Friday, May 25, 2012

Cute Pig's guide to best food and wine of Okanagan

Like Napa Valley, Loire Valley, and Tuscany, the Okanagan Valley is no less and one of the most beautiful places Canada has to offer. Frankly, I can't think of a better place to be around here during summer time.  Dry climate, picturesque scenery, and abundant in vineyards and orchards.  The fresh fruits from the Okanagan are some of the sweetest and best tasting you'll ever find.  I recently made my second trip this past May Long weekend and hope to come back for some fresh peaches and cherries.

The wine

In total, we visited over 20 vineyards and came back with 36 bottles of wine altogether.  Not too bad for a trip and our wine inventory is restocked for the next while. We tasted some amazing white wine at Jackson-Triggs (Okanagan Gold series), La Frenz, Wild Goose, Silk Scarf, just to name a few.  For some reason, the Riesling quite didn't live up this year.  Since I'm a sucker for girly fruity flavor, my favorites were the fruit wines, mostly from Forbidden Fruits, Elephant Island, and Sleeping Giant's pumpkin wine.  If you're a fan of red wine, Noble Ridge is famous for Meritage, and Stag Hallow's Cabernet Franc was really nice.  We fell in love with award winning ice wine, Minus 9, from Gheringer Brothers. As always, I forced a special trip to Crownest for a unique spiced wine, Taj.
Of course, dining was the next best part to the trip.  As a tourism area, it's not difficult to find top-quality meals made with fresh seasonal ingredients.  Here are the highlights of the best from wine country.

The Sonora Room at Burrowing Owl

For a tasty, rustic lunch, go to the Sonora Room restaurant.  The restaurant has a majestic view of the resort and vineyard.  The food is top-notch, especially their grilled flat iron steak sandwich. The bread is infused with cheese and apple and toasted to golden crisp.   It is served with sauteed mushrooms and grilled asparagus.

I was really impressed with pan-seared BC rock cod with wild rice and grape tomato risotto.  The rock cod was cooked to perfection; buttery and flaky.  The wild rice risotto wasn't cooked to the point that it was starchy and soggy, so it still had a nice chew.  We also ordered duck confit with yam and ricotta gnocchi which was really savoury.  While it was delicious, the best duck confit is still yet to come...
For desserts, we tried out 3 kinds altogether; upside down cake, apple and walnut galette, and creme brulee. The winner went to the cardamon and wildflower creme brulee.  The sugar crust was so thick and crispy (versus soggy and rubbery) and the creme was rich with a distinct cardamon flavor, a must try.

The Sonora Room (seasonal) on Urbanspoon

Terrafina at Hester Creek

At Terrafina restaurant, focaccia bread with bacon artichoke spread, sun-dried tomato tapenade and red pepper hummus was a good starter that kept us occupied while waiting for other dishes.  The two pork dishes we ordered were really disappointing.  The pork belly was too hard and chewy, while the rosemary garlic pork rack was still rare.  I guess every kitchen has a bad day.  However, I fell in love with their juicy and tender duck breast served with thin linguine noodles tossed in fragrant truffle oil and smoky pancetta.  Also, their house-made strawberry gelato was refreshingly delightful.

Terrafina at Hester Creek Winery on Urbanspoon

Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek

 Just when we thought we couldn't find a better view around here, Miradoro restaurant at Tinhorn Creek vineyard proved us otherwise.  We were blown away by the panoramic view overlooking vineyards, farms, lake, and mountains as far as the eyes can see.  We were later blown away by the wind. The Mediterranean inspired dishes here are also one of the best, and definitely overall my favorite.  
We started out the meal with calamari fritters with fresh cucumbers and diced red peppers.  The black-as-night, but zesty squid ink aioli was definitely unique and made this calamari stand out from other places.
 There was a protest over whether we should order a pizza or not after having a leftover of smoked trout and prawn pizza from Terranfina the night before.  Since they had a fire oven, it was hard to resist.  It was the best decision ever made and we were glad we ordered it.  The pesto pizza, Pizza Rucola, with prociutto and arugula was mindblowingly good.  We were really stunned by how good this pizza was.  The spread was fresh aromatic arugula-hazelnut pesto with a little bit of lemon zest. The crust was perfection; super rustic. Even for a crust hater like myself, it was crispy all over, with softness inside around the edges.  The whole combination was too die for.  There was no leftover.  I'm pretty sure almost every table ordered this very same pizza.
 Another debate ensued over whether we should order the duck confit or not since we just had it the day before at Burrowing Owl.  P.Word didn't take orders and ordered it anyway.  Let me just put it this way,
Hands down, the best duck confit we've ever had, period.

It was that good (*drools).  The skin was extremely thin and crispy.  The meat was flavourful, tender and not dry, and easily pulled apart.  It was served over charred asparagus, caramelized pear, and lentil ragu.  HEAVEN, I found it (*salivates). Just phenomenal

 Spiced lamb merguez sausage over saffron apricot couscous was an interesting dish I seldom got to try.  I normally hate couscous mostly for its texture, grainy and sand-like.  But not here, at this magical kitchen that had been sending out everything that was delicious thus far).  It was soft, but not to the point of soggy, with a subtle sweet flavor. The sausage was well seasoned, and didn't have the distinct gamey taste.  The 3 accompanying condiments were, preserved lemon yogurt, which was amazing with the sausage..drools, carrot puree (surprisingly got a spicy kick), and what appeared to be olive puree (tasted good with couscous).

Check out the beautiful dungeness crab whole wheat spaghetti sauteed in brown  butter sauce sprinkled with fresh parsley. The flavor was really subtle compared to other dishes, but with big honkin' pieces of crab meat, I was able to enjoy the good ol' crustacean n' butter combo.   Lemon and capers kept everything under control.
We ordered 3 desserts to share out of curiosity.  The first being olive oil and hazelnut cake with rhubarb compote and vanilla bean gelato.  The cake was moist, and made better by the tart rhubarb and cold and creamy gelato.  It was good, but not as good as the tiramisu.

The tiramisu was absolutely fan-tas-tic.  And I'm jumping with joy describing this.  It's creamy, rich, velvety... Take a look at how juicy it looks. 
The last dessert was a lemon creme served with rhubarb, an impressive looking dehydrated orange slice and a lavender cookie.  The creme was rich and zesty while the lavender cookie was really nice with tea. 

Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Winery on Urbanspoon

Hillside Estate Bistro

The country village style bistro at Hillside Estate has a real warm and cozy vibe to it.  Their rustic country cooking also kept us coming back for more each year.  Here are some of the dishes I would recommend. 

 Braised pork cheeks were extremely tender and easily pulled apart.  Roasted pears gave a nice, slightly tart yet sweet flavour which went really well with the meat. The fingerling potatoes had a natural sweet taste too.  We asked for blue cheese to be set aside so it won't be too overwhelming.  But, their blue cheese wasn't too pungent at all.

I was disappointed with the Caesar salad, which looked a whole lot of different than the last version that was served last spring.  So, I just had to point out the differences.  Last year's Caesar was better in everything =(  We also ordered foraged mushroom friscasee with gnocchi.  It was creamy, but there wasn't enough mushrooms.  While the gnocchi had perfect texture, the dish as a whole didn't stand out as some of the other ones.
The following grilled flatbread was so good because it had so much stuff piled on it; Berkshire ham, mushroom tapenade, ground mustard aioli, capers, frisee, to name a few. You can imagine a diverse combination of flavours and textures that go in there.  It's really earthy, rustic, and you would not get sick of eating it.
The duck confit grilled cheese sandwichwas my favourite dish, and best grilled cheese variation to date. It was filled with flavourful, tender duck meat, melted brie, and cranberry sauce.  The whole combination was divine.  The sandwiches are quite small, and it wouldn't fill you up.  For $18, it's not cheap either.  But hey, it's totally worth it.  The first one was so good we had to get a second one.
At first, the idea of pasta and meatballs didn't seem too exciting.  However, once the plate arrived with 3 giant, juicy-looking meatballs I changed my mind.  The meatball was so well seasoned, and as juicy as it looked.  The red wine tomato sauce was acidic but had a lot of depth to it.  It was gone in a flash. 
Seven dishes later, we were finally ready for desserts.  We ended up ordering only 2; dark chocolate Grand Marnier pot de creme and, the dessert that made us come back in the first place, lemon buttermilk pudding cake.  The dark chocolate Grand Marnier creme was dark and rich the way I like, not overly sweet. The pudding cake was as amazing as I remembered.  The star of the show, the fragrant basil syrup enhanced the lemon cake to the next world.  There was nothing left behind except the plate.
Overall, I'm still a fan of the bistro.  But I do feel like the menu from last spring was more refined while this year became a lot more simplistic. 
Hillside Estate Winery & Bistro on Urbanspoon

My Top 3:

1. Miradoro
2. Burrowing Owl 
3. Hillside Estate bistro


  1. Your dark chocolate grand marnier pot de creme really looks more than a dessert. I mean, it looks like an early morning breakfast meal. A chilled glass of wine with Cabernet Sauvignon will perhaps be great paired with this dessert. You should buy wines online if you are in no rush, they will surely give you the best bottle in their cellar.

  2. The fresh fruits from the Okanagan are some survival warehouse food of the sweetest and best tasting you'll ever find.

  3. All of these seems pretty healthy! Though on sweets just makes sure that you eat up these kind of food in moderation to protect your skin from the fatty oil it has and the calories it has.

  4. Those foods look like delish and tasty! I will definitely try these recipes at home. I just hope I could finish remodeling and fixing my kitchen before the weekend comes, so that I can already try new recipes like this one.