We just returned from a wonderful vacation in British Columbia's beautiful South Okanagan Valley, in the City of Penticton. It has been our family holiday spot since before I was born, so it is like a second home to me. This year, we did things a little differently, and spent much more time at the wineries along the Naramata Bench, which runs high along the east side of Okanagan Lake, to the north of Penticton. In addition to tasting some fantastic wine (and bringing back a couple dozen bottles) we had the opportunity to eat at some great restaurants along the Bench, as well as in Penticton and Naramata Village. Here are some of the highlights:
Theo's Restaurant - This is an old favourite of mine. Since 1976, the Theodosakis family has served up homestyle Greek cooking at this Penticton landmark. Theo's is always delicious, and this year was no exception. They have the best Greek food I've ever tasted outside of Greece, and my own personal favourite Greek dish, taramasalata, is made to perfection here. If you've never had this traditional Greek Easter dish made with cod roe, on a piece of warm pita, you are missing out. We also sampled the tzatziki, calamari, and the Greek salad, which were delicious. My main course was moussaka, and the slightly sweet, orange-flavoured Bechamel sauce was really nice.
The Hooded Merganser - Located right on the lake at the Penticton Lakeside Resort, this is a modern restaurant which reminds me a little of Earl's or Cactus Club. The atmosphere is nice, especially if you get a table on the patio overlooking the lake. The menu is a little strange in that you'll find both a hot dog called 'Remi's Hemi', sponsored by Dodge, and fancier fare such as a duck breast. I skipped both and had the honey-garlic ribs, which were tasty, but not spectacular. They came with a standard baked potato, and veg, which were good but not great. Definitely a place where the location overshadows the food.
Salty's Beachhouse - This place is perpetually busy, and usually insanely so. It is located right on Lakeshore Drive with a view of the beach, and the menu is full of dishes from beach-y places around the world. Menu items include pizzas, Cuban sandwich, stir-frys, chicken roti, tacos, enchiladas, salads and burgers, etc. To start, I had the tom kah gai soup - Thai hot and sour with coconut milk and chicken - and it was fantastic. I have this every time I go because I like it so much. They also do a great job of a Thai red curry with chicken and papaya, served with Jasmine rice - really tasty. This time I had the Big Kahuna burger, which features bacon AND ham, as well as cheese. It's a nice burger, big and juicy, though not the best in town. Is it worth the normal 45 minute dinnertime wait? We thought not, and opted to come back at lunch.
Piggy's BBQ - Just up Lakeshore from Salty's is Piggy's. They are located at the Tiki Shores resort, in a spot that has seen a few restaurants come and go over the years. Of all the Lakeshore restaurants, Salty's has been the only one to survive, let alone thrive. A place like Piggy's would normally be happy with Salty's cast-offs, but I hope this is about to change. I love southern-style slow-smoked BBQ, but much like Mexican food, it seems to be hard to find outside of the U.S.A. So I was very pleasantly surprised to find that Piggy's does it very well. I would go as far to say that this is the best BBQ I've had outside of the States. We had smoked hot wings to start, and they came with a tangy lime-ranch dip. Excellent wings and excellent dip. I had the brisket sandwich, and my companion had the pulled pork. We had our choice of 2 sides, and we both opted for the fresh-cut fries and the cornbread. I was a little disappointed not to see mac n' cheese as a side, but that went away when I tasted those fries. They serve them with garlic mayo, and they are homemade and out of this world. And the sandwiches were also delicious, tender, juicy, flavourful and saucy. The cornbread had honey butter, and was moist and tasty. Please, let it still be there next summer!
Front Street Bistro - This place looks small from the road, where they have a deck set up for outdoor dining, but it is large on the inside. We were treated to a private booth which featured its own controls for music volume and dimming the lights, and a curtain which we did not use. We shared their version of nachos to start, which consists of chips in a terra cotta pot, which sits in another shallow pot surrounded by a Mexican layer dip, all of which has been baked in the oven until it is hotter than the surface of the sun. Despite the peril of reaching into the hot pot for chips, we really enjoyed the dip. For our entree we shared a burger, as the bistro boasts that they have the juiciest burger in town. This is probably true. The burger also happens to be delicious. Our only complaint was that it came with potato salad, and not a particularly good one. No fries available, but maybe next time we would substitute soup or salad. Also, on this particular day, the service was really slow, and not very good. We are told by other visitors that this is not the norm.
Amonte Bistro - This is a new restaurant on Main, located in the spot formerly occupied by Roberto's Pasta Bar, and, some time ago, by an automobile service station. Amonte is run by a husband and wife team; he's in the kitchen and she's out front. So far, he's doing a much better job than she is. Service was poor, but the food was very nice. We started with and antipasto trio of grilled sausage, garbonzo pate, and tomato bocconcini salad. It came with fresh bread, and everything was fresh and well-prepared. For dinner I had the steak with salsa verde, and my companion had the pork medallions. Both were very tasty, but the pork was better, as the steak, though cooked to perfection, was under-seasoned. What surprised us was the availability of only one choice of accompaniments for all of the dishes: curried glazed carrots and, of all things, barley. The carrots were very good, but the barley was not, and both of us let it remain on our plates. Barley felt like a bit of a cop-out considering the care and attention that went into everything else. For dessert we shared a pecan cinnamon creme brulee, which was delicious, despite the crust being a little overdone. Also, I am a creme brulee purist, and always prefer it done in the traditional way.
Barley Mill Pub - Good solid pub food, tasty, consistent and reasonably priced.
Shades on Main - Voted Best Breakfast by Okanagan Life. Cheap and tasty bacon and eggs. Skip Ricky's, Denny's, etc., and head for Shades for a greasy fry-up.
Pasta Factory - The name is accurate. Not authentic, factory style, but fairly good for the money. The Sicilian Penne is better than passable.
Iyara - This is a wonderful family-run Thai restaurant poorly located in a small strip mall. I am always glad to see that they have survived another winter, because I've never seen more that a handful of people in there at any time. They used to be called Mon Thong, and though the name has changed, the menu has not. The prices are comparable to Thai restaurants in Calgary, but the portions are twice the size. We had an appetizer sampler, with chicken satay, chicken patties, and spring rolls. For dinner, we had pad Thai, spinach with chicken and peanut sauce, and red curry. Everything was outstanding. I really like this place, and I find that the quality and taste are right up there with any of the finest Thai restaurants I've ever been to.
Hillside Bistro - This was the star of the show for the entire trip. Located along the Naramata Bench at Hillside Winery, this bistro offers a fantastic view of the lake from the patio, along with great wine and fantastic food. We started with the bruschetta, which was so simple yet so tasty. The tomatoes were perfectly seasoned, ripe, and juicy. We also shared the gazpacho, which was superb. For the main, I had the tropical chicken pizza, which had a thin cracker-crisp base, topped with sundried tomato goat and cream cheese spead, grilled chicken, papaya slices, and cheese. It was incredible. The flavours were perfect together. My companion had an oven-baked chicken wrap with cheese and peach salsa, which was also wonderful. And on the side were peppery greens drizzled with an amazing roasted garlic balsamic vinaigrette. Hillside was our absolute favourite, followed closely behind by the next 2 restaurants.
Lake Breeze Patio - Another winery bistro, Lake Breeze features an English patio in a beautiful garden. It feels as if you've left Canada and landed in some European vacation spot. Our table had the shrimp and chorizo salad, the cannelloni, the red wine-cream fig and chicken pasta, and the chicken sandwich. Everything was very nice, and the complementary garden salad was a nice touch. This is a near-perfect lunch spot. The wine isn't bad either...
Naramata Heritage Inn - For our last night, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner on the patio of Cobblestone Wine Bar, located at the century-old Naramata Heritage Inn. The setting is warm and romantic, and the menu boasts fine ingredients; all of the produce is grown in the garden right on the Inn grounds. To start, they offer fresh stone-baked bread, hot from the oven, with choice from a long list of dips, cheeses, spreads, etc. We opted for the spinach/artichoke/goat cheese spread and the smoked chorizo. The bread was incredible, good enough to eat alone, but with the cheese and chorizo, it was outrageously good. Then we had the grilled romaine hearts salad, and the heirloom tomato gazpacho. The freshness was apparent, and the taste was delightful. My main course was a rib-eye, topped with a braised short rib, on a bed of potato puree, with carrots and onions. It was all very good, but the short rib stole the show. The rib eye was a special, but the short rib was an entree from the regular menu, and I found myself wishing i'd ordered it instead. My companion had Parmesan-crusted halibut, with Dungeness crab risotto. The halibut was nice, but the risotto was on another level. Soooooo good. For dessert we had homemade ice cream, which came with a pecan chocolate-chip cookie. The service was very good, and the prices are extremely reasonable considering the high quality of ingredients and preparation. It is a wonderful place, and between here and Hillside, it is difficult to pick a favourite. We've decided that the best thing to do is to eat at both! Hillside for lunch, Cobblestone for dinner.
If you get the chance to visit this beautiful area, you will find great food, world-class wine and breathtaking scenery. I can't wait until next summer!
687 Main St, Penticton, BC V2A, CA
Hooded Merganzer Restaurant
21 Lakeshore Drive West, Penticton, BC V2A 7M5, CA
Salty's Beach House Restaurant
1000 Lakeshore Dr W, Penticton, BC V2A1C1, CA
914 Lakeshore Dr W, Penticton, BC V2A, CA
Front St Bar & Bistro
151 Front St, Penticton, BC V2A, CA
Barley Mill Brew Pub & Sports Bistro
2460 Skaha Lake Rd, Penticton, BC V2A, CA
Shades On Main Restaurant
1909 Main St, Penticton, BC V2A5H5, CA
236 Martin St, Penticton, BC V2A5K3, CA
Iyara Thai Restaurant
2985 Skaha Lake Rd, Penticton, BC V2A, CA
Hillside Estate Winery & The Barrel Room Bistro
1350 Naramata Rd, Penticton, BC V2A8T6, CA
Lake Breeze Vineyards
930 Sammet Rd, Kelowna, BC, Canada
Cobblestone Wine Bar
3625 1st St, Kelowna, BC, Canada