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Review: Chef Alessa Valdez brings experience and talent to the Restaurant at Phantom Creek

The Vancouver Sun – Mia Stainsby – May 11, 2022

Where: Phantom Creek Estates, 4315 Black Sage Road, Oliver

When: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Thursday to Monday.


Alessa Valdez’s move to the Okanagan was interplanetary.

“I was in culture shock. I’m a city girl from Toronto. The nightlife here … there’s nothing open when I run to a store to get groceries. I’m still trying to adjust to that,” she says.

But then Valdez, the chef at Restaurant at Phantom Creek Estate, met Okanagan tomatoes. And corn. And potatoes. But it was the tomatoes that stole her heart.

“The produce is so beautiful here, so different. I’m slowly falling in love with the Okanagan,” Valdez says. “Now I like the quiet time to myself, the slower pace.”

And the Okanagan had better love this angel of gastronomy right back. She’s most certainly sealed the reputation of Phantom Creek Estates as not only a fine wine destination under winemaker Mark Beringer, the great-great grandson of one of the founders of the notable Napa’s Beringer Vineyards, but for the food as well.

I sure had a lot of love for the lunch and dinner I had there on a recent trip to wine country. Visually, it’s jewelry and her dishes blaze with refined simplicity and beguiling flavours. She’s been blessed with a benevolent muse.

Not that she hasn’t paid her dues. She previously worked at A-listed restaurants in Toronto such as Buca Yorkville, Alobar, Oliver & Bonacini’s Auberge de Pommiere and Canoe, as well as Top Chef Canada judge Janet Zuccarini’s Gusto 101.

There are plenty of mentors in that group of restaurants but perhaps her muse is her mother, whose Filipino cooking inspired her to pursue culinary arts in high school.

“Her cooking is so much better and I don’t want to disappoint her,” Valdez says.

Well, tell her that this critic swooned over lunch and dinner.

For those who haven’t visited Phantom Creek Estates, it’s a beauty. More angels — flowing, towering, winged white sculptures, repping mother earth and nature — welcome you to the property. A marble Helios sculpture, the Greek god of sun, looks towards one of the vineyards and the Egyptian limestone clad building is surrounded by vineyards.

Inside, three wine tasting areas have vineyard views in every direction. Downstairs, the Founder’s Cellar, which can accommodate tastings and private events for up to six people, has all the drama of a tentacled Dale Chihuly glass chandelier which reflects and encircles the glass walls of this circular room.

In summer, they’ll welcome the public to concerts in the outdoor amphitheatre where attendees can enjoy wine and charcuterie picnics.

Currently, the restaurant is only open for lunch and for private events in the Founder’s Cellar, or private rooms and patios for larger groups.

“The goal is to open seven days a week for lunch and dinner but we have high expectations to create a beautiful experience and we’re not just going to hire anyone,” says Valdez. “Staffing has been my biggest problem.”

For lunch, I started with a fresh-tasting root salad with tahini dressing followed by poached ling cod over sweet pea puree with cello radish, fennel, and nori beurre blanc. Flavours were radiant.

“I try to let ingredients speak for themselves and don’t want to mask the beautiful protein and vegetables we get from local farmers,” Valdez says.

For dessert, the Basque cheesecake was topped with mulled wine plum preserves. Those plums were delicious thanks to the royal spa treatment they receive in a lovely 2018 Phantom Creek Becker vineyard Merlot. Valdez sounded a little guilty about the splurge.

The lunch menu is three courses for $55, or $70 with wine matches.

A five-course winemaker private dinner I attended was exquisite.

The first course was swimming scallop crudo with Northern Divine caviar, vegetarian XO oil, and Chardonnay vinegar, with a chive balanced balletically on top.

The second course was mushroom duxelles ravioli with Parmesan foam and Perigord truffles. For the foam, Valdez steeped Parmesan rind in cream with garlic, shallots and herbs then shot it through a siphon gun.

The third course had me bowing in reverence before the chef. Figuratively speaking, but were she right there, it would have been literally. An elegant rectangular sliced terrine revealed layers of honeyed beet gelée, foie gras and duck terrine with preserved pear and vibrant pops of sea buckthorn berries running along the top. The foie gras turned velveteen with a stint in the sous vide before going through a tami for a creamy, light-as-aIr texture. The terrine was served with toasted brioche slices cut to the exact same dimensions.

Next, a Brant Lake wagyu rib-eye with potato pavé, heirloom carrots, charred shallots and Bordelaise sauce. The wagyu was utterly delicious and the potato pavé had a bronzed, caramelized sear, top and bottom.

For dessert, choux pastry with pecan mousseline, pecan praline and pickled Saskatoon berry along with a plate of local cheeses.

Obviously, Valdez hunts for great ingredients which aren’t hard to find in the Okanagan and some of it is grown on the property, thanks to the passionate viticulturist, Amy Richards.

“The garden is a minute away,” says Valdez. “It’s pretty big but I wish it were bigger. The tomatoes, I kid you not, were THE best tomatoes I’ve ever had. I couldn’t believe it, picking it off the vine and popping it in my mouth.”

Last year’s haul yielded zucchini, corn, radishes, herbs, watermelon, edible flowers and those tomatoes.

“I’d go to the garden before a shift and harvest. It’s so relaxing.”

When I mention her beautiful plating, she says, “That’s so funny. I cannot draw for the life of me.”

For food ideas, she checks out what other chefs are doing online.

“Then I ask myself, how can I make it better? I’m about vibrant colours and textures.”

The winery offers many tour and tasting options — wines only, wine and food, winery and vineyard tour and tasting, Founder’s Cellar tasting with Library and exclusive wines, Founder’s Cellar tour and five-course wine-tasting dinner. All require prior booking.

To read the full article with photos: Vancouver Sun