Reservations are open for Kelowna’s (and the Okanagan’s) increasingly popular annual prix fixe event, Dine Around Okanagan. The event has close to 50 restaurants throughout the Thompson Okanagan serving three course menus for $15, $25, $35 or $45. A wine, beer or spirit pairing is suggested for each course, but not included in the price. Some have added a prix fixe for wine pairings which is a great way to get the most out of your palate and wallet.
Ostensibly an enticement to get diners out during the winter months, we think Dine Around is a fun way to get a lot out of our local food scene in an efficient format. This is a great time to hit up that place we always meant to try, or just treat ourselves to something a little more creative than a new twist on the ole instant pot dinner.
Being the Okanagan, you’ll also find some superb wine lists, so you can explore the local bounty, find a great new pairing, or enjoy a favourite wine differently. I mean that Bartier Bros Syrah won’t be the same with a silky braised short rib than at home with dark chocolate. So take advantage of this event and enjoy a higher end joint, a newcomer, or a new region (Osoyoos Watermark Resort’s prix fixe followed by a cheap ski day at Baldy sounds like a sweet mini-break to us – take that Sea to Sky Country!).
While some of you may have experienced these events in other Canadian cities (like Winterlicious/Summerlicious, MTLàTABLE) and perhaps noted a decline in quality as all comers from high end, to tourist traps, to chains jump on the bandwagon for the promo with some churning out a formulaic and hurried experience, that’s not the case here.
For one, the event has been injected with new enthusiasm by event organizer extraordinaire Christina Ferreira (her company Impact Events is known for their marquee events like the Wine Festivals, or Half Corked) since she took it over four years ago. Also, our dining scene is resurging in creative ways, with much of the activity going down in venues other than the traditional restaurants – Start Fresh Kitchen, Paisley Notebook, food trucks, wineries and winemakers’ dinners – so this is a great opportunity for restaurants to show off and prove their chops.
Many of the participating restaurants here are no doubt happy the promotion brings added traffic, but overall, especially among diners, there is genuine excitement for the growth of the scene here rather than just getting a deal. The opening event, the Dine Around Launch Party sold out quite some time ago. Its laid-back and social format with tasting stations, chefs milling about, and ample winery preview pourings is a hit with locals who clearly appreciate the accessibility of fine food in unpretentious surroundings. That’s what this event is all about.
Local Focus – We Don’t Need No Super Tuscans
With Ferreira’s strong background in BC wine, it’s no surprise that bringing in Wines of British Columbia to sponsor the event puts the region’s best on the table and “showcases how well BC VQA wines, BC craft beer and craft spirits pair with our local foods”. And to be honest I was really impressed how Valley-deep and representative many of the participating restaurants’ wine lists are, as well as how closely they’ll be working with the wineries for the event.
The Menus & Pairings – Classic Fare, Elevated Okanagan Style
We had the opportunity to preview a few of the participating menus, and in the spirit of getting out of our regular haunts, enjoyed what south end restaurants Basil & Mint, Eldorado and Smack Dab had to offer. Overall the vibe is warm and authentic with nothing too pretentious going on – just Okanagan liveliness lifting classic comfort fare up with some stellar ingredients and inspired wine pairings.
Some Tasting Takeaways
At Basil & Mint, the slow braised richness of a bright beef ragu (on fluffy gnocchi) and their short rib is exactly the type of no-nonsense quality classic cooking I’d gladly return to over and over again, if only to pair them with a different glass from their an amazingly deep bench of reds (BTG as well). For you locavores, it’s worth noting that Chef Peter McGeown ascribes to the 100 mile ethos we’ve come to value here.
Another standout from the menus was from Eldorado – they’re serving a plump seared BC ling cod in a zesty blood orange creme, and a nice rustic mix of local farm veg from their Don-O-Ray garden (see feature image). Burgundy basic that I am, I was happy with their pairing of a mildly buttery, yet citrusy Chardonnay from Liquidity (2016 – btw their Reserve version of this vintage won the Top Chardonnay at Chardonnay du Monde). Another classic bistro-style hit here.
One big bonus to the event is that the dessert course is no afterthought. Nor should it go pairless either. And as a fan of a good dessert wine who never gets around to buying a whole bottle, I was psyched to check out that nectar of Noble Rot, the Quails’ Gate Totally Botrytis Affected Optima – a German hybrid of a Riesling and Silvaner cross with Müller-Thurgau, these grapes are grown beside the lake to get that Noble Rot going, concentrating the flavours to create a Sauternes-style wine. It’s heaven with the fruit-topped butterscotch pot de creme dessert served at Smack Dab. In hindsight it feels like a no-brainer pairing, both of them ample with fruit and caramel notes, but since I so reflexively reach for chocolate and red, or fortified wine as a dessert option, this was a palate-opening delight.
So definitely the point here is getting out of your routine. Try something new, whether it’s just going to a new spot, finding a mind-blowing food and drink pairing, or discovering that Okanagan restos got it going on all year round.
Some of the Participating Restaurants
Basil & Mint
Central Kitchen + Bar
Infusions at Okanagan College
Jack’s Pizza & Liquor
Olympia Greek Taverna
Salt & Brick
Social 242 Lounge & Grill
Summerhill Pyramid Winery
RC The Sandwich Company
The Table Café (Codfathers)
The Train Station
Yamas Greek Restaurant
The Chase Wines Garden Bistro (Lake Country)
Turtle Bay Pub (Lake Country)