BC winery dining has never looked – nor tasted – so good
By Tim Pawsey
In the past couple of years, a number of flagship Okanagan and Similkameen locations have helped take the region to the next level. In fact, I’m tempted to use that too often flaunted “world-class” reference. But, in lieu of that, let’s just say that Okanagan winery dining (and elsewhere) rivals that found in any other leading wine region around the world.
Much of the talent is homegrown, though a recent influx of chefs and sommeliers from the coast and other parts of Canada has brought new impetus to the scene. No question, Vancouver’s stratospheric real estate values and climbing cost of living have also played a role. Indeed, Vancouver’s loss, as often as not, is the Okanagan’s gain.
Overall, throughout the valleys, there’s a real sense of adventure and rejuvenation in the air. No matter where you look, it seems another new restaurant has emerged. Not only that but also, without exception, the locations are magnificent, often boasting panoramic lake vistas and more.
Ed. Note: All restaurants listed here are currently open, by reservation only, and have the necessary safety measures in place to ensure the health of their guests. Visit their websites for more information.
Block One at 50th Parallel Estate
The lakeshore journey up from Kelowna is the perfect primer for this dazzling, modernist space clad in warm woods, steel and expansive glass to make the most of the setting that, truly, brings the outside in. The award-winning design features a cantilevered roof and the restaurant morphs easily from an outdoor patio to a more enclosed and warmer inside space. Even though the restaurant only opened in 2018, it’s already emerged as a destination. Its name pays homage to the original vineyard block planted by owners Curtis and Sheri-Lee Turner-Krouzel in 2009.
On the plate, Chef Kai Koroll (who previously worked at Cactus Club under Executive Chef Rob Feenie) focuses on local ingredients, many of which are grown in the on-site, one-acre garden. The chef’s plates are eclectic but well designed to offer smart pairings to the winery’s mainstays, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris. A definite feather in his cap, Chef Koroll scooped up top spot at the 2019 Canada’s Great Kitchen Party – Kelowna, earning the opportunity to compete at the 2020 Canadian Culinary Championships.
The always energetic and very hands-on Turner-Krouzels — arguably among the valley’s most dynamic and fun-loving owners and consummate hosts — are often found in the dining room. A bonus is the complimentary shuttle service from Predator Ridge, Lakestone and downtown Kelowna or other locations for groups of 12 or more.
Marvellous match: Truffled potato gnocchi with Parmesan foam and wild mushrooms & 50th Parallel Estate Pinot Noir 2017
CedarCreek is nearing completion of significant renovations and expansion undertaken since being purchased by Von Mandl Family Estates in 2014. The centrepiece is the recently opened Home Block Restaurant, which pays tribute to the winery’s pioneering heritage (it was one of the original dozen in the valley) wrapped in quiet modernism. Beams and other features include repurposed 100-year-old barn wood, a soaring ceiling and a fieldstone wall, plus a spacious patio and panoramic lake views across the lake.
Ruling the room is an open kitchen, with a wood-fired grill fed by apple and cherry woods as well as used seasoned barrel staves. Chef Neil Taylor (ex-Vancouver’s España, Cibo and others) employs a quietly sophisticated “terroir to table” style that allows locally sourced ingredients to shine through. Highlights range from roasted squash risotto with rapini, caciocavallo cheese, rosemary and lemon to slow-cooked pork cheeks with polenta and red-wine-braised cabbage.
CedarCreek (which already raises chickens and has its own bee hives) recently purchased an adjacent, higher 100 acres that will soon be home to a small farm, in addition to new vineyards. In time, the farm will be very much part of the winery’s overall sustainability mantra, supplying meats and other ingredients to the restaurant. Currently all food waste is given to the chickens and processed by some 16 worm farms, with the resulting castings being distributed in the vineyards.
Perfect pairing: Roasted bacon-wrapped rabbit saddle stuffed with black pudding, Moorish spiced lentils and Mojo Rojo & CedarCreek Platinum Hayne Creek Syrah 2017
Just off Highway 3, in Cawston, beautifully conceived and executed Row Fourteen has quickly become a destination room for the Similkameen Valley and surrounding area. Kevin and Annamarie Klippenstein own Klippers Organics and divide their time between Cawston and Vancouver, where they sell their produce in season at the Trout Lake and West End farmers’ markets.
Nestled right in the heart of the orchards, the spacious open-plan dining and cider-tasting room looks out onto the orchards beyond. The look and feel is polished but still comfortably rustic. At the entrance is a small tasting bar featuring Klippers’ Untangled Craft Cider, also available for off-sales purchasing. During the day, the main dining area is bathed natural light, while a north-facing patio with a large overhang offers protection from extreme summertime heat. The decor is defined by high ceilings and cedar beams and plenty of wood trim that glows warmly at night. The open kitchen features a wood-fired grill, which burns apple wood (for flavour) and fir (for heat).
To date, it’s the valley’s first and only cider-driven restaurant. However, the wine list is very Similkameen focused, featuring most of the surrounding wineries (such as Corcelettes, Robin Ridge, Vanessa, Little Farm, Orofino, Seven Stones and Clos du Soleil), who have been quick to lend their support. With plenty of space — as well as good food — Row 14 is already in demand for meetings and other local business needs.
Chef Derek Gray (who was the opening chef at Vancouver’s immensely successful Savio Volpe, and then Pepino’s) makes the most of the natural bounty and wealth of local organic ingredients on one of the most genuine “regional-seasonal” menus anywhere. (The Similkameen Valley has the highest percentage of organic production of anywhere in Canada.) Dishes change by the week based very much on what’s locally available. Mainstays are likely to include pork sausage with roasted onions, grainy mustard and roasting juices; dry-aged top sirloin with spinach and leek aioli, coal-roasted beets and carrots; venison ragu tartine and plenty more.
With its spotlight on all things local, including ciders and wines, Row Fourteen adds up to a worthy celebration of the Similkameen — and also offers accommodations from which to further explore the valley.
Marvellous match: Barley, lentils, farro and Marquis wheat berries with pumpkin seeds, fire-roasted squash and chanterelles & Klippers Untangled Craft Cider Newtown.
The Bear, The Fish, The Root & The Berry - Spirit Ridge Lake Resort at Nk’Mip Cellars
The name is a direct testament to the four food chiefs of the Syilx people — black bear, Chinook salmon, bitterroot, and Saskatoon berry — all of which denote the key elements of Indigenous cuisine. It’s also a welcome reminder that the Osoyoos Indian Band (part of the Okanagan Nation Alliance) is majority owner of Spirit Ridge Lake Resort and Nk’Mip Cellars.
Under the leadership of Chef Murray McDonald, the restaurant has been rebranded and now charts a firm course that (finally) truly acknowledges its place in Indigenous culture. Chef McDonald (who has cooked in prime properties around the world) won broad acclaim as founding executive chef at Newfoundland’s much celebrated Fogo Island Inn. And the passion that fuelled his success there is readily apparent in his latest role.
McDonald’s menu is “Indigenous inspired” — he himself loves to forage, often making new connections with local artisans along the way. The mood is refreshingly unpretentious, with many dishes sporting descriptions that reflect the chef’s infectious humour at play. But the menu also stays true to its mantra, with emphasis throughout on Indigenous ingredients.
Mainstays roam from a generous Rangeland bison steak, with juniper ash sea salt, sweet potato fondant, onion jam and yam purée to rabbit pasta to juniper-brushed duck breast with duck bacon, beets and berries to bison pemmican with honey mousse. As a hotel restaurant (now partnered with Hyatt) the room is open all day and also offers noteworthy breakfast and lunch, as well as a children’s menu.
Marvellous match: Wild salmon with “skaha-scouse” (stew) of side striped prawns, clams, sweet potatoes, tomato, beans, wild rice and grilled loaf & Nk’Mip Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay 2017
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