Tuesday 20 October 2015

A Truly Magical Evening: Terrace Restaurant at Mission Hill Winery

1730 Mission Hill Rd, West Kelowna, BC V4T 2E4
(250) 768-7611

Tastiness Factor: 9/10

Atmosphere: 5/5 (I would even argue 6/5!)

Service: 4.5/5

Locavore Approved? YES- The menu at the Terrace is small and concise (always a good sign!) focusing on the freshest seasonal fare that the Okanagan has to offer.  The meats and produce that they can find at any particular time are listed on the bottom of the menu, and the farms they source from are listed on their website.  The Terrace is the real deal when it comes to sourcing local as much as possible, from produce to meats to seafood.  

Reservation required?  Highly recommended, and in the summer months, you will want to book well in advance for a coveted al fresco table.  Note that they close after Thanksgiving and reopen in May.  

When making dinner reservations for our quick weekend trip to Kelowna in late September, we figured that our plans had to include at least one meal at a winery.  Upon asking friends for recommendations and doing some internet digging, there was a clear standout- Terrace Restaurant at the Mission Hill Winery.

As soon as you drive onto the property, you will see see why Mission Hill has won the Canadian Winery of the Year several times and why the restaurant is ranked among the top winery restaurants in the world.  The grandeur of the winery grounds is remarkable, with a massive set of arches to walk through as you enter, leading into a sprawling courtyard with a belltower and even an outdoor amphitheatre (find out more about the impressive architecture and go on an interactive tower here).

Unlike the larger-than-life winery grounds, the Terrace Restaurant is small and intimate, and perhaps one of the most romantic venues one could imagine.  I must admit, I was a little shocked when I realized that the whole restaurant, kitchen included, was outdoors (should have guessed with the name "Terrace"!) but even this late in the season, we were comfortable sitting there way passed dark with the overhead heaters, the cozy blankets that we were offered and, of course, the wine to warm up the insides:)  The outdoor setting, overlooking rows of grapes and the lake, was nothing short of magical, especially since we hit the jackpot with a full moon on the night of our visit!

The service was professional and polished, yet personable.  Our main server was very knowledgeable about all of our wine pairings and dishes, and took the time to explain them all in detail.  At the end, when things had died down for the night, she spent more time chatting and answering some of our questions.  Other servers came consistently to clear plates and refill water, making us feel well looked after all night long.

As mentioned, the food at the Terrace is an homage to the Okanagan.  Don't be disappointed if the online menu is not identical to the one that you get, as the small menu is constantly getting tweaked reflect the newest, freshest ingredients of the season (always a good sign!).  The menu divided into appies and mains, with a few tapas-style dishes and a few sides.  Although we definitely did not regret our decision to order a side of their heavenly french fries, the portion sizes are certainly generous enough that sides are not necessary.  In terms of drink, they have a paired wine suggestion next to each dish (from Mission Hill Winery, of course) and conveniently offer both 2oz (for tasting) and 5oz wines by the glass.  It is a fantastic opportunity to try some of their Reserve and Terroir Collection wines that are only available at the winery itself.

Here is a peek at what we enjoyed on the night of our visit:

Pear "cider" (Amouse Bouche)- I cannot think of anything that I would have enjoyed more sitting out outdoors on that fall evening than this hot drink-able soup with cinnamon and nutmeg.  They nailed it.

Homestead Farm Greens- This incredible salad tickled all of my tastebuds.  Nestled on the freshest mixed greens one could imagine were some of two of my favourite late-season ingredients- beets and rhubarb (the rhubarb vinaigrette was divine).  The flax cracker served on the side had amazing crunch and added substance to the dish.  Simple but unbelievably satisfying.

Homemade Rigatoni & Braised Beef Rib- Hubby could not stop swooning about the flavours of this starter pasta dish, with preserved tomato and rosemary broth to add depth.

Pan-Seared Okanagan Char-  Another well-composed dish.  The nicely cooked fish with great crispy skin was served over a nice cabbage slaw, with a particularly noteworthy potato smoked char cake on the side.  Some pickled apples strewn around the plate really rounded the whole dish out nicely.

Roasted Scallops- Hubby was a little less excited about this dish than the rest of the meal, but it was still no doubt well-executed with homemade capicola and risotto.

Frites- Again, we had more than enough food between our applies and mains but who can say no to frites, especially when they are this good?  They were SO crisp, perfectly salted, and served with a tangy, creamy aioli.  I eventually had to ask the server to take them away so I did not finish the whole huge bowl.

Farmer's Vegetables-  Since I did not get a lot of veg with my main, I decided to get this as a side.  And I got exactly what I bargained for- a crisp, fresh assortment of veggies sautéed in a bit of butter.

Complimentary sweet treats to bid farewell:)

Overall Verdict?
This late-fall al fresco dining experience was memorable in so many ways.  The break-taking atmosphere (complete with full moon!) is enough to make me recommend Terrace Restaurant to all visitors to this region, and fortunately the food also earned top marks. If you are looking for a magical evening, I cannot think of a better place to go.

Sunday 18 October 2015

Waterfront Wines: A Kelowna Local Hotspot

1180 Sunset Dr, Kelowna, BC V1Y 9W6
(250) 979-1222

Tastiness Factor: 8/10

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 4/5

Reservation required? Highly recommended, especially in the summer months

Locavore Approved? YES- The menu here changes quite frequently with little tweaks here and there to their online menu to reflect the changing seasons.  They keep the menu fairly small, with only a handful each of apples and mains, which allows them to constantly switch things up and provide high quality dishes made with the freshest of Okanagan ingredients.

This was only our second visit to Kelowna in the 5 years that we had lived in Vancouver, and we only had 2 nights to check out the best restaurants that the city had to offer.  A quick peruse of the internet led me to Waterfront Wines, which had unanimously awesome reviews and had won several awards including Vancouver Magazine's "Best Okanagan Restaurant" for 7 years running.  That sounds too good to pass up, so I booked on the spot.

The restaurant is located in Kelowna's picturesque downtown, pretty near to (but not right on) the water.  The relatively small space is quite charming, with the perfect balance of being formal enough to make it feel like a special night out but not so formal that it comes off snooty or pretentious.  I appreciated the nicely spaced tables, which is a rare find in a place of this size, and the division of the restaurant into a few rooms which made it feel more intimate.  The decor had a rustic edge to it, including a very interesting wooden fixture that took up pretty much the whole ceiling in the room we were sitting in.  The place was still hopping when we arrived at 9:30pm on a Friday evening in late September, especially the main room that housed the open kitchen and the bar.  A local favourite no doubt.

The local spirit really came through in the service, which was personal and warm.  We had 2  servers throughout the night, one who very friendly male server brought us water and checked in on us periodically, and a knowledgeable female server who helped us with menu choices and brought out our dishes.  I noticed the chef emerging from the kitchen on a few occasions to chat with some locals at the bar.  Chef Filatow is also the restaurant's sommelier (he was accepted into the International Sommelier Guild a few years back) and has worked his way through some very well-respected BC restaurants including Vancouver's Bishop's and Tofino's Wickaninnish Inn.

The menu here is simply composed of tapas/appetizers, mains, cheese and desserts with a handful or two of choices for each.  In addition, there is a very nice selection of cocktails and many wines available by the glass, most from the Okanagan of course! There are quite a few interesting appetizers   (we enjoyed these more than our mains) and I would recommend sharing a few as Hubby and I did for more variety.  Although we did not have any, there is also a nice selection of digestifs and "dessert" drinks if you are so inclined.

Here is what we enjoyed on the night of our visit:

Spice-dusted octopus-  This was hands-down the best dish of the evening, and was something special by any standards.  The perfectly cooked octopus had a nice salty, spicy bite and married perfectly with the zippy agile underneath.  The side of slaw added a nice refreshing touch and balanced the spice.  Sadly this is no longer on the menu but here's hoping they bring this dish back ASAP!

Stoney Paradise Sungold Risotto- What a lovely fall dish, and a great homage to the delicious sungold tomato.  This risotto was prepared in a creamy sungold tomato base, with even more creaminess added thanks to a runny quail's egg on top.  And if that wasn't enough, there were a few lardons mixed in for good measure.  Considering its richness, the portion size was small enough that it still passed for an appie, but we enjoyed sharing it for a few bites each of decadence.

House-made ricotta cavetelli, grand padding and sage brown butter- I opted for the only vegetarian dish which proved to be an excellent choice.  This beautifully fresh dish highlighted some of the best fall ingredients, including carrots, fennel, green beans, turnips and greens (pretty much a whole garden!).  The cavetelli were soft and pillowy and were the perfect vehicle to soak up the fennel and carrot puree.  The lentils added a nice hit of protein and texture.  A truly exceptional vegetarian dish.

Grilled peppercorn crusted heritage angus flat iron steak- As he often does at a new restaurant, Hubby asked our server what the restaurant's most popular dish was and she replied that this steak was the only dish on the menu that never got taken off the menu (it has been on there for 11 years!) due to its popularity among customers.  So Hubby went with it, but unfortunately he was disappointed.  Although he could not find fault with any particular part of the dish, it lacked the personality of the appetizer courses and was, well, boring.  If you come with a guest who is a "meat and potatoes" type, this may be their cup of tea but otherwise, this place has much better dishes to offer.

Overall Verdict?
All those I spoke to in Kelowna told me that this was the city's best restaurant, and the vibe here makes it clear that it is truly a local hotspot.  As a visitor to the Okanagan, Waterfront Wines should definitely be on your list of places to check out, and bear witness to all of the great work being done by this multitalented chef/sommelier.  By the end of the night, you will feel so welcome that you may even forget that you are a tourist!

Waterfront Restaurant & Wine Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Saturday 10 October 2015

Honest to Goodness West Coast Cuisine at The Mackenzie Room

415 Powell St, Vancouver, BC V6A 1G7
(604) 253-0705

Tastiness Factor: 8.5/10

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 5/5

Locavore Approved?  YES- MacKenzie room is about as local as they get.  Their menu changes so frequently that printed menus just don't cut it, hence the large chalkboard menu on the back wall.   Most of their veg comes from local farms in Abbotsford, so is extremely fresh.  They focus on sustainable meats such as game (I have not seen yak at many other places!) and subscribe to the "nose-to-tail" philosophy (we literally got a dish of pig's tails!).  

Mackenzie Room is among the new hot spots to have popped up in our great food city this year.  Hubby and I had already managed to check many of the others off our list including Big Trouble and Supermarine which were both quite impressive, so we were looking forward to another newbie.

Mackenzie Room is located in Chinatown where you might not want to find yourself alone at night (do not let the cab ride there scare you off!).  On the plus side, it is quite near the Vancouver Urban Winery which is a great spot for a pre-dinner drink.

When we arrived at the restaurant at around 8pm, the small room was packed to the rafters and we were ushered over to the bar to squeeze in for a drink while we waited for our table.  The decor is fairly rustic, with lots of wood furniture and minimalistic fixtures which nicely jives with their farm-to-table/nose to tail philosophy.

I feel the need to give a special nod to our phenomenal server for the evening, who stood out as one of the best I have had in some time.  He knew the dishes inside and out and took time to explain every single element including where each main ingredient was from.  Despite the busy room, he gladly answered all of our questions and stayed around to chat for a while at intervals.  AWESOME!!!!!!   Meanwhile, the co-owner made her way around the room, filling water glasses and ensuring everything was running smoothly, despite obviously being quite advanced in her pregnancy.  She made it look easy, with a big smile all night long.

The menu items at Mackenzie Room are constantly changing depending on seasonality of ingredients, and all dishes available on any particular night are found on a large chalkboard at the back of the restaurant.  There are about 5 each of small and larger plates, and a few desserts.  Sharing is encouraged.  Drinks are also found on the board, including a number of local beers and a small selection of cocktails.

The easiest option, perfect for the indecisive diner, is the "I Want It All".  For $47 each, you get all menu items that night to share (minimum of 4 people).  Our server also told us that there were a few dishes available that would appear of the next week's new menu so added a few of those as well (at an extra cost).  The menu included some very unique proteins (yak, pig cheek, pig tail), as well as a nice selection of seasonal vegetable dishes.  The only issue we had with the food was the quantity.  For the price we paid (close to $200 just for Hubby and I, with a few drinks each), Hubby and the other men at the table were still very hungry.  Although there were quite a number of dishes that arrived at our table, it really was not all that much when they were divided by the 6 of us (only a few bites of each at most).

Here are the dishes we shared on our "We Want It All" menu:

Herb Bread

Veggies from the Garden- bagna caudal, rye bread

The Showstopper (my favourite!)- legumes, farmer's cheese, pistachio (the cheese on the dish is actually made using the buttermilk whey on the rockfish dish below.  Nothing gets wasted here!)

Shrimp ceviche with edible flowers

ByCatch Crudo- rockfish, buttermilk whey (our server explained that it is called "ByCatch" because rockfish is considered an inferior fish that is usually hauled up incidentally when fishing for halibut or salmon.  But here, the "waste not, want not" philosophy made them get creative and make the rockfish shine in this simple crudo).

Don't Talk Back- yak tartar, chicken skin, foie gras

Kiss My Reuben- beef tongue, horseradish cream

Mexican street corn- mayo, cheese, lime 

Roger Rabbit Cacciatore- parsnip puree, wild mushrooms, peas

Octopus- sofrito, pea shoots, pickled onion

 Breakfast for Dinner- pig cheeks, savoury oatmeal, salsa verde

Double Rainbow- whole trout, chorizo, walla wall onion, fennel

A Girl and her Goat- cornmeal cake, honey lavender ice cream, poached fruit

Homemade pie and ice cream

Overal Verdict?
Undeniably, the Mackenzie Room has a lot going for it- a genuine eat-local and nose-to-tail philosophy, passionate staff and a pleasant environment in an up-and-coming part of town.  The food was, for the most part, well-executed but I fear that the price point relative to portion size may be a deterrence to some.  With a bit more time under their belt, I have confidence that they will strike a good balance of quality, quantity and price point so that diners will be lining up to come back for more.  Here's hoping for a bright future ahead for The Mackenzie Room!

The Mackenzie Room Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato