Tag Archives: food

Fusion Cuisine

Some days I can wander the aisles of a grocery store for ages, trying to get inspiration for the meal ahead, whilst other days I wake up with a meal plan already formed.

Today was the latter, and all day I could not think for the Mexican feast that I had planned for that evenings meal.

Taco’s are a perennial favourite in our household, and tonight would not disappoint.  In addition to the taco’s however, I was fixated on making some enchilada’s.  Whilst the Taco’s were going to be made from minced beef, which is what the kids love most, the enchilada’s were going to be chicken.

With that in mind, I popped into my local butcher to pick up a brace of chicken thighs and minced beef, and while I was there I purchased a couple of legs of lamb for the weekend.  To furnish the rest of the meal, I visited the local mega-mart and tried to get in and out in as little time as possible.

Of course, Coles chose to be less than cooperative.  When making enchilada’s, only corn tortillas hit the spot, and they had none.  There is little more frustrating than being let down by the grocery store when it comes to the sole reason you were visiting in the first place.  Funnily enough, yesterday the item out of stock was milk…of all things.

Steaming, and wanting to dump my groceries and head to the local competitor, I walked past the tortilla’s one more time when the rows of “mountain bread” caught my eye.  Thin square flat breads, made to use as a wrap for all manner of “sandwich” options, I quickly realized the potential when I spotted the corn version.

Enchilasagne was born.

Think lasagne, with alternating layers of chicken with enchilada sauce, and cheese with sour cream.  Each layer separated by a thin square piece of corn flat bread instead of the traditional pasta sheet.

What is your favourite mashup of foods to come up with something unique?

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Eastern Port Yum Cha

One thing Mackay doesn’t lack is Asian Restaurants.  Unfortunately, they mostly cater to the quick lunch trade, and are focused on pushing out a fast meal, rather than a good meal.  Sure, there are a few exceptions to this, but for the most part I have been disappointed in the quality of Chinese (and other SE Asian influenced dishes) that I have found so far.

Just looking at this makes me hungry

A new restaurant set on the perimeter of a Shopping Centre, and within a stones throw of a Sizzler, did not raise my hopes of Eastern Port being any different.

Walking into the restaurant, it ticks off most of the prerequisites for a typical Chinese restaurant.  There’s the ornamental fish tank behind the maitre ‘d stand, there’s a row of fish tanks vigorously bubbling away while lobsters, fish, and large crab peer out at diners, and there’s a rack of glossy tanned ducks hanging behind glass, just inside the kitchen.  Coupled with the rest of the modern decor, with Chinese art and cultural hints, Eastern Port actually pulls of a neat trick of providing a pleasant dining atmosphere whilst food service staff scurry busily pushing yum-cha carts around tables of hurried diners surrounded by prams, shopping carts, and plastic store bags full of groceries and department store essentials.

It’s not a real Chinese Restaurant unless it has one of these

Eastern Port also has a small curb-side dining area, as well as the tables inside the restaurant itself, which is consistent with the other cafe’s and eateries in the area.  It also makes a great place to people watch on a sunny afternoon, as you are enjoying a prolonged yum-cha session.

Jeri and I are quickly led to our seats (inside), and it is seconds before the yum-cha cart arrives, offering it’s wares for the luncheon rush.  We both decide that we want to look at the menu before deciding on what we will select.  Immediately my eyes are drawn to the laksa.  Now, there aren’t many things that I would prefer to eat than yum-cha.  I love Chinese dumplings like fat kids love chocolate.  But Curry laksa is one of those dishes.

It also shows both the good and bad in Australian Asian restaurants.  There are not too many places where you will find yum-cha sharing menu space with laksa, and your trip across Asia doesn’t end with China and Malaysia.  The menu also includes Thai tom yum , Singapore noodles, mee and nasi Goreng from Indonesia.  The menu is, however, predominantly Chinese and Malay, so I decide to give the laksa a chance.  In a shock, Jeri also orders a soup.  Wonton soup is her choice, which surprises me as she is a self proclaimed soup disliker (ok, hater would have been too strong a word, so I chose to make one up instead).

Just after the waiter scurries off to bark the order at the kitchen staff, the yum-cha chart stops at our table and we are encouraged to choose from the dozen or so offerings.  Not today, we explain…we’ve ordered from the menu.  Confused, the cart operator races off to the next table.  It seems they really want to sell yum-cha.

A good looking Laksa right there

Less than 10 minutes later, our soups arrive with a flourish of fragrant steam, and the moment of truth is upon us.

Now, as a lover of laksa I have eaten it hundreds of times, and I have had the pleasure of eating some of the best, and the misfortune of being disppointed by some of the worst, including an insipid version last week from another local noodle bar, but this laksa was actually quite good.

The good:

Well balanced, and reasonably flavourful, I would have to concede that it was the best laksa I have had in Mackay.

As a seafood laksa, the prawns were generous, and the vegetables were fresh and vibrant.

The bad:

I thought the broth could have had more flavour.  It’s really the key part of a good laksa, and it just let it down a little.

The squid and the mussels were also over cooked, which is a really difficult ask for a laksa, but I have had perfectly cooked and tender squid in a laksa in the past.  Also, the tofu was a non event, as was the fish cake (too bland and thin).

I also felt that there should have been more condiments on the side to customize the flavour.  The sambal that was included had no kick at all, and the soup really needed it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely going back to the Eastern Port, and I’m also going to recommend the laksa as a good option.  The issues I have are purely a question of degrees of flavour…the flavour was there, and the soup was good, it just lacked some key elements that could have made it great.

Crayfish, Crab, and Dumpling Steamers…maybe next time

I’m also looking forward to trying their yum-cha some day, and even exploring a little deeper into their menu of South East Asian standards.  For this visit, however, I am going to give it 3.5 little piggies.

Maria’s Donkey – Tapas Treats along the river

We live in a beautiful part of the world, and this is the time of year that the region shines.  The wet season is behind us for another year, and the warm tropical days are washed away with balmy evenings and cool nights while the rest of the country is bracing for winter snows, and chilling rains.

Maria's Donkey on the Pioneer River

This is the time of year where you can’t decide whether the week should end with a Friday evening stroll amongst the palms along the riverfront, or sipping margaritas as the sun sets, painting the mangroves in hues of amber and burnt orange.  This week we chose the latter.

Mackay is really doing some exciting things along the Riverfront, and it’s about time.  Downtown has always been a club haven, where nights are filled with echoes of dance music and peels of intoxicated laughter, but it’s not been a great place to go out for a quiet drink…or two.  This is slowly changing.

The promise of a nice quiet drink, and some great Mexican food (according to the rumour), is what took us along to Maria’s Donkey on River Street.  It’s on the Eastern side of the Forgan Bridge, just before you get to the Fish Markets, and is marked by a small swinging sign with the picture of a hatted donkey.

For a good time, enter here...

Like many of the buildings in the area, it’s built on piers over the top of the mud flats that edge the Pioneer River, and stepping onto the entryway takes you off of terra firma, as the river bank drops away beneath your feet.  This afternoon a party was enjoying exclusive access to the patio at the far end of the building, but other nice seating was available along the side patio, and inside offered cozy couch seating, as well as stools along the bar.

The first thing that caught our attention was the sign “This is not a restaurant, this is a bar” and it turns out that Maria’s Donkey is a Tapas bar, rather than a restaurant proper.  It basically means that it’s not really a place for kids, though the manager explains that weekend lunches and afternoons are not really an issue.  I actually like the Tapas Bar concept as a place where adults can gather and share a few drinks with great small appetizer portions of finger foods.  A place where you don’t have to dodge under-supervised children.  A place that doesn’t quite cater to the cashed up and testosterone fueled miner, who is two days into his five day break, and is sharing the second day of his “bender” with everyone else within earshot.  Maria’s lives up to the promise of a nice quiet drink, and gentle music plays in the background…loud enough to enjoy, but quiet enough to allow conversation to be held at a normal level.

Delicious Chorizo Hotpot

Looking over the Tapas offerings, the selection had an eclectic Mediterranean feel to it, rather than the Mexican we had hoped for, though the menu does change daily.  The specials board spruiked a range of seafood choices, including oysters, mussels, prawns and calamari, while on the menu proper Arabic, Greek, Spanish and Italian inspired dishes shared space with some Mexican offerings.  Today we honed in on the Chorizo Hot Pot, though the Empanada’s (Chicken and/or Beef) were calling my name, as was the Cherry Tomato and Chorizo skewers, with Feta and fresh Basil.

I thought the prices were quite reasonable, and the Hot Pot  was enough food for a good lunch by itself.  Essentially a tomato and Chorizo stew, it was packed with sausage and full of flavour.  It was rustic and simple, very hearty, and I thought great value at $12.  Unfortunately we weren’t that hungry, we actually shared the one hot pot, as it was only late afternoon, but I’ll update the blog with other food tastings as I visit again.

One of the other things that caught my eye, was the range of beers and cocktails available.  For a smaller bar, I thought the range carried a good mix of beer styles and flavours.  Red ales through to light lagers were all represented, and I don’t think anyone would walk away from Maria’s without finding a beer that they would enjoy.  Normally I would have been all over the ales, but this afternoon we had a thirst for something else.  Something with a lime’s sharpness, and a crust of salt around the rim of the glass.  The word “Margarita” stuck out like a sore thumb on the Cocktail list, and it reminded me that it had been an awful long time since I had had a good Margarita in a bar.  Could this be the place?

Now the view is perfect

So, also at $12 a pop, the Margarita wasn’t cheap, but it was good.  No, it was great.  Maybe we were here on a “pop-in” visit, just on a whim, but the Margarita they served actually put the wife an I on a Tequila and Triple Sec fuelled adventure that night.  We went home and broke out the blender, to perfect our own at home, and we got close to Maria’s quality…but a great Margarita is a hard thing to find, and even harder to replicate, and Maria’s was one of the best.

This is not a very detailed review of Maria’s Donkey, but I wanted to get this post out quickly, rather than wait until I had tried more of the menu, and the cocktail list.  7 weeks it’s been open, and places like Maria’s really need our support.  Not just because it’s a nice place for adults to enjoy a drink without drunken yobo’s spilling XXXX Gold on our shoes and shirts, but because it’s a place that delivers on it’s promise.  Good honest simple food, great atmosphere, an excellent selection of beverages, all reasonably priced.

I will certainly be back, and I’m giving it 4 little piggies.

Honeymoons, Original Ceasar Salad and Happy 5th Anniversary

Today marks the 5th Anniversary of my marriage to Jeri, my lover and partner in life.  When we first met, 7 years ago, my life was at the bottom of a downswing and what we have been able to achieve together is testament to the fact that two people in step are greater than the sum of their parts.  I’m sure she’ll read this, so:  I love you baby, and I love who we are.  The skies the limit.

One of my great food memories as a couple, and I could safely say one of hers without actually asking, happened during our first trip away alone as a married couple…our honeymoon if you wish, though it was 10 months after we married.  Jeri was working at Frontier Airlines in the States, and one of her friends had a time-share unit in Cabo San Lucas (Mexico), which we had been offered the use of.  Money was tight for us in those early days, so we jumped at the chance to have an exotic “cheap” holiday.  Of course January in Denver acts as quite a motivating factor for a trip to more tropical climes.

Sunset in the Endless Pool at the resort

Now, if you’ve not been to Cabo it is a bit of a Time-Share capital.  Getting off the plane at the airport, and passing through customs, you run a gauntlet of Time-Share sellers, offering you all sorts of gifts and cash to spend a couple of hours viewing their respective holiday presentations.  Being naive and broke, we quickly agree.  I mean, $500 worth of activities, food vouchers, and gifts just about doubled our spending money for the week.

Time Share Tequila, contents removed and Cabo beach (sand and sea) added.

This is not a travel piece, so I’ll keep it short, but for that 3 hour investment (buffet breakfast included, lol) we got:  $150 in vouchers (total) for use in up to 5 restaurants and bars, free paragliding, free glass bottom boat tour, buy 1 get 1 free 1/2 day game fishing trip, a free bottle of Tequila, and a free Mexican blanket.

Jeri enjoys a birds-eye view of Cabo San Lucas

With part of our meal vouchers, we went to Salvatore’s, a great Italian restaurant adjacent to the Marina, and what a meal we had.  It was at this restaurant, during this meal, that I had my very first Caesar Salad.  OK, I had THOUGHT that I had had Caesar Salad in the past, but I was very much mistaken.  Every other Caesar Salad I had had in the past paled in comparison in the same way that a Mall Food Court Sushi Roll compares to a piece hand rolled by a master, in the same way that a Dominoes Pizza compares to a wood fired pizzeria Napoletana.

Much like Peking Duck, Caesar Salad is theatre.  In the 1920’s, before there was refrigeration widely available, and before fresh produce could easily be transported from half way around the globe, Chef Caesar Cardini created a sensation when he mixed some leftover pantry ingredients with a handful of Romaine lettuce leaves and invented the Salad which continues to bear his name.  The key to the Salad’s success, and the experience, is that the magic all happens with a dramatic flourish alongside the diners table.  From mis en place to plate while the patrons watch enraptured.  Dining as entertainment took a giant leap forward, and you haven’t had a Caesar Salad until you have watched the show.  That evening we experienced a food zen moment, and we experienced it together.  I’ll never forget it.

All of that preamble sets the scene for today, our wedding anniversary, and to celebrate 5 wonderful years I am going to make a Caesar Salad…just as Chef Cardini intended.

Ingredients

  • 2 Heads of Romaine or Cos Lettuce
  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • Salt
  • ¾ cup best-quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup  genuine imported real Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Cups stale cubed bread, dense artisan loaf

Method

This recipe uses simple ingredients, very simply prepared.  It is essential that you use the best quality that you can find as every ingredient will show up and either shine, or fall flat.  Nothing here is ridiculously expensive, so even buying the best you can will not be a huge burden.

  • Remove the base of the lettuce, and gently separate the leaves.  Sort through them until you have about 8 from near the middle of the bunch, all uniform and unblemished.  Save the rest of the lettuce for another salad, or BLT’s later.  Remove the thickest part of the stems from the selected leaves and gently rinse.  Spin in a salad spinner (or dry with paper towels by blotting) and store them in an air tight bag or container in the fridge.
  • Using  a pinch of the salt, and about 3 tablespoons of oil, mash the garlic into a paste.  Toss with the brad cubes and toast in a cast iron or non-stick frying pan over a medium heat.  When golden brown and crunchy, transfer to a plate to cool.
  • Using a vegetable peeler, shave about 1/4 cup worth of Parmesan Cheese into a small bowl.
  • Drop the two eggs into enough boiling water to cover.  Cook for exactly a minute, then remove and cool under running cold water.  You want to coddle the eggs and nothing more.  This is not enough cooking to kill any potentially harmful bacteria, so if you have a compromised immunity (or are pregnant), you might want to avoid the dish.  This is also the main reason that Caesar Salads are not made according to the original methodology…stupid food police (but that’s a whole other post).
  • What about the anchovies?  Well, contrary to popular belief, the original Caesar Salad did not have anchovies, other than what was already in the Worcestershire Sauce.
  • At the kitchen table, or on the counter in front of your guests, place the lettuce into a large wide bowl.  Pour about 1/4 cup of oil onto the leaves, and using an exaggerated motion gently toss the salad four times using a large salad fork and spoon, rolling the mix toward you in a breaking wave motion.
  • Sprinkle on a good pinch of the salt, and about 8 grinds of pepper, and another splash of oil.  Toss again twice (gently).
  • Add the lemon juice, 6 drops of Worcestershire Sauce, and break in the two coddled eggs.  Toss twice gently, yet again.
  • Finally, add the cheese, toss once, then add the croutons.  Toss two more times gently, and serve.

Such a great Salad deserves a great main dish. What would you serve it with?

Remember, the “theatre” is as important as the meal, and this is as much about the experience as it is the food.  Have fun with the display, and enjoy the meal.

My food nemesis and “Cleaning out the Fridge”

During the recent blogging competition, I was asked about my biggest cooking disaster.  For the record, I recounted a Thanksgiving Scene a few years ago that involved a freshly cooked turkey, and a rascal dog named Vanilla Bean (Nilly).  Those two facts alone are all you need to picture the mayhem that ensued on that fateful last Thursday of November.

But in truth, that is probably not my biggest food disaster.  The fact is, I have a food nemesis.  Most of us do.  It’s the single dish that we fear and, at least in my case, the dish that we just cannot master.  For me, that dish is the lowly Potato Gratin.

Now this is going to be a surprise to some.  You see, I am a controlled person…for the most part…but when you come over to my house for a dinner party and you come armed with a perfect potato gratin, well I just hate you for those few moments.  Sure, I resist reaching over and placing my two large hands around your throat…and sure I resist crawling up into a fetal ball with my thumb in my mouth crying…but the pain is still there.  Oh Potato Gratin, how you mock me in my misery.

Every time I have tried to make it in the past, I have been left with a baking dish full of cheesy crunchy potatoes.  Never cooked properly, they leave the diners speechless as their faces grimace in the way that only biting into a raw potato can produce, and it embarrasses me.  Just like most handicaps, I have even overcompensated for this disability.  My “Greatest Cheesy Potato Recipe in the World” was created by me purely to cover my finely sliced failure as a cook.

But I am not going to let a few failures beat me.  I am going to get back up on that saddle, and try try again.  What example am I setting for my kids, if I quit after just thirty or so attempts!  Forge on, I will.

After deciding to serve a Potato Gratin for dinner, I decided to do a little research online, and found several interesting recipes.  Most consisted, more or less, of a simple seasoned sliced potato, and a milk/cream mix…occasionally with a little cheese.  I think my mistakes in the past have been around making a cheese sauce that was too heavy, and did not have the liquid or penetration necessary to cook the spuds…hmmm…I might be on to something.

So, after a little more research, here is the “base” recipe I have found for a Potato Gratin.

  • About 5lb’s Potatoes (just over 2kg)
  • 2 Cups, or 500ml, of dairy liquid
  • Seasoning (for the potato’s)
  • Flavourings (for the liquid)

OK, so it’s a bit vague.  The point is, the above is a basic recipe plan.  What your final dish is like, is up to you.  But today it’s Friday.  And Friday is “clean out the fridge” day, so i have taken a risk and expressed a little culinary license.  It’s one of the joys of cooking, in my opinion.  Finding new and exciting ways to use the foods you have left over in the fridge from the past week (or so).  I just hope my risk taking doesn’t result in yet another failed gratin.

Gourmets will tell you that truffles are the perfect ingredient for a potato gratin.  They also work well with a mac and cheese, or scrambled eggs.  The earthy pungency that you get from truffles is ideal in a creamy dish but, unfortunately, I don’t have truffle money.  Mackay Queensland is not exactly the truffle capital of the world, and nor are we blessed with a gourmet food store on every corner.  I wanted to come up with something similar, which is when scouting through the fridge and pantry struck gold.  From my last “sushi” night, I had some leftover dried shitake mushrooms.  They might just work.  They are earthy, and if I can get the flavour from them, i think they’ll be a great substitute.  These will form the basis of my flavour profile for the potatoes.  From here, it was just adding other ingredients that would complement the dish.  Here is my recipe:

  • 2kg Potato’s
  • 300ml Sour Cream
  • 300ml Vegetable stock
  • 125ml milk
  • 8 or so dried shitake mushrooms
  • 3 cloves garlic (or equivalent minced)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp dried Marjoram
  • 2 tsp dried Thyme
  • 3 Cardamom pods
  • 1 cup leftover onion dip
  • 125ml milk

Here is the Mizz...use more dried herbs than you think as the liquid needs to be supercharged with flavour

Using a small food processor, blitz the mushrooms and the cardamom.  Then  toss everything, except; the potatoes, onion dip and final 125ml milk, into a sauce-pan and simmer for about an hour.  Do not allow the mixture to boil, it will curdle.  The longer you can simmer this, the more flavour from the dried herbs and shitakes you will get.

While that mix is simmering, wash and thinly slice the potatoes.  I never peel my spuds.  All of the goodness is in the peel, and I want all of the goodness.  If you want to peel them, go ahead.  For the slicing, I used a mandolin with a 4mm blade (not the thinnest)…mind the fingers and knuckles.  ALWAYS use the guard.  As a bit of a tip, for potatoes I always have the mandolin on top of a bowl of salted water.  It stops the slices from discolouring.

When the dairy liquid is ready, strain it.  Throw away the chunky bits, you’ve extracted the flavour, and that’s the key.  We want a liquid to penetrate the spuds, not crunchy bits of dried mushrooms.

In a buttered baking dish, layer about 1/3 of the potatoes.  Add about a third of the liquid, and move it all around to get the liquid in between the potato layers.  Pushing down on the layer helps.  Repeat with the next third, and then the final third.  Mix the dip and final 125ml milk, and pour evenly over the top of the potatoes.

Cover with a lid or tight foil, and bake at 200 degrees Celsius (400f) for about an hour.  Check after 50 mins with a knife inserted into the middle.  If it feels soft, with no resistance, it’s ready.  Up the heat to about 250C, and remove the foil.  When the top browns up, it’s ready.

Potato Gratin Phobia no more

The important bit…let it cool for about 30 minutes before slicing.  This will ensure it does not all come apart in a sliding mess.  The 30 minutes will give it a chance to “set-up”.  Once it has rested, slice and serve!

And the result….

OK, I have to be honest.  I added a bit more liquid than my recipe said to add, because I was afraid of crunchy spuds again.  My phobia got the better of me.  And whilst the potatoes were perfectly cooked and the flavour was perfect, there was too much liquid in the bottom of the pan at the end.  Next time I will follow the recipe, and it will be brilliant.

I did not make the perfect Gratin this time, but at least it’s a step toward the cure!  Crunchy tubers are no more.

A dining “experience” – Grand Chancellor Hotel Brisbane “Fresco’s”

Dining is all about an experience. It’s a sum of factors, some more important than others, that equate to a perception of enjoyment. Granted, many of these are subjective in nature, and even the import of each piece of the overall package will vary from one person to another…even one day to the next.

I bring this up because it is especially important today. This evening I ate at the Fresco’s restaurant within the Grand Chancellor in Spring Hill (Brisbane).

For a start, I had a late lunch today. Couple this with a flight from Mackay, and I was just not feeling very hungry. I wasn’t even going to review this meal, given I wasn’t really “feeling it”, but here we are. And for good reason, I think.

Now, part of the overall experience, and for me a major part, is value. When you have to hand over your hard earned dollars at the end of the meal, how do you feel about it? Did you get your money’s worth? And Fresco’s sells itself as a higher end restaurant. From the hotel lobby, it has all the signs of a flash joint. Small menu with prices that don’t include cents. Fancy gourmet buzz words in the descriptions, like “champagne vinegar mignonette” and “porcini mushroom foam”. Wait staff and a maitre ‘d who wear matching uniforms and half aprons. So it was almost with trepidation that I walked into the dining room to be seated.

Now, to be fair, the waitress was teriffic. In fact, all of the staff were great. Service was spot on, no complaints, but the experience started to get a little confused when I took my seat.

Shiny white butchers paper lined the tables. Underneath was a white table cloth, to be sure, and by god it was going to stay white. Ok, you might thimk i’m being a bit persnickety, but come on. Really Grand Chancellor Hotel? If you have an entree (or appetizer for my American friends), a main course, a dessert, and 1 drink, you cannot spend less than $60 per person. It is not a paper table cloth type restaurant. I promise you there are not unruly kids squirting ketchup bottles here.

Then I noticed the shot glass candle, and the only thing tackier than a shot glass candle is…a battery powered LED shotglass candle. Which, of course, is what it was.

Placed next to the fake candle, was a small saucer separated into two halves in the shape of a ying yang. Decor by jumble sale? One half had flaked sea salt, the other coarse ground pepper. Love the salt idea, hate the pepper. Hit me with a grind or two, i love the aroma of pepper as it is ground between two ceramic wheels, but it loses that freshness in seconds, and setting it on a dish doesn’t cut it.

I wont even get started on the rest of the decor, other than to say it needed some serious updating. I love the music from the 80’s, but the decor not so much.

All that aside, let’s talk food.

Ok, first thing…great wine list. A good selection, covering a lot of styles, and a range of price points. The wine fridges sitting on the counter, not great pieces of furniture. The beer selection is OK, but they have Coopers Sparkling Ale, so I’m well pleased.

Next thing. A salad. Remember me not being hungry? All of a sudden, i’m thinking a salad is a good idea. But guess what. No salad on the menu. If you have a restaurant, please make sure you have a salad option for the main. It’s not hard to make one, and it’s a great light alternative. Plus, remove the meat and you have a vegetarian option. If you are reading this Fresco’s…GET A FRIGGIN’ SALAD.

So, i decide to order a couple of entrees (again, appetizers for my American friends).

Salmon, marinated with ginger & kaffir lime: served with shaved coconut, coriander and bean sprout salad with chilli soy dressing.

Kangaroo fillet: baby spinach, beetroot & feta salad with chilli tomato relish (except they were out of feta, so had goats cheese, and had rocket (arugula) instead of spinach).

And they were both amazing.

The chef at the Fresco’s knows his (or her) shit. All that decor crap, the tacky table settings, well they are not really the important components of the package now, are they.

The salmon was perfectly cooked. A small portion, maybe, but it was an entree only. Rare are it’s centre, still moist, and delicately seasoned, it was perfectly done. And i don’t know how he (or she) made the salmon skin cracker, but it was a knock out. Even such a simple thing as the bean sprout and coriander salad was masterfully done. Like the old game of “pick up sticks”, bean sprouts create a tangled mess of 3d architecture that adds visual interest to the plate, and the colours of the sprouts, red onion (finely sliced) and coriander really prove that one first eats with ones eyes. Of course, it tasted great too, very well dressed.

The Kangaroo was better. Rare, as roo should be, it was perfectly seasoned, still juicy, and incredibly tender. I tried to savour those 5 small slices, but they were gone too soon. Is there a better combination in the food world than beetroot and goats cheese? I don’t think so. Fresh roasted beetroot, deliciously sweet and still with a good crunch, though tender enough to run a fork through it. Contrasted against the saltiness and soft creamy texture of the cheese…it was amazing. The chilli tomato relish balanced the dish nicely, with a little piquancy and acidity. This dish will go into the memory bank for later reproduction. No greater compliment than that.

I finished a very satisfying meal off with a nice espresso…and of course it was served in a double walled bodum espresso glass, as if to make a final statement about tacky decor.

If i were to measure the meal by the meal alone, it would have been outstanding. And while the decor and accessories were truly minor issues, more comedy fodder than anything, they were still issues. Less excusable was the lack of a salad on the menu (there was a pasta).

Though the environment may have missed the mark, the food was of the highest order and i felt it was well worth the money spent. Chef, my kudos to you and your team.

Fresco’s, your dining experience, as a package, was worth 3.5 little piggies.
Fresco's on Urbanspoon

Monte’s – Alice Springs

Monte’s has a vibe that is a bit “Funky Carnival”, and the clientele seems to walk the chic line that might have been called “Yuppy” in the 90’s.  I am just hoping the meal is better than the props.

The experience starts well, with a great selection of beers available.  Jeri and I, being huge Porter fans, enjoy a nice Squires Porter as we find our way to our table and peruse the menu.

The selections on the menu are not great.  Divided into 3rds, the left side is a lunch menu that became unavailable about 4 hours ago.  The right hand side is a selection of Tapas, while the centre of the menu has the mains, burgers, and salads.  That’s OK…there is wisdom in keeping a menu simple, if what you serve is good.

I order a couple of Tapas, worrying that it might not fill me up.  I head to the bar to order Skewered Stuffed Squid with polenta and cherry tomatoes along with the Crispy Pork belly.  Jeri wants the Fish and Chips.  Unfortunately, I order Jeri the Monte burger (not the fish and chips, doh), and they are out of Crispy Pork belly!  My back up were meatballs, which were also not available.  Third option is the lamb cutlet.

Meals come to the table in good time, and in the right configuration, which is great given I have a picky family, and half of the meal was adjusted from the standard menu variant.

The portion sizes were perfect.  My worry about the two tapas being enough food was ill founded, as the squid came with a 4 serving, and the lamb cutlets were 2…and they were delicious.  The lamb cutlets were perfectly cooked and served with a mint relish, and the squid was grilled beautifully and stuffed with a nice pesto.

The boys both loved their burgers, and Jeri also enjoyed the Monte, even though she really wanted the beer battered barra.

4.5 Little Piggies for Monte’s of Alice Springs for sure, though reservations are a must as this place is a very popular spot it seems.

http://www.montes.net.au/