadgets, was enchanting. Take a look at this lavishly presented plate of Scallop and Lobster poached in butter with the pickled garlic and miso sauce as the surprise flavour factors.
Breakfast next morning was a $12pp very generously-prepared and displayed continental buffet breakfast, beverages included, inside the modern, quaint and beautiful lakeside Watermark Beach Resort Hotel where we stayed the night. The word continental was an understatement, with hot eats such as eggs and bacon; cold treats such as smoked salmon and fresh fruits; oven-fresh baked goods including croissant, the value was exceptional. Full and happily contented, we began our packed program of the day.
The much anticipated lunch at Hester Creek’s Terrafina was as hearty and delightful as any family-style meal in Tuscany would be. The pan-fried Squids and Smoked Trout Sandwich were masterfully done. Unpretentious was the dining room and the ambiance, locally-sourced and tastefully-crafted were the seasonal menu items. We were told that Terrafina’s made-to-order pizza was ‘Okanagan famous’, no wonder we say quite a few of them on some of the tables.
Tucked away in the lush green garden at the back of Hillside Winery’s tasting room, the country setting of Hillside Bistro was particularly warm and welcoming in the gloomy nightfall. Executive Chef Robert Gordonier may be young, but the flavour profile of the dishes we ordered that evening showed nothing short of innovative ideas and culinary senses. Infusing local recipes with Asian ingredients and seasonings is much more challenging than some might assume. The application of hoisin sauce in the braised beef shank was a real showcase of how it should be done. An extra thumbs up to Gordonier who gave the credit to his Chinese wife!Blessed with a majestic view, Vanilla Pod Restaurant at the very architectural building where Poplar Grove lies was the perfect lunch spot on a mild autumn day. The reflection of the sun upon the surrounding vineyards and river belt was as sumptuous as the meal. We opted for a couple of simple lunch items to share, but simplicity here referred only to the name of the dish, the presentation and the depth of each dish was astounding. The salad was a collection of the latest harvest of plump, juicy and colourful grape and cherry tomatoes from the garden; the artisan cheese in the ham & cheese sandwich established its own name and fame; but it’s the rice pudding that took my breath away! “Many locals come here just for this pudding!” said our waiter. The golden rice pudding, presented stylishly, was beyond my imagination. We did thank the waiter for insisting us to try!