Welcome to the Okanagan Valley, boys and girls. It’s where I just moved, and this is what it looks like. Be jealous. VERY jealous.
The Okanagan is the northern tip of the Sonora Desert, and it is a very dry, very hot area indeed. In the winter it gets a token few inches of snow, just because it’s in Canada and wants to do it so it has something in common with the rest of the country, but in the summer it’s a scorcher. The soil is rich, though, and since Canada has cornered the market on fresh water, irrigation has turned a desert valley into the hottest wine-growing region in the world. Also one of the prettiest.
I’ve been coming up here to sponge off friends for years, and 14 months ago I was thisclose to renting my dream cottage: 14 acres of vineyards and horse paddocks overlooking the beach and walking distance to downtown Penticton. Seven days before I was to move in, the landlord changed his mind, leading me to a novel-worthy career as an itinerant pet-sitter. I vowed not to pay rent for a year and, with a two week commercial interlude, I made it. Since I actually lived rent free much longer than a year, I’m giving myself the win. Meanwhile, the tenant the dude got in instead has caused him serious problems ever since. GOOD.
Anyhoodle, I was coming up to the OK so often I joined the Okanagan Burger Tour, led by Black Cloud winemaker Bradley Cooper. Every month, they pick a restaurant and devour its best burger(s). The last several places haven’t even had burgers on the menu, but made them specially for us. I still sniffle when I think of all the beautiful pictures I took at the Miradoro Christmas Burger Tour, and how dead they are on my dead phone. Ah well. Moving on.
This June we had an excursion down south to Liquidity Bistro, which is a converted hacienda overlooking, well, THAT.
Yeah, I could get used to it here. I hope I get the chance!
Sixteen were expected, which is a pretty big group for a burger tour. We had a couple of special guests: newlyweds on a driving honeymoon. They had such a good time that by the end of the night they were vowing to set up their own burger tour chapter, and maybe come back for the August 21 burger tour, at the Grist Mill and Gardens in Keremeos (they know the chef).
Once again, we’d been invited to a restaurant that does not actually have a burger on the menu, but decided to do one up for us specially, as we are super-celebs. Or at least, can guarantee a dozen people for dinner, and you know in advance what they’re going to order. Here is their special, one-off Okanagan Burger Tour burger:
And their regular dinner menu:
We heard, by the way, that the pots de creme are amazing, and that the bubbles are real micro-gastronomy in action. No goaty aftertaste, guaranteed. Of course, by then we were all too full. Because THIS:
Shrimp bisque with smoked trout. A very thick, satisfying bisque with an intense shrimp flavour that was quite surprising; it’s hard to get that much shrimp flavour density into anything without losing the subtleties, but they succeeded. It was quite a filling soup, which I should not, in retrospect, have ordered simply because I ended up too full, but these are the terrible risks one runs, eh?
The Albertan Bride had the potted pink salmon, which embodied the phrase “almost too beautiful to eat” and her husband had the shrimp bisque. They thought we were nuts for photographing our food; guess food blogging culture hasn’t penetrated southern Alberta yet.
It IS pretty, isn’t it? There was wine, of course. I’m feeling the roses lately, so I ordered the Liquidity Rose.
Intense colour, intense flavour, and thankfully quite dry. I’m surely not the only one annoyed with the trend towards Kool-Aid flavours in rose wines. Mind you, it was inevitable; before Merlot and Chardonnay were popular, there were fewer crappy Merlots and Chardonnays. I dread what’s coming for Pinot Gris, come to think of it. According to person-who-knows-a-great-deal-more-than-me-about-wine Jeanette Montgomery, the colour comes from a mere three hours’ contact with the skins of the grape. The varietal (whose name escapes me) is generally used for colour, not for flavour, but I found this to be a very enjoyable wine with lots of melon flavours, a little spicy, on the dry side, and medium-bodied.
EDITED TO ADD: according to Erin, the varietal is Dornfelder.
Then came the burger. Oh MYYYYYYY!
This is what cheese fiends call “the money shot.”
Nice (milk) buns! The meat was moist throughout without being sloppy, and tender. The patty was grilled to medium, with the outside quite dark and firm but not crunchy, and no pink inside. The jowl bacon cherry relish was amazing: rich, sweet but not synthetically sweet, and bringing out the richness of the beef. The peppercorn aioli was tangy enough and light enough to contrast well with the relish, and season the meat in a more traditional way.
According to Erin Korpisto on Facebook, the secret ingredient keeping the meat moist is duck fat. Is there anything it can’t do?
Since the burger was so big you couldn’t get the top and bottom of it in your mouth at the same time, you basically ate alternate burgers: peppercorn aioli burger or bacon cherry relish burger. It was very satisfying, and a pretty good way to deal with a burger too tall to fit in your face. The bun was glossy and appeared to be hard-crusted but really wasn’t. It wasn’t squashy, it just didn’t put up as much of a fight as most crispy buns, which is a good thing when you’ve got this much going on in a burger. See this? THIS IS POTATO SALAD, BITCHES! And damn good it was, too. Purple potatoes bought from the farmer that day, a mustard vinaigrette dressing, and an egg yolk emulsion for the yellow swooshes, in keeping with the ingredients for a great potato salad. I don’t recall miniature pansies being a part of the traditional recipe, but then I’ve always been fond of pansies, just ask them! Potato salad is one of the greatest foods the world contains, and I found this version to be more than acceptable. In fact, it tasted very much like a classic potato salad, minus the oversalted mayonnaise my family always puts in it. The greens were a nice addition.
I imagine you want a report on dessert too, eh? Well, you’ll have to buy me dinner there again if that’s what you insist on, for lo, I was far too stuffed to even entertain the idea of a strawberry air bubble without going full Mister Creosote.It was not, in retrospect, a vast quantity of food, but my fullness was a testament to the saying that good food is more filling than bad food. And good views aid digestion.