Saigon Restaurant in Kelowna

CORR Star Ratings - 4-5 star - exceptional

From the outside, Saigon Restaurant on Bernard Avenue in downtown Kelowna seems modest and inconspicuous. However, this small restaurant can surprisingly accommodate many people. It has five beautifully decorated mother-of-pearl artworks gracing the walls with mesmerizing detail that is worth examining closely.

Manager Ching Li (pictured below, centre) has operated the restaurant for 20 years.

Saigon Restaurant boasts two cuisine menus: Vietnamese and Chinese totalling nearly 200 choices. It took Darius and I quite some time to decide because he has quite a few food allergies, but after chatting with Ching for advice, we narrowed it down.

We had the Vietnamese Salad Rolls as an appetizer. Normally, these come with shrimp and pork. Due to allergies, the shrimp was eliminated and made with extra pork. They were impressively light-tasting. The accompanying peanut sauce was homemade with a deliciously mysterious, almond-like secret ingredient that was practically drinkable.

Next was a piping hot dish of Shredded Pork and Tofu in Szechuan Style Fish Flavoured Spicy Sauce. It was love at first bite: an awesome, you-must-try-it dining experience. The spice was at first mild on the tongue, but then thrilled the back of the palate. The tender pork was in bite-sized morsels, and mushrooms were quartered, making it very practical to eat with chopsticks. The tofu had good texture that I’m certain even non-tofu lovers would enjoy. We gave this dish top marks. In fact, Darius said he would return to Kelowna, purely to eat that dish again.

The Sizzling Beef with Onion and Green Pepper was also a big hit with Darius. He’s not normally a fan of black bean sauce like I am. Unlike most, this homemade sauce was not salty or overpowering, but a light, savoury, smoky complement to the substantial slices of beef cooked to perfection. The ingredients were simple, yet it was effectively tasty. (The steamed rice was just right, too.)

Last but not least, we had to try the Buddhist Vegetables (without the corn, due to allergies). The highlight of this dish were the large, meaty Chinese mushrooms. The bean sprouts and sugar snap peas were timed perfectly, retaining their fresh, delicate crunch.

We were pleased with our fortune cookie messages at the end of our meal. Darius’s read: “Right now there’s an energy pushing you in a new direction” — just as he heads back to Vancouver this week. Mine was: “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy” — I’d had a rather emotional morning, and this meal was definitely turning around my day!

The Dining Experience

Quality of Food

The meats were cooked to just the right tenderness. All of the vegetables tasted garden fresh. The portions were ample and could have easily fed 4 people well. Unable to leave a morsel behind, we came away with a huge doggy-bag. Perhaps the key to the success of this dining experience lies in all of the homemade sauces they prepare. Saigon Restaurant has their own unique recipes for satay, black bean, peanut, and fish sauces.

Service

We were greeted by the waitress as soon as we entered the door, and invited to choose any table that suited us. We barely sat down and already a large pot of fresh Jasmine Tea was brought to us. The food was served very quickly, piping hot. (You can see the steam still floating from them in my pictures.) We were asked how we wanted it served in terms of timing. This was a thoughtful consideration, as we wanted it all to arrive at the same time.

Ambiance

Lunch and dinner times are typically busy, so we arrived after 2:30 p.m. for a quiet meal. The restaurant is divided into two areas, one being more private. Somehow, the sound does not travel and even during busy times it is not as loud as many restaurants are. Mirrors on the upper part of the walls reflect the decor and give it a more spacious feeling. The lighting is mellow and there are ornamental plants which make the place feel cosy.

Cleanliness

The restaurant was clean and tidy.

Value for money

The price of this meal was $48 (not including tax or tip). Considering this would have fed 4 people with a high quality cuisine, we found this was of exceedingly great value. Saigon Restaurant also has a popular lunch special on weekdays.

Overall

I regularly get my favourite Chinese take out from here, Singapore Style Fried Vermicelli, which is always reliably perfect. This was the first time I explored new dishes during a sit-down meal at the Saigon Restaurant. The biggest risk we took was the Shredded Pork and Tofu in Szechuan Style Fish Flavoured Spicy Sauce, uncertain of whether we’d like any of those ingredients. It turned out to be our very favourite, which we will now highly recommend to everyone. This dining experience taught me to trust that pretty much any menu choice at the Saigon Restaurant would be a good one.

If you’re in Kelowna, you must give Saigon Restaurant a try. I am certain you’ll be delighted!

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Old Vines Restaurant at Quail’s Gate

Quail's Gate | Photo: Annie Zed

CORR Star Ratings - 4-5 star - exceptional

On Friday February 21, 2014, Hilarie, Pam and I celebrated one-month-till-spring at the Old Vines Restaurant and Wine Bar. Located on the grounds of the family-owned Quail’s Gate Winery, it sits on the slopes of Mount Boucherie in West Kelowna. Being at a winery, we each thoroughly enjoyed a glass of wine. I rarely drink, so I asked the waitress to recommend a light white wine for me. She suggested the 2012 Chasselas-Pinot Blanc-Pinot Gris. Pam had the 2011 Pinot Noir and Hilarie had the 2011 Chardonnay.

Quail's Gate | Pam, Annie, Hilarie

We sat indoors with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked the vineyard and Okanagan Lake.

Quail's Gate | Photo: Annie Zed

The views from the property were gorgeous.

Quail's Gate | Annie Zed

We perused the lunch menu and finally came to these decisions. Pam chose the Grilled Wild BC Salmon with Spanish style faro and chorizo, pea puree and creamy lemon chevre. The spice level was surprisingly modest and the portion was satisfying.

Quail's Gate | Grilled Wild BC Salmon | Photo: Annie Zed

Hilarie chose the Twice Baked Goat Cheese and Rosemary Souffle with lentils, apple, hazelnut, endive and lemon vinaigrette. Admittedly, the souffle was the least favourite among all the choices, but the accompaniments were interestingly delicious.

Quail's Gate | Twice Baked Goat Cheese and Rosemary Souffle | Photo: Annie Zed

I selected the Prosciutto Wrapped Maple Hills Chicken Breast with barley and wild mushroom risotto, sage and pan jus. The chicken was very tender and flavourful. We all loved the creamy yet robust texture of the risotto.

Quail's Gate | Prosciutto Wrapped Maple Hills Chicken Breast | Photo: Annie Zed

The food was amazing with delicate flavours. We all had samples from each other’s plates, of course!

Quail's Gate | Hilarie | Photo: Annie Zed

Afterward, when the waitress described the dessert special, Deconstructed Red Velvet Cake, we could not refuse it. It included a cream cheese parfait with a strawberry centre, chocolate cremaux, pieces of cake, roasted raspberry ice cream and a white chocolate garnish.

Quail's Gate | Deconstructed Red Velvet Cake | Photo: Annie Zed

The restaurant itself had pleasant decor.

Quail's Gate | Photo: Annie Zed

Afterward, we checked out the Wine and Gift Shop.

Quail's Gate | Photo: Annie Zed

In the centre of the shop was a beautiful fireplace. By the far window, some people were wine-tasting.

Quail's Gate | Photo: Annie Zed

As we left, the sky had a lovely light, ever-changing the view across the vineyard.

Quail's Gate | Photo: Annie Zed

The Dining Experience

Quality of Food

The ingredients were fresh, with unique combinations of local and regional ingredients that appeal to a fine palate. Wine pairings were suggested on the menus. While the portions were more akin to what is expected at gourmet restaurants, quantities were more than adequate for lunch.

Service

We arrived early for our 1 p.m. reservation and were seated immediately. There were only a few guests at this time, but two waiting staff among all. Our waitress was very helpful and readily available at every moment we required attention.

Ambiance

Despite the fact that only four or five other tables were occupied, the noise volume was rather high. This was understandable being an open plan area with a long kitchen pass-through. I imagine the floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides also contributed to the sound bouncing. Voices at a table near us were often louder than the company at my own table.

Cleanliness

The restaurant was impeccably clean everywhere, including the washroom.

Value for money

We paid $120 for the three of us. This included 3 lunch main courses, 3 single glasses of wine, 1 shared dessert and 1 coffee. This total included tax (but not tip). While this is quite high in terms of an every day lunchtime meal, it seems reasonable for the quality of fare and venue when there is a special celebratory occasion.

Overall

This is a great restaurant for local people to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or special event. Tourists are likely to appreciate the picturesque location, slightly off the beaten track but worthy of a detour, especially in summertime when the vineyards are in full swing. Best to make a reservation to avoid disappointment, and allow plenty of time to take in the views and tours. Have a designated driver if you intend to do some wine sampling!