With outdoor seating the new normal at the moment, The Bistro at Hillside Winery is perfectly poised to serve you.
The bistro has outdoor seating in spades, with its cozy lower patio and the lofty second floor that offers expansive views overlooking Naramata Bench and Okanagan Lake. The bistro re-opened for the season on Easter weekend with a menu refresh by recent transplant, executive chef Evan Robertson.
Robertson brings close to 25 years of cooking experience to the table, learning his trade in fine dining establishments from Vancouver Island to Alberta, and crafting menus for gastropubs, most recently, at a successful Calgary establishment.
The idea of moving to the region had been in the back of his mind for some time, and during a visit last fall, famed chef Ned Bell of the Naramata Inn, encouraged the enterprising Robertson to make the move.
The position at The Bistro was posted, the stars aligned, and Robertson and his wife Amanda moved to Penticton in February. His sous chef from Calgary followed suit, and the two went to work on the new menu. That entailed creating relationships with suppliers, including local farms, along with menu testing and wine pairing.
Out of the starting gate find a fun, approachable, sharing plates menu with creative twists and turns. With a something-for-everyone approach, it’s divided into four parts: Snack & Sip, Grains/Pasta, Soup/Salad, and Seafood/Meat.
Robertson insists that everything is made in house — “no shortcuts” — that includes bread, preserves, bacon, sausages, smoked salmon, and sauces, right down to the ketchup. The sauces especially reflect his rigorous formal training at Alberta’s NAIT and SAIT culinary arts programs. Sauce bordelaise, demi-glace and gastriques are woven deliciously throughout.
Now let’s eat!
House-made perogies from the Grains/Pasta section came stuffed with potato and spring peas revealing a blast of colour in each bite. Pan-fried, they’re topped with smoked salmon, bacon lardons, bright green peas and a mustardy crème fraiche for dipping.
A vegan dish of quinoa lentil lollipops, on a stick, were fun to eat, with a cherry gastrique — essentially a reduced cherry sauce, deglazed with a hit of vinegar, providing a delicate sweet-sour note, counterbalanced with a smoked green onion aioli. The aioli can be eliminated to keep it vegan, and in fact, most of the menu items can be adjusted for other dietary restrictions.
The Crab Caesar Bites take creative liberty with the original salad. Spears of endive lettuce act as the vessel, carrying Dungeness crab meat tossed with moreish crispy fried capers for a salty-crispy-briny note along with housemade preserved lemon for a citrusy lift.
Plump bacon lardons adding meaty lusciousness and grated parmesan for an umami flourish, sit atop the classic – yes, anchovy — Caesar dressing. The dish is a wonderful exploration of texture and flavours, like a party for your palate.
On the meaty side of things, beef tartare, Two Rivers tenderloin hand-chopped to order, was impressive tossed with shallots, capers, pickles and a delicate hit of truffle oil. Topped with a quail egg, the dish is presented with crispy potato chips. Once you mix the egg into the tartare, the chips are the vehicle to transport this well-crafted dish to its destination.
The menu’s best-selling pan seared scallops and crispy pork belly was next. Cubes of rich pork belly were presented with pan-seared scallops and roasted fingerling potatoes as companions. A honey and paprika oil on the plate provided delicate sweet and smoky notes to carry the components of this decadent combination through to fruition.
Five dishes between my husband and I were more than sufficient. Sadly there was no room for dessert but they offer some sure-fire hits: chocolate molten cake, white chocolate crème brulee, pavlova, and peach sorbet. Every dish has suggested wine pairings from Hillside winemaker Kathy Malone’s extensive portfolio — all served up by friendly, confident staff.
Upstairs patio seating will open May 5, and lunch is currently on hiatus. The upside is a take-out picnic program offering taco kits or cheese plates during the day, and in addition to the patio dinner menu, diners can order Hillside at Home dinner kits.
Choose from steak, seafood or vegetarian kits — enough for two — that require minimal cooking and include precise instructions to make it easy-peasy.
The promise of our seasonal bounty, which chef Robertson has yet to immerse himself in, will be reflected in The Bistro’s seasonally changing menus. I personally can’t wait for Roberston to really hit his stride once he makes more farmer and forager connections.
I urge you to book a table or take out and celebrate this additional bright light on our culinary landscape.
With fork and pen in hand, and a passion for culinary adventure, Shelora Sheldan, writer, cook and traveller, goes in search of the delectable.