Primal-ish in the Okanagan Part 1

May 23, 2013

Vanilla Pod at Poplar Grove view

Just having visited the Okanagan Valley, I marvel at how fantastic it is to have so many road trip options from Vancouver. Point your car in any direction, and and you’ll hit something great: North (Whistler, Pemberton, Sunshine Coast), East (Fraser Valley, Okanagan Valley), South (the US – especially Seattle and Portland), and West (Vancouver Island’s Victoria, Tofino, etc. and the Gulf Islands). And those are just the obvious options.

The Okanagan is only a 4 hour drive away, making it a manageable weekend destination. And even though it’s only a few hours from home, the drastically different landscape and much hotter weather (at least in the spring/summer) make you feel like you’ve ventured much farther.

And perhaps most importantly, between the wineries, orchards and restaurants, the Okanagan Valley is foodie heaven…

Penticton Farmers’ Market

It was a treat to be in Penticton for this year’s first farmers’ market. This particular farmers’ market is considered one of the best in BC, and is quite large, spanning 4 downtown blocks along Main Street. There were quite a few vendors, and I was surprised at how many non-food booths there were (mostly clothing). The food vendors that piqued my interest were:

  • Joy Road Catering. My friend tried one of their signature galettes, the fruit filling of which I sampled – fantastic. I also bought a jar of their organic pickles, which are delicious.
  • The Twisted Tart. I tried the gluten-free rhubarb tart. It was okay – too much bland pastry for me, and not enough filling. Also, the person that made them wasn’t sure what the pastry flour was made of, which was a little discouraging. My friend had the butter tart and liked it, but said it was a little too sweet.
The Twisted Tart Gluten-Free Rhubarb Tart The Twisted Tard Butter Tart


  • Jax’s Specialty Perogies ‘n’ Things. I haven’t had a perogie since going paleo, so I simply couldn’t resist trying the gluten-free perogies (made of rice flour). I tried the assortment (sauerkraut, dill, cheese). Sadly, I’m not sure how these pass for perogies. They were crumbly and falling apart. They didn’t hold their shape at all, so they didn’t even resemble perogies. And they hardly had any filling. Very disappointing.

Jax's Specialty Perogies Gluten-Free

  • Starsicles Gourmet Popsicles. This company had 2 popsicle stands, strategically located at opposite ends of the market. There were many flavors to choose from. I had the “I Love You Sicle” (strawberry + coconut cream). It was yummy – tasted strongly of strawberries, and it wasn’t too sweet .

Starsicles I Love You Sicle

The Bench Market, Penticton

Bench Market Exterior

Location, location, location. This market is located at the foot of Naramata Bench, meaning you will pass it on your way to all the wineries there, and on your way back. We stopped in twice for coffee. They also have a full breakfast and lunch menu, and an assortment of snacks. And, since this is after all a market, they sell various local goodies (treats, cookbooks, preserves, pantry items, etc.). They have both indoor and outdoor seating to enjoy your treats. It’s a cute place, and a great stop to grab something on the go, or linger over a light meal.

Bench Market InteriorThe Bench Market on Urbanspoon

The Vanilla Pod at Poplar Grove Winery, Penticton

We were lured in by the promise of live music as part of the Spring Wine Festival. There was a musician temporarily in the lobby, but it would’ve been nice if there was some music out on the patio as well.

Regardless, the patio was awesome, overlooking the lake (the picture at the top of the post shows the view). I would’ve preferred private tables rather than the communal picnic-style tables they have set up, but I guess it’s perfect for large groups and wine tours.

Service was friendly and helpful but incredibly slow. It took forever to even get a menu. And then another long wait to place an order. And of course, even longer to get our food. It wasn’t even that busy, so I’m not sure what caused the delays.

Vanilla Pod at Poplar Grove Yukon Gold Potato Cakes

The menu wasn’t online, so I took a leap of faith that there’d be something for me to eat. It’s a pretty small lunch menu, but I wasn’t very hungry, so I opted for a smaller plate: Yukon Gold Potato Cakes (shredded Yukon Gold potatoes, tomato/avocado salsa and chevre). They were tasty and hit the spot.

Vanilla Pod at Poplar Grove Meat Pizza

My friend had their meat lovers Stone Oven Pizza (10” homemade thin crust), which was very good – cheesy and flavorful.

The restaurant felt very modern, whereas I prefer a more charming winery dining experience. But the food was tasty, the views were terrific, and as long as service becomes more efficient, I would say this is a pretty good food option in the Naramata Bench area.

The Vanilla Pod on Urbanspoon

Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Winery, Oliver

Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek - View

My trip coincided with Vancouver Magazine’s release of its 2013 Restaurant Awards issue. Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek won gold in the “Best Winery/Vineyard Dining 2013” category.

Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek (Gold) “offers the Okanagan Valley’s most polished winery dining experience, but with a suitably casual air.” Chef Jeff Van Geest’s food is unfussy, honest, and local-just like Sandra Oldfield’s wine.

I was intrigued by the fact that it’s co-owned by Manuel Ferreira, the previous owner of Le Gavroche in Vancouver, which I quite liked last time I was there. Manuel recently sold Le Gavroche to his executive chef, and I didn’t realize up until now that he also owns a restaurant in the Okanagan.

So, since we would be in the area, and because it was so highly praised by Vancouver Magazine, we decided to go there for dinner.

Miradoro is built atop a bluff, with glass curtain walls to ensure everyone can take in the expansive views. There is an outdoor dining area along the perimeter, terrific for al fresco dining. I was surprised they didn’t have blankets available, as it was a little chilly in the evening, but they did have some good heaters.

I called to check if their online menu is current because there was a 3 course option for $35 for two months prior. I was told that the menu is updated but that the option now costs $49. When I arrived, the menu was quite different fro what was online. What’s worse, the 3 course option was listed at $55. If you do the math, $55 doesn’t make sense. You’re not saving any money unless you order the most expensive appetizer and entrée and even then, the total of those two is $49, so you’re only saving a few bucks on dessert.

Service was lacking, especially so for fine dining, but even at a regular casual restaurant level. Our first server simply didn’t know the menu and wasn’t able to answer questions. When asked if the two menu items I was eyeing were gluten-free, he went to check with the kitchen. I guess the kitchen is to blame for the answer he came back with: that the only gluten-free entrée on the entire menu was the grilled albacore tuna. When I expressed my disbelief that they couldn’t make either the chicken breast or the steak without gluten, he went back to check with the kitchen. I was then told that they could omit the sauces and make these two items gluten-free. Is Miradoro unaware of the massive gluten-free trend that’s swept the dining scene of late? I was baffled. No gluten-free options other than tuna? Gluten on steak? I just don’t get it.

Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek - Honey Grilled Quail

Moving on. My friend ordered a glass of Pinot Noir, which was served much too warm (strange considering it’s a winery restaurant). For appetizers, we each ordered the Honey Grilled Quail (hazelnut, prosciutto & cabbage slaw). It was priced at $19 a plate! But neither of us could resist the tasty little birds, and we thought sharing might get messy. It was just okay, which made the price tag even harder to swallow. The quail was nicely grilled, with a lemony flavor. The slaw was a little boring, and didn’t really add much to the dish. We were both a little underwhelmed. And in my humble opinion, $19 is excessive for an appetizer, especially one that doesn’t blow me away.

Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek - Haida Gwaii Halibut

For the main, my friend had the Haida Gwaii Halibut (mushroom brodo, house made pancetta, 64 degree egg, apple, cabbage, rutabaga & black garlic). The fish was cooked well and the broth was tasty. But we both found the overall dish confusing – we didn’t see how the apple, rutabaga, and pancetta went with the dish. Everything seemed a little all over the place rather than being one cohesive dish. Also, the portion size was a  bit small.

Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek - Roast Polderside Farm Chicken Breast

I ordered the Roast Polderside Farm Chicken Breast (potato olive & alpindon frico, romesco & mojo verde). I found it a little bland, but that could be due to my gluten free request and the resulting omission of the sauce. I also wish the chicken breast was a little juicier and more flavorful. The root vegetables were nicely cooked, and I liked the frico spin on the potatoes, but found it a little too moist and would’ve preferred it to be both crispier and cheesier. My favourite component was probably the mojo verde which was bright and flavorful.

We decided to pass on dessert.

I’m not sure why Vancouver Magazine decided to award Moridoro gold. I was much more pleased with my experience at Quail’s Gate (Silver) the following day. Sadly, nothing about my experience wowed me, and service was lacking. Overall, the food was okay and the view was nice, so you could certainly do much worse. But, especially at that price range, I also think you could do better.

Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Winery on Urbanspoon

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Okanagan adventures (Hooded Merganser, Quail’s Gate, Carmelis Goat Cheese Artisian, and a note about the wineries)…

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