Outstanding in the Field

A table for 120, set at North Arm Farm in Pemberton, BC. More pictures here. Right: full moon over Okanagan vineyards, Meyer Vineyards.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dinner on God's Mountain

Carafes of pinot noir from Blue Mountain Winery
 It's called God's Mountain Estate, at the top of an unmarked driveway off Skaha Lake, a 14-room private hotel with a spectacular sunset view. Twice a week during the summer season, they have dinners here, prepared (because there's no kitchen) by an outfit called Joy Road Catering. The creative energy of "Joy Road" emanates from Dana Ewart, a cheerful, 34-year-old woman with an intuitive sense of taste and texture, and a caterer's ability to roll with the punches.

Shaved fennel salad with goat cheese

Clouds and showers? Set up on the covered veranda. A couple of last-minute guests? Bring up another table from the basement. No bouquet of flowers? Peonies in a jam jar. The result, as you can see, is a convivial table for 36 diners, convened on this summer evening to showcase the wines of Blue Mountain Winery.

With the winery's owners, Ian and Jane Mavety looking on and beaming proudly, the Brut Rose was poured with appetizers of mussels and pissaldiere. With the sauvignon blanc, a salad of shaved fennel and goat cheese. (This sounds like the biggest cliché in the business, but it was one of the tastiest salads I've had lately.) With the chardonnay, seared scallops. The sun came out (as it has off and on all day) and there was some talk of moving back down to the edge of the bluff overlooking the lake, but the consensus of the guests was to stay put, on the terrace, with the music of clinking glasses and lively conversations between diners who were strangers half an hour earlier.

But Dana decided it would be much nicer under the trees overlooking the lake, with fairy lights hanging from the branches as the last rays of the sun lit up the sky. "Bring your forks, napkins and your wine glasses, " Dana instructed firmly, and everyone meandered down the steps while her staff (a permanent group of ten, each one as goodnatured as the next) swiftly move chairs, tables and place settings.

Out came the platters of roast pork and carafes of Blue Mountain pinot noir, roast pork, and as the sky turned dark, pastries filled with lemon-flavored marscapone andsour cherries (picked that afternoon from trees along the drive).

Some of the diners were fortunate: they were hotel guests and wouldn't have to leave until morning, if ever.

God's Mountain Estate, 4898 Lakeside, Penticton, BC, 250-490-4800. Rooms $150 to $320 per night.

Vineyard dnners on Thursdays are $95, Al fresco dinners on Sundays are $110 (Canadian, plus tax). Reservations required.

Blue Mountain Winery, 2385 Allendale Rd., Okanagan Falls, BC 250-497-8244

Roll Out the Barrels

OLIVER, BC--You could take a shortcut through one of the many cherry orchards to get here, to Okanagan Barrel Works,  the only cooperage in the Okanagan Valley, but the paved road takes only a minute longer. Cal Craik runs the shop with a crew of four. Two of them are French, working their way through a complex work-study system called Les Compagnons du Devoir. They train bakers and stone masons, pastry chefs and barrel-makers, among their many trades and crafts. Eric Fourthon found his way here three years ago, and his replacement has already arrived. Together, the crew turns out something like a thousand barrels a year, some traditional (225-liter) Bordeaux-style, some larger vats.

Were this France, the parking lot would be filled with oak staves, neatly latticed to allow several seasons of air-drying before they are assembled. But Craik says it's easier (and no more expensive) to purchase staves, whether from France or from the American midwest, that have already been hewn (or cambered, or "joined," as they say) so that they are the right length and have the proper angle of bevelling to fit together properly. The key, says Craik, is in the toasting, which chars the wood and determines how the oak flavors will influence the wine. An American oak barrel sells for $425 (Canadian), but a French barrel (whose wood has a different cell structure) goes for $950. Is the difference worth it? That's up to the customer.

Like all the folks in the wine industry here, Okanagan Barrel Works has an office dog. This one's a frisky Weimaraner named Monsieur. Seems appropriate for Bastille Day, non?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What We Had For Dinner

RICHMOND, BC--You know the dilemma of ordering dinner in a foreign culture. Faced with a menu you can't read in a language you can't understand, or dishes you've never tasted and can't imagine eating, you point. "I'll have that," you say, and hope for the best.

No need to be nervous in Richmond, though. Our group of Seattle food writers had banquet-style meals (one lunch, two dinners) in three of this city's top Asian restaurants, expertly guided by Melody Fury (she's the one on the right in the picture).

First order of business: XLB, a specialty of Shanghai. (So, no, it's not an extra-large burrito.) It's a pork-soup dumpling, Xiao Long Bao, handmade in the large open kitchen of Richmond's Shanghai River Restaurant. Sometimes, though not today, you can also see the cooks hand-pulling homemade noodles. But before we got to the XLB, we sampled pan-fried noodles with pork, bean curd with vegetables, wonton soup with steamed chicken, Shanghai-style pan-fried shrimp (heads on), sweet and sour rock cod, and Peking duck (served in two--or was it three?) courses.

From Shanghai at lunchtime to Cantonese for dinner, at Jade, where Tony Luk was named Chinese Chef of the Year in the 2011 HSBC Chinese Restaurant Awards. His specialties included a pan-seared jumbo scallop with a morel and porcini sauce, a grilled and braised short rib, a chicken roasted in a clay pot, and, best of all, a soup of fish maw with crab meat.

Our final Asian excursion was a quick dinner at a Hong-Kong style cafe, the Spicy Stage, where the specialty is a do-it-yourself noodle hot pot.

Melody's a Vancouver native who writes a popular food blog gourmetfury.com and operates a company called Vancouver Food Tour that actually reaches foodie destinations well into the BC hinterlands.

Richmond, in case you've forgotten, is a community of 200,000, just south of Vancouver. It's home to the largest immigrant community in Canada; half the people who live here are foreign-born, two-thirds of them Asian. The "Golden Village," four square blocks of downtown Richmond, has malls that remind travelers of Hong Kong, with some 300 shops and countless restaurants (Alexandra is called "Food Street"). And you have to parse "Chinese" into authentic Cantonese, Szechuan, Shanghainese, Northern Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Malaysian cuisine (let alone the rest of Asia, such as Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino, Cambodian, Laotian, Indian, and so on.)

Now, should you be interested in replicating these banquets, you're in luck. Tourism Richmond, which sponsored the media tour that brought me here last month, is offering "The Ultimate Food Experience" as a contest prize or as a freestanding travel package.

Shanghai River Restaurant, 7831 Westminster Hwy, Richmond, BC, 604-233-8885