Where are the best places to eat in Kelowna?

(Vancouver Sun, July 4, 2022)

Linda Barnard takes a culinary tour to help you decide.

When Atsawin Sumpantarat moved to Kelowna from Thailand with his family at the age 17 in 2003, it was impossible to find pad thai that wasn’t made with ketchup.  “I was, wow, I’d never go to a Thai restaurant here,” said Sumpantarat, now 36.

As chef and co-owner of Thai Terrace in the city’s historic downtown, Sumpantarat makes true Thai dishes, part of a diverse and changing food scene in the biggest city in the Okanagan Valley. 

Whether Kelowna chefs are sharing cuisine inspired by their family’s kitchen, or building menus on the bounty of local farms and vineyards, authenticity is the focus, Sumpantarat said. It’s a big change from a decade ago, he pointed out.

He and his wife Atchara (Ess) make colourful dishes emblematic of Thai cuisine’s balanced salt-spicy-sweet-sour signature flavours. Ess is the only one able to deftly tie blanched scallion lengths around the top of the restaurant’s popular Money Bags fried appetizer, a wrapper stuffed with aromatic minced chicken, vegetables, fresh herbs and vermicelli. She manages the tricky task while watching Thai soap operas, said Sumpantarat, admiration in his voice.

Thai Terrace is among the restaurants on Nancy Quinton’s Okanagan Foodie Tours, walking excursions that are an introduction to the depth of culinary diversity and talent here.

Quinton started the business in 2015 after she moved to Kelowna and couldn’t find a food tour. While visitors often come to Kelowna for winery tours and experiences, Quinton wanted to offer people something beyond the vines.

“I thought it was such a great way to learn about this city, try new foods, new restaurants,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot of that big-city feel coming into Kelowna with the restaurant scene.”

She has partnered with a dozen downtown eateries, including a nosh at five restaurants, on the three-hour tour.

Our tour kicked off at chef Rod Butters’ impressive The Okanagan Table, which opened in 2019 as a commissary kitchen for the three downtown Kelowna restaurants he owns with wine expert Audrey Surrao. 

It’s expanded into an event space for long-table dinners as well as a teaching kitchen, where curious food lovers take cooking classes to perfect their risotto or steakhouse skills with culinary instructor Kelsey Oudendag.

Butters, who brought fine dining to Tofino as founding chef at the Wickaninnish Inn’s Pointe Restaurant, has been a culinary force in and around Kelowna since moving to the Okanagan more than two decades ago.

He and Surrao opened upscale Fresco Restaurant & Lounge in 2001. They also own RauDZ Regional Table (formerly Fresco), micro bar & bites tapas bar and Sunny’s Modern Diner. 

A bijoux provisions shop just inside The Okanagan Table entrance has a stack of Butters’ 2017 cookbook The Okanagan Table: The Art of Everyday Home Cooking“I guarantee it is the world’s smallest storefront,” Butters said. “But with over 160 items, it’s the most exclusive store friends of food have ever seen.”

The spacious main room is anchored by a long counter facing the open kitchen. I took a seat and watched Butters and his team plate milk-poached halibut topped with an edible flower, thin-sliced charred broccoli and a mousse-like lemony hollandaise. Surrao paired it with Fritzi’s Vineyard Riesling from local winery Martin’s Lane Wine. Delicious.

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