Located on one of the many slopes of Penticton’s wine country, at “Middle Bench”. Conveniently a bluff above where we were residing for the weekend is “Vanilla Pod Restaurant”. It is a finer dining restaurant affiliated with “Poplar Grove” winery. We were here based on a recommendation from a friend living in Kelowna. Coincidently we ran into him having dinner here while we were attempting to hike up the bluffs, on the other side of the fence. His assessment that the food was good, but a little pricy was on the nose.
To enter you drive through their open gates, pass the parking stalls outlined on pavement, pass a windowed look into their winery and their stainless steel vats, and right through their tasting hall. The main building was functional and beautiful, with half of its walls constructed as tall windows. A wise decision to better allow you to take in the view. You got a clear view overlooking their vineyard row on row with rolling hills; and further back, a view of the water and the city to its left. The tasting room showcased bottles for sale and allowed guests to sample before buying. Up to three pairs or three groups could enjoy a guided tour at a time. A taste and description of the different blends and varieties of red and white, at one of the three booths set up specifically for that purpose.
Beyond this hall of windows is the restaurant. With causal seating indoors and a patio just out through the glass ones. My guest questioned, “why would anyone choose to sit indoors, when they can have a view like this?” I guessed, if you make the trip out and couldn’t get a popular patio seat what little choice did you have? That and not everyone is able to tolerate an up to 36 degrees sun blaring down on them. Where as we specifically came to vacation in the Okanagan to capitalize on their hot hot heat, wanting to soak it all in every chance we got. After all there is no patio like an Okanagan patio. The view would trump anything we would have at home.
The atmosphere outdoors is light and breezy, a casual cool dictated by flowy sun dresses and the whisper of a wind from the horizon. The ground was laid with stone and the property fenced up to keep wildlife out and away from their harvest. Such a precaution was needed as seen by a doe making her way down the hill during our stay. The same hill and the same side of the fence we were on when we discovered the place and our friend from Kelowna.
Seating was on formal looking picnic tables, made from varnished wood planks and brushed metal. They were paired with benches or chairs that matched. For those wanting shade, seating under a tarp was available. A blue sheet was pulled across several posts creating cover from the sun. And when the sun set behind the mountains it created a shield from the gentle gusts of wind.
The restaurant was not expecting us, but we still managed to grab a table outdoors. With 1.5 hours left until end of service at 9pm, we were given one of the larger group tables to use for two. On it we were able to sit sprawled out in comfort, with the extra room allowing us to both sit facing the scenery before us, side by side. We stared off into the layered valley filled with lush greenery and natural beauty as soft jazz played in the background. And when the sun set and the twinkle of strung up lightbulbs flickered on, things got more romantic. A setting and scene only improved by the possibility of local wines. The crisp napkins and clean white plates definitely
elevated the feeling of fine dining. I didn’t think I would be doing any in the more casual Okanagan Valley.
“Poplar Grove” and “Monster Vineyard” are sister wineries, located kitty corner from one another. They share a common owner bringing them together. As such both their lines of wines were offered with dinner. Each serving came in a glass etched with their “Poplar Grove’s” logo. What looked like a cluster of wines in a round like a wreath. And for those who ordered a bottle, they had their libation aerated a carafe that too was etched with the winery’s logo.
Poplar Grove’s 2013 Munson Pinot Gris and Monster Vineyard’s 2013 Rose.
We found the heat stunted our desire to eat so kept our meals often but light. Though now with the sun set and the air a little cooler we dared to order their “Daily soup and baguette”. Though the name was a little misleading. When we read baguette we envisioned and expected a substantial portion of bread. Instead we were given just two thin slices toasted in their stone oven and drizzled over with olive oil. The soup of the day slightly made up for it, despite it too not meeting our original expectations. It was described as a cream based vegetable soup by our server. With that detail we expected a red based soup with actual chunks of vegetable. So when our portion of creamy squash in a bold yellow hue came up we were caught off guard, though immensely delighted after a taste. It was thoroughly heated, so when I boldly dove in with my spoon I burnt my tongue. The trick is to skim and take in only the top layer of soup, this surface has been given a chance to cool. The freshness of the soup lead me to believe it was made to order, which correlates with the time in took to come to our table and its even heating within the bowl. Where as I enjoyed it as is, my guest could have used a touch more salt.
There was another lengthly wait after our appetizer for our entree. Though the first bite my guest declared it worth the wait. Ribeye with pommes frites, summer squash, and a butter roasted tomato sauce. Cooked to a perfect medium rare, the meat wasn’t given a chance to properly sweat, its juices pooled at the bottom of the curved plate. It made the squash soggy and the shoestring thin potatoes limp. The same grill flavour of the steak was also present in the squash, though the sliced yellow segments were very bitter and dominated each bite that they were in. They were made worse when they absorbed the juice from the steak and became mush in my mouth. The potatoes were coated generously in butter, salted liberally, and fried to a light crisp. They were delicious, though we could have done without the green onions that took way the natural flavours of the potatoes. The tomato butter was like a Rose pasta sauce, I found it paired well with each element on the plate and made me crave pasta.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
There is something so classic about dining at a winery. The sophistication of fine wine and fine food, while admiring a blazing orange sun setting over a stunning green landscape. There is good reason why the Okanagan was recently named second-best wine region to visit in the world. And at “Vanilla Pod” all of the above hits their mark. The perfect location to enjoy a light meal in a space meant to be shared and enjoyed. A space you originally come to for the food, but stay at because of the view. A space I wish I saw more of in my backyard. Don’t deny your cravings.