All posts by cathyttg

Culinary Cage Match at Sea 2023

This year I’m going to witness a culinary cage match at sea.  In May I’m sailing on Oceania Cruises new ship the Vista for her christening.  Then in August I’ll board Explora I, the first ship from new luxury lifestyle brand Explora Journeys.

In 2013, Oceania Cruises started operations with the intention to change the ocean cruising food and beverage experience.  With The Finest Cuisine at Sea as their goal and Jacques Pepin guiding, they effectively set a new benchmark.  Until then cruising was defined by midnight buffets and formal dining rooms with average to good food.  Oceania successfully changed that. In May, when Giada De Laurentis, Vista’s godmother, breaks the champagne on the bow, the message is clear that Oceania intends to maintain their goal of serving the Finest Cuisine at Sea

Explora Journeys is the challenger.    Explora’s new Head of Culinary is Franck Garanger former Culinary Director, Oceania Cruises.  Chef Franck eats plant-based in his home to support his marathon lifestyle and there will always be a plant-based option available on board. But carnivores don’t fret, ingredients offerings include Wagyu beef and a Tuna Tataki that I’m trying first chance.

Explora wants to Create an Ocean State of Mind.  For me, that has yet to be defined but they have more restaurant, bar and lounge options than any other ship of their size.  There are 3 Steinway pianos on board and that says something about the entertainment.  Every suite has an ocean terrace. It’s bold and exciting.

 I think the gauntlet (skillet?) has been thrown down and I’m keen to try the results.

13th Annual Okanagan Wine Shopping 2022

We rented a house in Penticton this year and enjoyed the well equipped and comfortable space while testing some of our purchases around the fire pit. We argued about the best wines and meals and came up with our top picks at the end of 3 busy days eating and drinking our way through Peachland, Summerland, Penticton and Naramata.

It was a beautiful drive and our first stop was Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards in Peachland. A tasting by Brenda on the patio with an expansive view of the lake ended with my first purchases, a delicious Brut and a Pinot Blanc. Tasting $7.50.

Lunch on their patio at 19 Bistro Fitz was good. It was their final day of the season so a few things weren’t available, but all 6 of us liked our meals. I had the tuna on crispy rice. Delicious rice made a crispy bed for avocado, tuna, greens, red curry aioli & cilantro vinaigrette. Fries replaced the potato wedges on the menu and they were perfect and the saffron sauce was a great topper.

Togarashi Tuna at 19 Bistro at Fritz

Next stop Lightning Rock Winery. Tasting was $10pp but they didn’t have many wines left to taste so a bit disappointing. Beautiful location. Maybe worth keeping an eye on.

Lightning Rock Summerland

Our final winery of the day was Time Winery in Penticton. There was lots to taste and we left with McWatters Collection Meritage and Time Syrah. Fees waived for Visa Infinite cardholders. Great atmosphere.

So many wines at Time.
Fancy cooler at Time.

Dinner saw us returning to Play Winery. We’d had a bad dinner experience there a few years ago but Sonetta at Play was a complete turn around. From the warm welcome to the delicious food we were impressed. The chef was away due to a family emergency so there were a few delays but the food, service and clear team effort made up for it. The Humboldt squid steak was pronounced the best ever tasted. Don’t miss the bread.

Day 2 and we had 5 wineries booked on the Naramata Bench. Starting at Wesbert, a South African family owned winery. We hoped for an opportunity to add local pinotage to our cellar and weren’t disappointed. I’m going to try and give them a little time to age.

Wesbert Patio
Wine flights make service more efficient when it’s busy and mean a glass for each wine but I’m not a fan.

We were the only people there at 10:30am and Marianne did her best to organize us within the rules of the tasting plan, served as a flight for the table. 6 of us have some strong opinions so it wasn’t easy. Wesbert has a nice covered patio, serves pizza in high season and has suites to rent. $10pp tasting fee.

Next up another new one for us, Moraine Estate Winery. Simon graciously hosted us on the covered patio overlooking the vineyard and lake. The wines were everything we wanted and we came home with a mixed case of Cab Franc, Malbec and Syrah. The Malbec another chance to add a rare local varietal to our stock. The bathroom with the « special » mirror is not to be missed either. $15 tasting fee waived with purchase.

Magic Mirror on the Wall
Fancy bathroom. Push the blue light on the mirror and you’ll be the fairest of all.

We’d never been to Therapy Winery either and wanted to check out the deluxe suites. The outside patio tasting is luxurious and so are the suites. I was on the fence about the wines and feel this is a winery in transition and maybe worth checking again in the future.

I can hardly believe we pulled off a forth tasting before lunch. Darrell at Lake Breeze is one efficient dude, keeping the info and wine flowing. I love this place, the wine, the food and the physical space make for an exceptional experience.

Lunch on the patio was excellent as usual.

Smoked Trout with mascarpone, dill and Northern Divine Caviar on Charred onion petals

I was sad to be sharing the trout.

Capellini with harrisa & cream, pine nut crumble and prawns at The Patio at Lake Breeze

Our final winery was Hillside, another favourite, but the wines were poured as a flight and the heavy reds were hot in the sun by the time we got to them. Our host David was knowledgeable and friendly.

A break back at our rental and we tried to work up an appetite for dinner playing bacci and shooting hoops.

Time Winery & Kitchen lighting is in every glass.

Dinner at Time Winery & Kitchen was a hit. The service exceptional. Starting with a complimentary glass of Chronos Brut was a lovely way to set the mood. There’s something for everyone on the menu. The fries were great with several options. I loved the Parmesan topping with black garlic mayo. Deep fried confit duck wings are a must, even for this vegaquarian.

Duck wings in hot sauce and buttermilk scallion dip.

Day 3 and our pallets were tired. We had a plan to taste only the varietals on our shopping list. Good luck.

First stop Lock & Worth, a collaboration with Poplar Grove Creamery. The tasting in the garden pairs 3 cheeses with 3 wines and we loved it. Left with 2 excellent Sauvignon Blancs and 3 cheeses.

Lock & Worth
Beautiful setting for cheese & wine tasting at Lock & Worth

Next stop La Frenz, we finally gave in and joined the club. The wines are so good but always sold out. Another tasting served as a flight though. I hope this is a trend that goes away.

Lunch was booked at Poplar Grove’s restaurant Vanilla Pod, but first an exclusive club member tasting in the private room. Our host Laura really knew her stuff and had our compete attention.

And we merrily moved to the dining room. I’d go just for the Parker Rolls but fried oysters and Tom Kha were great too. This was our all around favourite meal last year. Was it going to be a repeat winner ?

Parker Rolls at Vanilla Pod
Tom Kha at Vanilla P

The last winery of our trip was Da Silva an elevated tasting experience with 6 Riedel varietal specific glasses at each seat. Allison poured, described and guided us through the excellent selection of wines. One of the best of of the trip.

We returned to The Kitchen @ Da Silva for dinner and although the food was very good the overall experience is not as good. The menu is tapas and paella. All tapas must be ordered at once so if you like something and it’s not quite enough for the table you’re out of luck. The paella didn’t have those crispy rice edges and should probably only be served if it’s for the whole table. They tell you to expect to be there for several hours but the over half the chairs are incredibly uncomfortable. I would say it’s not a good choice for a group and would give it another try if it were just 2 of us.

We also visited the VQA Information Centre in Penticton and picked up some wines that were hard to find. They have an excellent gift shop. Well worth a visit.

I’m conclusion we decided the best Winery visit was Moraine, with Da Silva and Lock & Worth definitely in the discussion. Our favourite restaurant was Sonetta @ Play and The Patio @ Lake Breeze coming in a close second.

Okanagan Trip #2 – Still Restricted

For Kelowna trip #2 we drove. It was exciting to be out on the road and with travel restrictions still in place, traffic was light.

We stayed at the Manteo and arrived Friday night so had dinner at Smack Dab. Great location but the food is nothing to get excited about. The next day we did much better.

We love to try new wineries and were the first tasters of the day on the patio at Frind Estate Winery. What a spot! The former home of WAC Bennett is on the beach and has a cafe and bistro. Buy a bottle of wine at retail price and have a picnic on the beach. Go early, this will be a popular place. I liked the bubbly wine best. The reds are young, low alcohol wines. I’d bet the vines are young.

Just up the hill we were able to walk into Old Vines at Quail’s Gate and get a table on the beautiful patio. (That won’t happen again this year). The food, as usual, was perfect. But this time it was more fun to share with David. Pommé Frites? Bien sûr!

Old Vines Halibut

The halibut with radishes and rhubarb was extraordinary. I tried to reproduce it at home but it surely wasn’t as good. Old Vines is still my favourite restaurant in the north Okanagan.

We even went all the way and had dessert. Definitely not a typical early brunch.

Old Vines dessert

We also had another good meal at Dawett Fine Indian Cuisine in downtown Kelowna. I think that will be a regular spot for us.

The take out place at CodFathers has changed names to Broken Anchor. No change in the great fish and chips though. Another must have for us. Great picnic food.

We had 2 new discoveries on this trip.

Bright Jenny’s coffee bar was a delight.

Bright Jenny’s entrance and take away window
Bright Jenny’s patio

And then we found Sunny’s, an all day breakfast joint by RauDZ. No fasting for me when there’s a Benny this good.

Sunny’s Modern Diner
Holy Prawns – Batman

The crispy prawns with, poached eggs, leek & corn brioche bread pudding, hollandaise and griddle hash browns is craveable. We’ll be back.

We visited a few wineries. We enjoyed Spearhead so much last year we went back to pick up some of the Pinot Noir and spent an hour on their patio and joined the wine club. Definitely worth a visit and just the kind of small family winery I like best.

The patio at Spearhead Winery.

Definitely not a small family winery but every visit to CedarCreek is as good or better than the last. Outstanding service, great wine & food, and the buildings are gorgeous.

CedarCreek tasting patio

We did the Farm to Table experience with an added food pairing and left wishing we could stay and have dinner at Home Block. Next time.

Homeward bound we were already planning the next trip. Cheers🥂

Okanagan Trip Number One During Restricted Travel

I’ve been Looking back over a few weekends of essential travel to Kelowna both during lock down and as we reopen. I reluctantly flew the end of April, the weather was just too dodgy to drive. I was starting in Lake Country and ending in West Kelowna so I spent the first night at the Four Points at the airport and since I had to eat and hoped to buy some cans of wine from 50th Parallel I drove up and chanced a walk in patio lunch. Easy, I was one of 3 tables for an early lunch. They have a big tent patio and with all the walls in place, it felt much like inside so I was glad for the social distance. I’d only had my 1st vaccine dose a few days before.

Halibut at Block One

Wow! I loved it though. My first fresh halibut of the season with puréed spring veggies, whipped potatoes and pickled fiddleheads. It was excellent. Dessert? Yes please.

Dark Chocolate at Block One

The dessert called Dark Chocolate was actually chocolate 4 ways with raspberries, a recommendation from my very excellent server. The coffee was even good. And I’m enjoying the cans of Pinot Gris.

And that happily ended my first restaurant experience in months.

I moved to The Manteo for the next couple of days and had take out and room service but on my last day, with just enough time for lunch before my flight back, I walked into one of my favourite restaurants in the Okanagan, Old Vines at Quail’s Gate.

I was the first person in the door that day and was warmly welcomed. Old Vines has one of the nicest patios and they seem to keep their staff forever. As for food the Truffle Parmesan fries, that every restaurant in the valley tries to match would keep me coming back, but they are so consistently good and the menu so interesting, that I would have to say it is my favourite restaurant in the North Okanagan.

Old Vines Truffle Parmesan Fries

Of course I had the fries and then a chickpea plate. Another exceptional meal.

Old Vines Pakora

More on the next trip to follow.

Who won the battle of wineries and restaurants

View from Corcelette

On our final day as we headed home we stopped at our 2 last wineries; La Stella in Oliver and Corcelette in Cawston.

La Stella

La Stella’s wines and winery are Italian inspired, beautiful and sophisticated. We’ve visited many times and we never leave empty handed.

Corcelette was our final winery and another regular stop for us. Owned by young local people who have wine flowing in their blood, they represent the best of the wine industry. Buy the Malbec if you get the chance.

With our trip coming to and end I started asking each of my fellow travellers about their favourite wineries and favourite meals.

The judges

Of course there was no consensus but some clear winners. Miradoro restaurant at Tinhorn Creek got 6 out of 8 votes with Terrafina at Hester Creek getting the other 2. Special mention to the scallops and the bannock and spreads at The Bear, The Fish, The Root and The Berry and the flatbreads at Black Hills.

Feedback on wineries was even more complicated. Second Chapter in Oliver was the most mentioned for both the quality of the wine and presentation by host Diane.

At La Stella you feel like you could be on Italy

La Stella was another clear favourite. Our host Sankara, kept us focused on the wine in our glass and was judged the most informative.

La Stella Most Informative

Checkmate came up for the opportunity to taste and compare several Chardonnays and Merlots. The wines were fantastic and the chance to see how varietals from different vineyards compared side by side was unique. Our host there was also charming.

Clos du Soleil – Best Value Red Blend

We also judged Clos du Soleil’s Celestial red blend to be the best value wine of the trip.

Wine tour Okanagan-Similkameen Day 3

Here’s The Thing Syrah
Here’s The Thing Vineyards

Day 3 started across the valleyin Oliver on the Black Sage Bench at Here’s The Thing Vineyards. Leah and Jamie owned our neighbourhood VQA store for years and I developed my love of BC wine under Leah’s guiding hand. Together with consultant Michael Bartier they are developing a style to express their personal taste. The Gorgeous Gamay is a great summer wine, I have it lightly chilled with almost any summer salad. David grabs the Seriously Syrah for his Sunday afternoon cooking sessions and I’m a fan of Clearly Cabernet Franc. We even got to barrel test a reserve cab franc. Many thanks for the warm welcome.

Beautiful set up at Noble Ridge

One of our group is a member at Noble Ridge Winery so off we went to OKanagan Falls.

OK Falls is one of my favourite areas full of small independent wineries but today lunch was back on the Black Sage Bench and the conversation kept turning to food so we turned back south.

I’ve been a member at Black Hills for a long time and they treat members to a special experience in a Cabana by the pool. They added food a few years ago so now we have lunch and it is one of my favourite visits. I like the chance to try wines I’m planning to age and food really makes it better.

Nota Bene 3 year vertical

We were inspired to try some older Note Bene recently. Nothing like a few days in the Okanagan to get your cellar reorganized.

Lunch and red wine flight at Black Hills.

Lunch was great at our table. The big box of warm olives with sherry and orange were gobbled up with 3 flatbreads. All delicious, the but the Okanagan with peach, prosciutto, arugula, mozzarella and chili honey was the bomb. They are doing interesting things with honey in the Okanagan, that’s for sure.

Our friends at the next table chose the charcuterie platters and were unanimously disappointed. Stick to the flatbreads.

Phantom Creek

Phantom Creek is the latest hot spot to visit. We’ve watched that spot as development dragged over years knowing that it had to be a great site. It’s going to be beautiful. It’s still unfinished and needs some maturing. I look forward to visiting again.

We’d tried to keep lunch light so we could save ourselves for dinner at Terrafina at Hester Creek. We hadn’t done the tasting their but I was hoping for a Cab Franc with dinner and I wasn’t disappointed. One of the great things about dining at a winery is getting access to their library wines and wines that are perfectly aged. I learned to love the Cab Franc varietal drinking Hester Creek’s ‘07 vintage.

The cioppino was delicious and the chicken with creamed corn and Asiago biscuit won a best meal vote.

Cioppino at Terrafina restaurant Hester Creek.

A night in the villas at Hester Creek with dinner at Terrafina is one of the most romantic nights you could spend in the Okanagan.

Day Three 4 wineries and 2 meal. Heading home tomorrow.

A Day on The Golden Mile

There’s gold in them there hills, specifically golden Chardonnay and Riesling from Culmina Family Estate Winery, our 1st stop of the day. I haven’t chosen my favourite winery visit this year yet but Culmina is a contender. The wines are spectacular, the presentation excellent. Even the included booklet is above average with food pairing options that had us planning meals as we tasted the wines. Riesling with a curry takeaway and Chardonnay with scallops coming to a kitchen near me soon. A $10 tasting fee is waived with a purchase.

Culmina had 6 wines poured when we sat down.

Hester Creek didn’t accept reservations and a quick stop sadly didn’t work out for us so on we went.

Second Chapter is a new winery from the folks that created Church and State and their considerable experience is obvious in creating a great tasting room experience.

Second Chapter Deck

Our second stop was perfectly timed for the Second Chapter’s opening at 11 and our little bubble had the deck to ourselves. I couldn’t resist the Cabernet Sauvignon and have tucked it away to give it some time grow. An $8 tasting fee is waived with a purchase.

Tinhorn Creek Amphitheater

We were starting to talk about food and next up was Tinhorn Creek with a tasting followed by lunch on the deck at Miradoro. We’ve been members at Tinhorn for years, they have good, well priced wines in environmentally friendly lightweight bottles with screw caps. The seated tasting on the deck was, like all things Tinhorn, well done. The on-site Miradoro restaurant is consistently good and we had an excellent meal.

Fungi Pizza

I had a pizza with wild and cultivated mushrooms with white sauce, caramelized onions and alpindon cheese. I love pizza and mushroom should be my favourite but I’m often disappointed. This was the best I’ve ever had.

Salmon Linguini Puttanesca

David had the salmon puttanesca and I had a hard time getting even a taste. I don’t get much from this kind of plating but perhaps it gives room to mix things up. Doesn’t matter cause this was fantastic.

Spaghetti Carbonara

When the special is a favourite dish, there can be a reluctance to try it but my carbonara loving friend called this the best meal of the trip.

We skipped dessert in favour of our reservation at Checkmate and I was keen. Home of the 100 Point Chardonnay, we have fond memories of an unforgettable visit to Antelope Ridge on our first wine tour 12 years ago. Madame Combret drove up out of the vineyard in a dusty beat up car to open up and let us try her wines. Recently renamed Antelope, they were winning awards. After a stern talking to about how to drink her Chardonnay and what to drink it with she found a case still under the Combret label. We felt lucky she let us buy her wine and drank it as instructed with scallops or prawns in cream sauce. Absolutely no hot sauce. Her vineyards are now part of Checkmate. I hope she’s proud.

Checkmate Tasting Menu

The elegant tasting room feels unfinished but is beautiful and the table comfortable. Our host was interesting, informative and fun. Not for the faint of wallet the $35 tasting fee is worth it, even better get 2 for 1 if you have a visa infinite card.


Day 2 – 4 wineries and 1 restaurant and it keeps getting better.

8 people choose from 15 wineries and 5 restaurants on our 12th Annual Okanagan Wine Buying TripSouth Okanagan

There’s no consensus but some clear winners when 8 people visit up to 15 wineries and 5 restaurants and are asked for their favourites.

We knew this trip would be different due to Co-Vid but how, was the looming question. We’ve booked our tastings in advance for years. The wineries appreciate it and often provide something special. This year reservations are a must and everyone is enjoying better service but perhaps not quite what a small group would have experienced in the past.

Back in the south this year we booked super early at The Spirit Ridge Resort, one of the top options, boasting full suites, an onsite winery, multiple dining options, 2 pools, a gym, 9 hole golf course, spa, cultural centre and so much more.

It’s a beautiful drive from Vancouver. We started out in rain but as we descended into the Similkameen valley we drove into sunshine and perfect weather for a picnic at Clos du Soleil Winery in Keremeos. We enjoyed a guided tasting at our picnic tables where wines were poured by a server in a shield. Maybe not the perfect distancing but we were outside and she backed away to speak. Then we opened our picnic baskets and shared the 1st meal of the trip along with a bottle of Celestial and Capella, in my opinion the best value Bordeaux style red and white in BC.

A short drive on to Cawston we had a reservation at Vanessa Vineyards where a barrels were set with 4 glasses and 12 tiny plastic shot glasses pre poured with the wines we could then dump in the glass as our host described them. Great wines but I didn’t like the plastic glasses. The tasting room has only been there a few years but the vines go back much further and in the hands of legendary Howard Soon they are turning out super star wines.

Vanessa Vineyards CoVid Tasting

Across the street at Seven Stones there is a patio with tables and they’re also using their bar with very strict rules about where to stand and quick reminders not to move around. The happy host poured each wine but kept her distance and was wearing a shield. Always one of our favourite stops, the wines just get better and better. Booking a cellar tour is even better. Dinner in the cellar is on my radar.

Spotted Lake is not as dramatic this year.

With one last stop to check out Spotted Lake we headed into Osoyoos and Spirit Ridge. We had plenty of time to settle in before dinner at The Bear, The Fish, The Root and The Berry.

Bannock and Spreads

We couldn’t resist the bannock with spicy creamed corn, white bean & sumac spread, beetroot relish, some garlic roasted tomato es and pickles it’s perfect with something for everyone.

3 Sisters Salad

Squash, corn and beans, toasted pumpkin seeds and a honey mint dressing is a salad I’d order every time. Nutritious and delicious.

Halibut with Chestnut Pappardella

Fresh halibut is always popular and there were several orders at our tables. Mine is sans chorizo. The chestnut pasta was too rich for some and I couldn’t quite finish but with peas and spinach and white onion velouté it was delicious.

Bison Ribs WTF Mushrooms and Duck Fat Potatoes

I think the picture speaks for itself but I can attest to the potatoes being fantastic and those bones were clean when the left our table.

Hasselback Butternut Squash

Vegetarians are well cared for with several choices. The squash was as good as it looks with crispy fried sage, salsa verde, greens and more of the delicious honey, mint dressing.

The Bear, The Fish, The Root and The Berry is truly making the most of local ingredients and helping connect us to the culinary history of the Okanagan and has elevated the dining at Spirit Ridge.

Day 1 – 3 wineries and 1 restaurant, more to come.

Tofino and Wolf In The Fog are the perfect antidote to 2020.

A day of beach combing helped build an appetite so we could try as many dishes as possible at the incredible Wolf In The Fog.

I requested a ginless cocktail to pair with the oysters and was surprised with a cognac version of the French 75, a champagne cocktail that proved the perfect match.

Champagne Cocktail

The oysters wrapped in shoestring potatoes have been on the menu since day 1 and is one of the best cooked oysters creations ever. Truly crave worthy. Served with mushy peas and truffle oil. Add an extra oyster or there could be a battle for the 3rd in a regular order.

Potato Crusted Oysters

Humboldt squid was lightly battered and fried to a light crisp finish. Served with cabbage, tomato and poblano mayo it’s a strange and beautiful combination.

Humboldt Squid

Grilled romaine with bagna cauda was a treat. Finger licking good sauce.

Grilled Romaine

I would never order a seaweed salad but the rave table reviews got me into it. Wow! It was great. Seaweed, mushrooms, daikon, puffed rice, sesame mayo and miso Chili oil is a match made in heaven. I need a recipe for sesame mayo. I think it would be incredibly useful.

Seaweed Salad

Chef Nutting and teams time on Mexico shows up in the menu in wonderful ways. The featured vegetarian mushroom croquet with mole, beans and habanero peaches was delicious. The mole and peaches unforgettable. Hot pickled peaches coming to my kitchen soon.

Mushroom Croquet

We almost resisted the daily catch of Korean Halibut thinking the fish might be overpowered but I’m updating this to the best halibut dish we’ve had this year.


I need an annual trip to Tofino. The solitude and connection to nature combined with the great food and wonderful people make this a very special place. Don’t tell anyone.