Here’s Part Two of my recent foodie Okanagan adventure. I visited the Hooded Morganser, the Old Vines Restaurant at Quail’s Gate Winery (above image), and Carmelis Goat Cheese Artisian. Also, a note about some of my favourite wineries. And if you missed it, here’s Part 1.
Hooded Merganser, Penticton
If you’re looking for a restaurant in downtown Penticton, the Hooded Merganser is most people’s default choice (there aren’t very many to choose from). Luckily, since it sits on stilts (my favourite!), over Okanagan Lake, it has fantastic views, and a great patio to boot.
My friend and I stopped in for breakfast. This early in the season, first thing in the morning, the patio is still quite cold if you’re unlucky enough to be on the shaded side. They do have heaters, but they’re not very strong, so I appreciated the blankets they provide.
My friend ordered the eggs benedict – it was pretty standard.
I had the Brie omelette, which was also pretty standard, though I did love the big hunk of brie on top. The potatoes, however, were very tasty – super soft on the inside and crispy on the outside.
So everything was pretty decent, especially if you’re here primarily for the patio and views. Everything, that is, except for the service. Our server was very nice. But the food took forever (over 45 minute wait, for breakfast!). And the server didn’t really seem sensitive to how long we’ve been waiting – the bill took a very long time to arrive as well. Also, some of the other staff weren’t very friendly.
We were pretty much just there to check it out, to soak in the views, and most of all because we couldn’t find a winery restaurant that was open for breakfast. So, if you need to eat somewhere in downtown Penticton, go for it. Otherwise, the winery restaurants are a more interesting option.
Old Vines Restaurant at Quail’s Gate Winery, Kelowna
Lunch at Quail’s Gate was the highlight of the weekend. The Old Vines Restaurant has a gorgeous location relatively close to the water, overlooking their vineyards. Their patio is beautiful, with awesome views. To me, it’s the perfect winery restaurant setting. You feel close to the water, close to the grapes, and are dining al fresco overlooking it all.
Things were off to a rocky start though. Service was unacceptably slow. Plus, we were given dirty water glasses and had to flag down a server to get new ones, as well as to place our order. Then it took forever to get our wine, and an equally long time for the appetizer to arrive. They weren’t even that busy, so it was unclear what the holdup was. Another slight annoyance was the menu confusion. Both the brunch and the lunch menu were being displayed at the front, but they were only serving the brunch menu, which also happened to be different from the brunch menu online.
But, it’s surprisingly easy to move past such mishaps when the food is so darn good. That, and it helped that once our server finally came around, she was friendly, attentive and knowledgeable.
The wines, which we tasted in the winery’s tasting room prior to our lunch were very good – I particularly liked the Chasselas (45% Chasselas, 30% Pinot Blanc, 25% Pinot Gris), which I subsequently ordered with my meal. My friend had the pinot noir and the Gewürztraminer, both of which were lovely.
We started off with the Charcuterie board (locally sourced meats, house pickles, Eleni olives, Brassica mustard). I was super excited that there was a non-pork meat on it: venison! It was flavorful and delicious. My friend enjoyed the speck. And we both liked the variety of pickled vegetables (golden beets, carrots, cornichons, pearl onions, olives). The duck rillette was tasty also, as was the Brassica mustard. It was one of the more interesting charcuterie boards I’ve had.
I didn’t really have many dining options – I was expecting to either eat the burger (online menu) or the pot au feu (lunch menu), but neither of them were available. So, I ordered the Warm Mushroom Salad (sunny side quail eggs, sautéed mushrooms, parmesan, sherry vinaigrette), which was delicious. There was a nice assortment of mushrooms, which were flavorful and perfectly cooked, thus retaining their shape. The various greens were very fresh, and each had its own unique taste. It was a medley of flavour components, but it all worked incredibly well together. Even though I was eating this warm salad on a hot afternoon in the scorching sun, I still found it light and refreshing. It was beautifully presented, and the two quail eggs were very cute and perfectly cooked. I must admit I felt a slight, fleeting pang of guilt about the previous night’s quail appetizer and today’s quail eggs when I saw two adorable quails skipping along the vineyard. If you’ve never seen quails, they are so fun to watch, they have this highly decorative feather protruding from the top of their head, and they move like the roadrunner cartoon character, always in turbo mode when moving, with sudden halts in between.
My friend had the Yarrow Meadows Duck Taglierini (confit duck, caramelized apple, spinach, thyme, cream). I tasted the duck and it was delicious – flavorful, cheesy, creamy, and salty. The amount of duck was just right, and it was fall-apart-tender. The pasta was perfectly cooked, and despite all the cheese and pasta, the dish did not feel heavy at all. All of the components meshed together very well – a symphony of flavor.
We also shared a side of Truffle Fries. I’ve ordered truffle fries at other restaurants before, but can say with certainty, that I’ve never had truffle flies before these ones – because none of the ones I’ve had thus far even came close. The truffle flavor was wonderfully bold, and the fries themselves were quite good.
When the meal’s going this well, you simply don’t pass on dessert. Not that it was really an option after I had glanced at the menu. Four out of the five items were gluten-free! Anyone out there who’s avoiding gluten can probably relate to eating a few too many crème brûlées or flourless chocolate cakes, or worse, there being nothing available other than ice cream. So kudos to the pastry chef for such a wonderful dessert menu!
My friend and I shared two. The Baked Yogurt (lemon curd, poppy seed toast, candied lemon zest) was a revelation. The slight tanginess of the yogurt paired perfectly with the lemon curd. They didn’t mind serving the poppy seed toast on the side (not gluten-free) so that my friend could still enjoy the dish in its entirety. The dessert was light, refreshing, and very well balanced.
As much as I loved the baked yogurt, I liked the other dessert even better, probably because I’m a sucker for cherries: Fromage Frais Mousse (almond macaroon, granola crunch, preserved cherries). It was simply divine. The mousse was light and fluffy and the cherries were so flavorful. The macaron was a nice base for the dessert and the presentation was lovely. Again, the granola crunch (not gluten-free) was served on the side. I loved that neither dessert was overly sweet, and both were creative, and not something you typically see on a dessert menu.
I had a fantastic time at Quail’s Gate. Delicious food, serene ambiance, eye candy for miles. I’ll definitely be back, and I highly recommend dropping by, even if all you can fit into your schedule is a glass of wine and a dessert or charcuterie plate – it’s very much worth the stop.
We did tastings at several wineries, and the ones that stood out were: La Frenz (especially the Riesling, Viogner, and Alexandria – they also have a terrific Pinot Noir), Quail’s Gate (the Chasselas was wonderful and the rosé was nice as well), and Lake Breeze (Pinot Blanc). I’ve been more into reds lately, but I’ve heard that the Okanagan is better known for their whites, and I certainly found that to be the case at the tastings – the whites dominated.
Carmelis Goat Cheese Artisian
We also stopped by Carmelis. Man, those goats are living it large. The farm is located way up on a hill above the lake,and the goats have this huge, steep, obstacle course like habitat that they roam. All while enjoying million dollar views.
Carmelis offers you an extensive goat cheese tasting (free as long as you buy some cheese, otherwise I believe it was $2). Basically, it’s any cheese you can think of, made with goat’s milk. I ended up buying a package of the Misty (a ripened soft cheese coated with vegetable ash) – it’s tasty and strongly flavoured, funky in a good way.
I also sampled some of their goat cheese gelato, which I was excited about. I was disappointed that it tasted just like regular gelato. A few of the flavors were a little too sweet for my liking. I was hoping to find at least a few flavors that showcased the goat’s milk – you’d think there’d be at least one. But alas, that was not the case.
I highly recommend stopping by, as it’s a neat place to visit and the goat cheeses are terrific (and where else could you possibly find such a large assortment of goat cheese!). Plus, it’s cool to buy the goat cheese right from the farm, literally next to the goats whose milk its made from.
I had an awesome time in the Okanagan, and can’t wait to go back. If you missed it, I wrote about the following spots in Part 1: Penticton Farmer’s Market, The Bench Market, The Vanilla Pod at Poplar Grove Winery and Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek.
Have you been to any of these places? What did you think? Any recommendations for my next visit to the Okanagan?