Lively Food, Drink, and Music in Oz

Sunday, June 26, 2011

This is the motto of Salsa, an upscale bistro in North Queensland, Australia.

Actually, it’s “Lively Food, Drink, Music, and People Coming Together to a Lively Whole.” But that’s too long a title, so I truncated to the first three elements, which are pretty central to my being as well. (Also, lively is used twice. Three times now, really.)

Rewinding a few hours before dinner, I had spent the day out snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. Given the large buffet lunch provided, I wasn’t very hungry for dinner.  To eat healthfully and maintain weight it is important to listen to these physiological signs of satiety. It is, after all, so easy to overeat based on social and environmental cues; discipline is required to listen to one’s own body in such situations.

This is easier said than done in regular circumstances but phenomenally difficult when on vacation.  For someone who likes to eat and drink as much as I do, it almost feels antithetical. And I’m not just talking about overconsumption at a given meal, which I do try and control. What I’m talking about is skipping a divine dinner out when I only have limited vacation days. Honestly, it’s like denying myself one of the key purposes of the vacation, which is to experience the distinct cuisine of a unique culture.  How can I give that up?

Solution: Do go out, but keep calories in mind and order lightly.

It’s said that you can’t eat cheaply in Port Douglas, Oz (how Aussies refer to the country). That is certainly true. Think $27 fish and chips (Seriously? Fish and chips?) and $15+ cocktails and wine by the glass.  Dinner entrees started at $30 and appetizers were $20 and up. On the bright side, the bill was a fraction what it would have been if I had actually had an appetite. So there’s always that.

Anyway. I had already had a couple of glasses of Australian cabernet rosé back in the room and, amazingly, wasn’t even planning on having a drink.

That sentiment lasted for approximately 5 minutes, because as soon as I read their incredible drink list it was all over. With all of the fresh fruit infused vodkas and creative cocktails it was absolutely essential to have a drink. It was part of their motto, after all, and it felt wrong not to do so. Also, see previous comment on experiencing international food cultures, which includes creative, tropical cocktails.

When discussing the various options with the knowledgeable bartender, I first asked him about their bourbon-based martini, as I enjoy bourbon quite a lot. (And whisky. And scotch). Check it out: bourbon shaken with sauvignon blanc, green apple, and vanilla.

Wait – what?

I’m fairly adventurous when it comes to cocktails, but this one had me stumped. I liked all the components individually, actually, but this seemed like a set of elements that did not belong together.

But, hey, these people are professionals, right? May sound weird, but they know what they’re doing, yes?

Perhaps. But I was relieved when the bartender conveyed in confidence that the drink was pretty awful but had been someone’s “pet” drink.  Glad to hear it. Sounded pretty bad.

Anyhow, after additional consideration, I finally went with Ruby’s Garden, a straight-up girlie martini complete with pink hue comprising rosella infused vodka, pomegranate liqueur, triple sec, and fresh lemon juice in an incredible taste infusion of sweet, citrusy, unbelievably smooth icy goodness.

Wow.

What a luscious libation. If I hadn’t been too full I certainly would have had at least one more. I mix a lot of martinis at home – another post for another time –
but haven’t gotten around to infusing my own vodka, which really makes a difference. (Well, not successfully, that is. I have succeeded in rotting a lot of lovely summer fruits while wasting an entire bottle of vodka in an inadequately sealed vessel.)  Sad that I really was too full to have a second, because I missed out on the drink’s promise to “take [me] on an adventure like none other.”

I lovingly sipped my drink while contemplating what small dish I could eat to further experience this restaurant. What an incredibly difficult choice that was. In these cases, I always chat with the server, because they will usually give you their honest opinion. When he confirmed my choice of the crab and lemongrass soufflé as “one of the best dishes on the menu,” that is what I ordered. (An appetizer portion, by the way.) The soufflé was topped with a coconut-crusted, microgreens-garnished soft shell crab and lay atop two colorful swaths of Thai aioli.  The creamy soufflé, flecked with spring green bits of crunchy lemongrass and succulent crab, melted in my mouth. The crab was perfectly crunchy but remained incredibly tender. A bite combining the rich custard, sweet crab morsels, and creamy aioli was sublime – certainly the best dish I’ve had in quite some time.

I finished the meal with a double decaf espresso while the melodic trance music continued playing in the background. At the perfect decibel, I might add.

Lively food, drink, and music coming together as a whole.

Indeed.

Written on 6 June 2011 in Port Douglas, Australia

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Dr. P.K. Newby is a nutrition scientist, speaker, and author with expertise in all things food, farm to fork, whether preventing obesity and other chronic diseases through diet or teaching planet-conscious eating. As a health expert and food personality, she brings together her passions for food, cooking, science, and sustainability to educate and inspire, helping people eat their way towards better health, one delectable bite at a time. Healthy Hedonism (TM) is her philosophy: Because healthy food shouldn’t suck.

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