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When Penticton's Time Winery opened in the converted Penmar Theatre building in 2018, it was instantly unique. It was the only truly urban winery in a region littered with rural alternatives.
It still is today.
But that distinction and all of Time's goodwill since wasn't quite enough to stem the tide of evolution.
When the venue closed after New Year's Eve 2022 celebrations in the early hours of Jan. 1st of this year, it stayed closed right through January and February and the first weeks of March too.
And the work commenced. Work that would turn the big space in the front -- the space everyone knew as Time -- into a full-on restaurant and flashy cocktail bar. Work that would upgrade the kitchen to accommodate a far more extensive menu. And work that would move the Time tasting room into a cavernous adjacent area once used for storage.
Today, the venue is almost ready to reopen. And there's one word you need to know: OROLO. That's the name of the rebranded restaurant (it's actually "OROLO Restaurant + Cocktail Bar") that sits at the heart of everything.
"The term OROLO," said GM Christa-Lee McWatters this past weekend during a staff familiarization session, "is a take on horology, which is the study of time. We believe wine is all about time and place, hence why the name of our company is the 'Time Family of Wines.'"
Restaurant manager Tom Swope, who joined the Time Family in the spring of 2022 after spending much of the previous three decades running hotels and the like in the lower mainland and around the world, gave us a quick history lesson.
"When we first launched a winery here in the city," he said, "we decided to make a tasting room, and that was about it. We then added snacks to compliment the tasting room -- burgers, sandwiches, cheese plates, that type of thing.
"People seemed pretty excited about that, so we decided to expand it more into a restaurant. And at that point we also decided to pull the tasting room out of the restaurant and make it into a cocktail bar instead."
When it opens officially on March 23rd after several friends and family soft openings, OROLO will attempt to fulfill a tall order -- to compete in the same rarified atmosphere as the city's finest restaurants while at the same time remaining approachable to those who've made more affordable Time faves like the "Original Burger" burger a hit.
And it'll do that with an imaginative new culinary director, double the kitchen staff, and a brand new upscale menu that'll run the gamut from extravagant dry-aged steaks to vegan fritters to, you guessed it, the Original Burger.
That culinary director is Kirk Morrison, a 39-year-old dude who arrived in Penticton in the middle of January to assume the role and is thrilled he did.
"There was this amazing opportunity here and my wife was born and raised in BC," said Morrison, an energetic guy whose age belies his experience. He's spent time as chef at Ottawa's four-diamond "Restaurant 18" and downtown Vancouver's celebrated "Cibo Trattoria," amongst others.
Apart from the Original Burger, the OROLO menu is all Morrison's creation. And it starts, but is by no means restricted to, top-grade steaks dry-aged on premises for increased tenderness and heightened taste.
"But we don’t want to refer to the restaurant as a steak house," he said with a smile. "We're a house that offers steak. Really good steak. But we offer so much beyond that."
Morrison is particularly enthusiastic over the rack of lamb, a dish he predicts will be a big seller.
"We're sous viding it," he said, "something that's not very common in the Okanagan. It'll give us super tender lamb, and then we finish it on the grille so you get the tender lamb and the char of the grille. And we'll take the bones and trimmings and reduce them down with some demi-glace and veal stock and make that into a sauce."
He's also excited about OROLO's seafood program, saying there'll be "multiple entrees based on seafood" and "a raw trout dish," one of two raw seafood items on the menu.
"And it's all organic and ocean-wise," he said. "Organic Ocean will be our sole fish provider. They're good at getting on boats themselves and making sure it's done in a sustainable way."
The restaurant won't even carry stuff like mussels and oysters until they’re available regionally later in the season, citing the extended carbon footprint that comes from acquiring distant product.
But Morrison, who went the vegan route himself for three years, is arguably most psyched about OROLO's vegan and vegetarian options.
"In the appetizer section we'll have a golden polenta," he said, "with crispy fried polenta, candied seeds, some arugala and a little chili in there to dial up the heat a bit."
There'll also be a grilled cauliflower salad on the lunch menu, served with "three kinds of lentils and fresh greens," and two vegan dinner entrees, including an intriguing fritter that incorporates a deep-fried chick pea and lentil paté, cranberry sauce and fresh local veggies.
"Everything here is made with intent," said Morrison when asked what he'd most like prospective guests to know. "Everything on the plate is there for a reason.
"And once people start dining here, they'll learn there's a few surprises too. Particularly for Penticton and what's been done here in the past, there'll be some things that people will be pleasantly surprised to see."
The physical modifications to the OROLO space are not nearly as dramatic as the changes to the menu. But that's okay because the venue has been tweaked several times already during its five-year lifespan, moving steadily toward a darker, more stylish ambience.
Now as OROLO, circles are the design element of choice. From the O's in the striking black and gold "OROLO" signage to the rounded sculptures hanging from the elevated ceiling and other décor too, circles are clearly where it's at.
Obvious restaurant upgrades include a host/greeter station at the entrance, a reworked kitchen interface to help improve server flow and carpeted versus concrete flooring.
But the key renovation comes at the bar area, where Time once hosted its wine tasting. Going forward, the tasting has been shuffled into an adjacent space and the restaurant is plunging itself into the world of cocktails.
"It's now a dedicated cocktail bar," said restaurant manager Tom Swope, "which not a lot of places in town are doing. We want to offer that elevated cocktail experience."
And according to OROLO's corporate and event sales coordinator Kelly Mitchell, every square inch of the bar area has been reworked.
"It's absolutely brand new," she said. "Not one piece of fabric or material or wood is the same as before."
But that's not all. To make way for all those cocktails, the wine-tasting area has been moved out of the restaurant and into its own space -- a massive space that was once the Penmar's fourth theatre and has spent recent years as a Time storage area.
It'll be called the "Chronos Tasting Room" and it's currently in the midst of construction. A mid-April opening is targeted.
"We're still first and foremost a winery," summed up GM McWatters, "and it's about making the best wine we can. Lynzee (winemaker Lynzee Schatz) makes a big, bold fruit-forward wine and we work really cohesively with that.
"But, we've gone through a lot of evolution here. And OROLO is really something I think Penticton was lacking."
OROLO Restaurant + Cocktail Bar opens officially March 23. Operating hours are 5 pm to 9 pm Monday and Tuesday, noon to 9 pm Wednesday and Thursday, noon to 10 pm Friday and Saturday and 10:30 am to 4 pm Sunday.
Thursday night features revolving live music acts and Sunday is brunch only. The plan is to remain open year-'round.
For more info, hit the website here.