Friday, October 14, 2011

Travels with Chili: The Great Okanganan Road Trip

There's nothing like a road trip to clear your mind and open up your head to new possibilities. Especially when those possibilities involve lots of good food, wine and folks.

Flourishing orchards, dry hills.

It had been a good long while since Dave and I had taken an extended vacation, just the two of us, so we decided to head out on the road and explore some new territory up in British Columbia's Okanagan wine country. Not to be confused with Washington's Okanogan (note different spelling), basically the southern half of the same valley. Go figure.

Driving up the Gorge, turning left at Biggs Junction then heading up through Goldendale, Yakima, Ellensburg and Wenatchee, we crossed the Columbia River three times, surprised that it seemed just as big way up north as it does here (top photo). North of Yakima the rich river basin turns into lush orchard land, reminding me of Washington's reputation as the apple capitol of the Northwest. Most look like conventional operations, so we weren't tempted to stop and pick the ripe red, green and yellow fruit, plus we were pretty sure they wouldn't survive the Canadian border inspection.

The Methow Valley Inn in Twisp.

After seven hours of driving we could have made the two-hour dash to the border but, fortuitously it turns out, we decided to stay in the tiny town of Twisp, Washington, at the Methow Valley Inn. A historic hotel with a barn-like Dutch roof, we were greeted by affable co-owner Peter Morgan, who showed us around the simple but elegant inn, pointing out the indentations in the stairs made by decades of loggers' caulk boots.

Peter Morgan of the Methow Valley Inn.

Clean, quiet and comfortable, our third floor room had its own balcony that overlooked the garden patio shaded by a giant silver maple. Rather than hanging around our room, at this point we were more interested in finding dinner and a well-deserved beverage. We'd heard about the local brewpub, but Peter pointed us toward, believe it or not in a town of just under one thousand souls, an authentic Sicilian restaurant called Tappi.

Tappi, a Sicilian outpost in Washington's Okanogan.

The son of Italian immigrants, John Bonica had always wanted to open a restaurant dedicated to the foods he grew up watching his mother prepare. With the recipes he learned in her kitchen and with a wood-fired oven as the restaurant's centerpieces, he's dishing out food that would hold its own against the best Italian places in Seattle or Portland.

When we walked in, John had just pulled a cast-iron skillet of polenta out of his oven and was putting in small rounds of his sourdough "cuscino" (pillow) loaves that he offers as appetizers with ricotta or roasted tomatoes. Both went on our mental "must order" list, and to go with them we splurged on a bottle of Produttori del Barbaresco "Torre"…I mean, it was our anniversary, for pete's sake. Without going into lugubrious descriptors, my braised beef with romaine was astonishing, and Dave's pork sugo with penne was sublime in the way that meat in its falling-apart stage can be. Dessert? Forget it. But as soon as John heard it was our anniversary, he brought over a bottle of the house dessert wine…yes, he has one…a Colosi Malvasia, rich and delicious. Needless to say we barely remember the two-block walk back to the inn or much of anything else before we fell sound asleep.

Our early departure was delayed by a discussion with a French documentary filmmaker…I should have known this was a foreshadowing of the amazing people we'd run into on this trip…but depart we did, and crossed the border without incident to start our Okanagan adventure.

On to Osoyoos!

Read the other posts in this series, Okangan's Lake Country, Magical Moment, Perched In Penticton, Penticton Personalities and Crazy for Kelowna.

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