Sunday, April 01, 2012

Travels with Chili: Crazy For Kelowna

Though the Okanagan wine region reaches as far north as Tappen and Kamloops, our northernmost stop would be the city of Kelowna, about halfway up the ribbon that is Okanagan Lake.

Our first two nights were booked at a country bed and breakfast a bit south of the the city, one that also happened to be a winery specializing in ice wines. Working Horse Winery featured a separate house with private suites for guests that boasts a dramatic view overlooking the vineyard and the lake below (top photo). Winemaker and proprietor Tilman Hainle and his father planted the vineyard in the early 70s, producing their first wines in 1978. Since then Tilman and his partner, chef Sara Norman, have been producing their award-winning ice wines, including the innovative Pinot Noir Lavender Ice wine and the barrel-aged Tilman Ice.

Breakfast on the patio. Sigh.

They also happen to be two of the warmest, funniest people on the planet, and they were happy to share not only their hospitality but their company the second night as we cooked up a fabulous dinner together. Under a clear, moonlit night sky, Dave made his famous martinis, we dined on Tilman's infamous grilled chicken and Sarah came up with a beet risotto that had us all swooning. As might be expected, there was no shortage of wine passed around, included a bottle of Amity Vineyards 1986 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir that Tilman had squirreled away in his cellar. Crazy!

Though tearing ourselves away was difficult, we ventured to our next destination, Myra Canyon Ranch, a bed and breakfast inn that also offers horseback riding through the dramatic Myra Bellevue Provincial Park that it borders. Though we weren't there for the horses (this time), we thoroughly enjoyed our suite where even the shower had a breathtaking view of the countryside (above right).

Dinner that evening was one I'd been looking forward to since the itinerary hit my in-box. RauDZ, which chef Rod Butters opened in 2010, is a casual dinner house in downtown Kelowna, one that is gaining a reputation for its groundbreaking farm-to-table commitment. Even more, its bar program, run by the spectacularly talented Gerry Jobe, is revolutionary, even for farm-friendly Portland, for its use of local products in what might be called farm-to-bartop.

Jobe's Golden Club.

When RauDZ opened, area farmers weren't used to selling directly to restaurants, but gradually local farmers (like Covert Farms) realized that there was a lucrative, year-round market in providing them with produce. Pretty soon farmers were appearing at the door with crates of local goods and, not-so-coincidentally, started selling those same greens, vegetables and other crops to customers at the farmers' markets.

Lamb tenderloin crepinette.

In one instance, Jobe recalled reading about an apple he'd never heard of and mentioning it to a local orchardist. Two seasons later the farmer he’d spoken with brought it in and has been supplying them ever since. He also said that they now get farmers and foragers wandering in with boxes and bags of sage blossoms, mushrooms and potatoes, and the restaurant (and bar) has to figure out what to do with them. Nothing like a reputation!

Our evening kicked off with Gerry's Golden Club for me, made with local Okanagan Spirits Bear Gin, Lillet, Cointreau, muddled golden raspberries and house-made sage blossom bitters, garnished with sweet William and golden raspberries.

Coriander-crusted ivory salmon.

Dave’s de rigeur-but-not martini was made with Okanagan Spirits Gin that included botanicals like juniper berries, lemon balm, orris root, orange peel, rose petals and spruce. Our appie of choice was Gulf Island mussels with crostini in a chorizo, tomato, onion and Crannòg Ale broth, which I announced would make a fabulous cioppino. I don’t know if anyone was listening.

To follow this, I decided on a glass of ’09 Pentage Syrah from Penticton, and Dave ordered a pint of his new favorite beer, Crannóg Ales’ Back Hand of God, a super dark, dry-hopped stout. My red was to accompany a lamb tenderloin crepinette, lamb tenderloin wrapped in…ooh la la…bacon, served on a bed of local polenta, roasted carrots, lamb jus and drizzled with arugula pesto. This was the equivalent, for me, of what heaven will taste like.

Dessert wines and fresh local fruit.

Dave ordered coriander-crusted ivory salmon that had been marinated in soy sauce and grilled, then served with shimeji mushrooms, new potatoes, red cabbage slaw and julienned vegetables. It was a combination that not only did justice to the salmon, but highlighted the freshness of the accompaniments, an all-too-rare occurrence in many restos.

We declined dessert, but they brought out small fruit platters, each with samples of perfectly ripe fruit that was in season: Italian prunes, red plums, small local wild green plums, peach, nectarine, golden raspberries, blackberries and raspberries. This selection accompanied two tastes of a raspberry and a blackberry dessert wine from Okanagan Spirits—which uses 20 lbs. of fruit to make 1 oz. of liqueur and totally tasted like it!

Truly fabulous whisk(e)y.

After that, Gerry thought we needed to try some of the local spirits (after a discussion about the distilleries in PDX) and brought out three tastes: Urban Distilleries Whisky, Urban Distilleries Rum and Okanagan Distilleries' McLoughlin and Steele Blended Whisky. It was a fitting ending to an incredible meal, one we still haven't forgotten. Especially since we brought home some of that awesome McLoughlin and Steele Whisky.

Read the other posts in this series, The Great Okanagan Road Trip, Okangan's Lake Country, Magical Moment, Perched In Penticton and Penticton Personalities.

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