The Globe and Mail – Alexandra Gill, November 2021
Don’t despair if your plans for an Okanagan wine holiday went up in wildfire flames last summer.
As I recently discovered on a satiating jaunt to the South Okanagan and Similkameen Valley, many wineries will remain open for winter. And the south, which previously offered a dining landscape as arid as the climate, is awash in fantastic new culinary experiences.
No matter when you visit, be sure to include the Restaurant at Phantom Creek Estates, where I joyfully devoured one of the best meals I’ve eaten – anywhere – this year.
The estate itself, which opened in the summer of 2019 and is owned by Vancouver businessman Richter Bai, is a stunning spectacle of monumental ambition. The terraced building, designed by noted winery architect John Taft, is subtly clad in pale-sand Egyptian limestone and studded with grand art installations, including two angelic winged sculptures by Taiwan’s Wu Ching Ju.
A dazzling reception area, which boasts three sleek tasting rooms and an outdoor amphitheatre, offers panoramic views of the Black Sage Bench and beyond. Two of the estate’s five vineyards (Becker and Phantom Creek) have historic importance; all are now certified organic and are on their way to becoming biodynamic.
A state-of-art, gravity-fed winery equipped with huge Stockinger foudres and optical sorters, specializes in Bordeaux reds and Alsatian whites. It’s overseen by the new director of winemaking, Mark Beringer, (scion of the Napa Valley dynasty) and several international superstars including Olivier Humbrecht, France’s first Master of Wine.
The first time I visited Phantom Creek, around this time last year, I enjoyed the five-course Founder’s Cellar Experience in a glass-walled private room crowned with a custom Dale Chihuly chandelier. Chef Sarah Fiore had just joined the winery, after a spending a year in New York working at the one-Michelin-starred Estela. Originally from Toronto, she started at Rob Gentile’s Buca Osteria & Enoteca as a high-school co-op student and worked her way up to sous chef at Buca Yorkville. Ms. Fiore, who is currently on leave (hopefully not for long), recruited sous chef Alessa Valdez, who also worked at Buca Yorkville, opened Toronto’s Alobar and was at Gusto 101 before moving to the Okanagan this year. Ms. Fiore’s talent was obvious from my first bites of expertly rendered foie gras torchon and duck ballotine, both beautifully accented with stone-fruit preserves to showcase the big red wines.
But at the new restaurant, which opened in June, the two chefs have blossomed into a tight team, creating culinary works of art that are simply spectacular. The dishes are gorgeously plated. A pear and kohlrabi salad looked like an elegant floral bouquet with wide, green-edged petals folded over charred starkrimson pears tossed in chardonnay vinaigrette. The delicate arrangement was set on a pedestal of creamed nutmeg-scented marcona almonds and dusted in goat cheese.
They highlight fabulous local ingredients, including a gently weeping round of burrata from Tanto Latte in Salmon Arm, which was framed by layers of sugar pumpkin – charred wedges, roasted seeds and more wide petals (thinly shaved on a meat slicer and hot pickled with warm spices).
Exquisitely balanced flavours popped with bright acidity, such as tartly pickled saskatoon berries that lifted a rich red-wine-braised short rib. Or the standout poached albacore tuna, which was buttery, spicy, sweet and just wow with a punch of gingery vegan XO sauce (borrowed from Alobar).
Contrasting textures helped build unexpected flavours into mouth-dancing symphonies: Crispy beef tendon added air-puffy chew and a peppery Espelette whip to paper-thin carpaccio dressed with quail yolk, caper berries and purple radish cress; the crunchy frills of grilled Savoy cabbage rubbed with anchovy butter knocked poached ling cod finished with nori beurre blanc out of the park; velvety semifreddo churned with coconut cream, folded with blitzed nectarines and drizzled with habanero honey crackled to the last bite with crumbled amaretti.
There wasn’t a single dish that didn’t surprise and delight. The wine pairings were exquisite. Service was friendly and flawless.
In contrast to the rest of the art-dappled winery, the 40-seat dining room felt almost plainly understated – except for the view of the valley, which is breathtaking.
But with food this good, the focus on the plate is right where it should be.
To read the full article with photos: The Globe and Mail