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Great Okanagan places to eat, Part 3: An inn and a farm

Naramata Inn and Row 14 are two Okanagan restaurants run by former Vancouver chefs.

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Naramata Inn

Where: 3625 1st St., Naramata

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When: Wednesday through Sunday, lunch and dinner

Reservations and info: 778-514-5444, naramatainn.com

When Canadian celebrity chef Ned Bell says he was “literally born at the bottom of a cherry bushel box,” I halt his runaway talk about Okanagan food. Wait, wait. What??

It’s a figure of speech, he laughs. But as a lively little kid in the Okanagan, the wooden fruit orchard box was his playhouse. “My parents were full-on hippy grads from UBC and getting dirt under their fingernails. My mom, instead of having me crawl away, put me in this big box. There are photos of me covered in cherry juice. They used to hose me off. I was called Naked Ned.”

Two things about that. From the formative git-go, he was interested in food and set out to be a chef. And after decades of building a name for himself as seafood warrior chef at Ocean Wise and before that, as executive chef at the late Yew restaurant, he’s back in the Okanagan. To be precise,in Naramata, where he met his wife Kate Colley on radio/TV personality Terry David Mulligan’s porch and married her at the local Apple D’Or. No cherry bushel crate this time. He’s now part of the team running an Okanagan gem — the restaurant-forward Naramata Inn, which they renovated and opened just in time for the pandemic. Still, they have survived the sturm and drang.

The dining room was moved to the main floor from the previous lower level — taking advantage of two verandas — and the new kitchen is built around Bell’s left-handedness.Two feral peacocks in the village inspired the design, notably the wall mural of floating peacock feathers in the dining room.

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And like Bell’s hyper-vigilance regarding sustainable seafood, his compass now points inland with a fierce focus on local ingredients. Even the napkins, staff aprons, shirts and masks are sourced from Naramata’s Shades of Linen, which is literally a block away. “The only thing I cheat on are coffee and chocolate,” he says of his fidelity to local, calling his food “French Naramatian.”

There’s no lemons or olive oil in his kitchen, opting instead for Canadian extra virgin canola oil (“It’s unbelievably delicious,” he says) and for citrus, he subs sumac, sorrel, or verjus. “We’re getting better and better at finding local alternatives,” he says. When a guest at the inn insisted on having imported orange juice instead of local apple juice at breakfast, Bell wouldn’t budge. “It’s just a commitment to have this unique taste of place. It’s a flagpole in the ground.”

One such flagpoled dish: a beautiful fennel, radish and arugula salad with Kelowna’s Tanto Latte ricotta, hazelnuts from Summerland, and a dressing with elderflowers foraged by staff. It was heavenly with joyfully fresh greens. A co-chef and chief buyer juggles some 24 different purveyors for the kitchen. “Her life is pretty full. It’s a costly way of sourcing,” Bell says.

When I visited on a hot climate-changed June evening, I noticed many of the vegetables on the menu seemed wintery — hakurei turnips, Garnet Valley celery root, beets, mushrooms. On the other hand, there were cherries, peas, rhubarb, and “vegetables of the moment” in the summer salad. “June is a funny month,” Bell explained. “In the brain, it’s summer, but it’s still not harvest season. Toward the end, you start to get a lot more.” By July, when I spoke to him, he said, “Everything’s just bursting now and full-on green and leafy and summery.”

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Pavlova at Naramata Inn.
Pavlova at Naramata Inn. jpg

The food is about the best I’ve seen from Bell — refined, light, clean, heightened by beautiful ingredients. Another salad had greens with a incredible lightness of being with fromage blanc, spruce tip vinaigrette, pickled celery and strawberries — no need for lemony acid here.

Dry-aged Fraser Valley duck was tender and moist and served with a potato confit, celery root, rhubarb puree and pinot noir reduction — another beauty. Halibut filet with a crispy skin was served with braised spinach, mushrooms, onion soubise, bacon bits and bearnaise. Everything was delicious, but on a hot summer eve, the dish cried for lighter, brighter, refreshing elements. A very pretty individual pavlova, though, was a hallelujah chorus, with strawberries vocalizing a refreshing, sweet, slightly tart glory. 

The impressive wine list focuses almost exclusively on the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys and is especially strong on smaller boutique wineries and hard-to-find vintages from larger producers. The cocktails looked intriguing, all made with B.C. spirits. 

Dining room, Row 14.
Dining room, Row 14. jpg

Row Fourteen at Klippers Organics

Where: 725 Mackenzie Rd., Cawston

When: Lunch and early dinner, daily

Reservations and info: 250-499-0758, rowfourteen.ca

Farm to table? Row Fourteen restaurant goes one better: “We’re more a table on the farm,” says Derek Gray, chef and co-owner. You will find the restaurant in a spacious new timbered building at the 14th row of an orchard at Klippers Organic Farm, which also houses an inn and cidery. The restaurant opened in 2019. “It’s like a dream. We take walks on the farm as the season progresses and say, ‘Hey, this is what we want.’ We get the first of everything when they come off the field.”

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It is so ground-zero local, the vegetables and fruit are newborns. “Most chefs would have to hold them in a fridge and lose the warmth. When you taste, say, a tomato or peach right off the vine or tree, it’s warm and inviting and you can taste the sun.” I experienced that in the pea tartare, the first of a seven-course dinner. It was a super-simple dish of smashed, barely-cooked peas with shavings of Grana Padano and a sprinkle of mint. Sensational.

You won’t find a menu online because it changes every three or four days. But this much is true: there are two tasting menus — a Field Menu (vegetarian) for $50 per person, and the Pasture menu (with meat, fish) for $65.

Dishes depend on what farmworkers have picked and where the kitchen is in butchering down whole proteins. “The best way to describe the food is, it’s simple, ingredient-driven, and they speak for themselves,” says Gray. Most dishes have had a dalliance with the wood-fired grill. “It might be a charred onion, ground into powder,” he says. Or beets, roasted in embers to intensify flavour, paired with agro dolce cherry sauce made with sweet and sour varieties. The wood is from either Klippers or another apple farmer in Cawston. Like Bell, he views imported foods as his kryptonite. This was a revelation to me: He’s found a B.C. olive oil, produced in limited amounts on Salt Spring Island at The Olive Farm.

Gray was the opening chef at Vancouver’s Savio Volpe, and has also worked at Pepino’s, Cibo, and Espana. As at those locations, his approach is straight-shooting and rustic. When I visited, the Pasture menu consisted of irresistible house-made bread with radishes followed by that smashing smashed pea tartare. The next dish, I didn’t love so much — grilled zucchini over hummus, topped with a ratatouille-like mx. It needed textural contrast, some fresh pops of flavour and a more attractive presentation.

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Pea tartare at Row 14.
Pea tartare at Row 14. jpg

A purple and white cauliflower barbacoa followed with lots of life. A Yucatan pumpkin-seed salsa, complex with spices and herbs, went deep.

The meat course, a wonderfully juicy, tender, flavourful, dry-aged New York steak with grilled Walla Walla onion, was memorable and still makes me salivate. And with it, a tall square of pommes Anna with green onion aioli.

For dessert, a soft panna cotta with rhubarb compote, granola and some sprigs of dill. Hmmm. Dill?

I tried a flight of the farm-produced Untangled Craft cider and loved one with flavours of black plum and basil. The wine list is Similkameen all the way, a great opportunity to try wines from Clos Du Soleil, Robin Ridge, Corcelettes and other locals, some of which are within walking distance. Ciders find their way into some of the cocktails — more, though, use spirits from the Comox Valley’s Wayward Spirits.

Should you want to smash some peas, visit Klippers Organics’ stall at Trout Lake and Kitsilano farmers’ markets.


Side dishes: White Spot fundraiser for wildfire communities

On Thursday the White Spot restaurant chain and Triple O’s will hold a triple-barreled fundraiser to support the Canadian Red Cross relief efforts for communities impacted by wildfires in B.C. The restaurants will donate $2 from each burger sold on that day for dine-in and to-go orders, not including Pirate Paks, Kids meals, or delivery and other discounts.

The provincial and federal governments will match the donation, upping donations to a total of $6 for each burger sold. All 96 locations in B.C., including 11 B.C. Ferries locations will take part.

“We are a community-first organization and are proud to have received immediate agreement from our family of franchisees and partners to provide support. We hope these much-needed funds will provide some relief to those who need it most during this extremely challenging time,” said Warren Erhart, president of White Spot Restaurants.

Donations will be used for immediate and ongoing relief efforts, long-term recovery and preparedness for future events in B.C.

mia.stainsby@shaw.ca

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