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Vivo Bar and Grill, Palm Cove

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A few days ago it was a good friend of mine’s birthday but because of some boy problems she was too upset on her birthday to do anything the poor love – she even turned down Thai takeaway at a picnic table on the Esplanade.  Yesterday much to my delight she was feeling a bit better and up for a belated birthday dinner.  After seeing a mention of a Weekly Set Menu out at Vivo in Palm Cove I decided we should give it a go and made a booking for three people for 7pm.  As self-appointed designated driver for one friend for the evening two of us arrived together on-time while the birthday girl arrived about ten minutes later.

Greetings and salutations were made along with some random chit-chat and an interim entrée of Garlic Ciabatta and we got down to business having a look over the Weekly Set Menu.  Having already viewed it online and deciding exactly what I was going to have (I had my heart set on Salmon Tataki) I was slightly disappointed to see that the online menu was different than the one we were presented.  With three choices each (one vegetarian) for the entrée, main and dessert the ‘new’ weekly set menu options I had were just as good if not better than what I had seen.  Although the three course menu sounded delish we all decided on the 2 course menu with a glass of Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc because there was birthday cake lovingly made my moi.

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First up for our entrée LL and I ordered the Barramundi Croquettes with Smoked Capsicum Coulis, Basil Pesto and a Watercress/Radish Salad.  The panko crumbed croquettes were deliciously crunchy on the outside and soft and flavoursome on the inside.  The serving size was much larger than both of us were expecting for an entrée.  The Smoked Capsicum Coulis was flavoursome but not too overpowering and the radishes added a nice extra ‘organic’ crunch to the dish although I did notice that LL left his radish to the side.  Typical male.

Entrée - Panko Crumbed Barramundi Croquettes, Smoked Capsicum Coulis, Basil Pesto, Watercress and Radish Salad

Entrée – Panko Crumbed Barramundi Croquettes, Smoked Capsicum Coulis, Basil Pesto, Watercress and Radish Salad

On my right ST ordered the Thai Beef Salad with Roasted Veal Backstrap, Nam Jim Dressing, Crispy Shallots and Fried Wonton Skins.  ST thought that her entrée was delish although she said she wasn’t sold on the beef (probably because it was actually veal).  Again her entrée was a very decent serving size and ST said she would D.E.F.I.N.I.T.E.L.Y order it again.

Entrée - Thai Beef Salad with Medium Roasted Veal Back Strap, Cucumber, Fresh Herbs, Nam Jim Dressing, Crispy Shallots and Fried Wonton Skins

Entrée – Thai Beef Salad with Medium Roasted Veal Back Strap, Cucumber, Fresh Herbs, Nam Jim Dressing, Crispy Shallots and Fried Wonton Skins

Next up came our mains… although the other two dishes sounded inviting I simply couldn’t go past the Calamari Risotto with Squid Ink, Sautéed Calamari (local Calamari might I add), Garlic, Cherry Tomatoes, Spinach, Red Onion, Pecorino, Lobster Foam and Micro Herbs.  Sheesh – how’s that for a main?  This dish was quite large and I actually struggled to eat it.  Would it be bad if I said that my favourite part was actually the pecorino?  That stuff is just devilishly good and really they could have served me the entire block all on its own and I would have been beyond satisfied but the risotto was also quite lovely.

Main - Calamari Risotto with Squid Ink Arborio Rice, Sauteed Calamari, Garlic, Cherru, Tomato, Spinach, Red Onion, Pecorino, Lobster Foam and Micro Herbs

Main – Calamari Risotto with Squid Ink Arborio Rice, Sauteed Calamari, Garlic, Cherru, Tomato, Spinach, Red Onion, Pecorino, Lobster Foam and Micro Herbs

On either side of me both LL and ST had selected the Lamb Kalamaki, or Greek Style Marinated Lamb Skewers for those of you like me who have no idea what that is, with Tomato and Quinoa Tabouli, Almond Skordalia, Grilled Pita and Garlic Yogurt.  It seems I made a good choice for her birthday because ST raved about her main.  She even went as far as saying it was the best dish she had eaten out in quite a while and how come the Quinoa that she made never tasted like that?  Well if her Quinoa ends up anything like mine (bubbling all over the stove) then I’m not surprised.  LL agreed with ST and said that it was the best Lamb Kalamaki he’d had in a long time.  Great success!

Main - Lamb Kalamaki - Greek Style Marinated Lamb Skewers, Tomato/Quinoa Tabouli, Almond Skordalia, Grilled Pita and Garlic Yogurt

Main – Lamb Kalamaki – Greek Style Marinated Lamb Skewers, Tomato/Quinoa Tabouli, Almond Skordalia, Grilled Pita and Garlic Yogurt

So finally after it was all said and done the waiter bought out the Coconut Cake with Lime Icing and Pop Rocks and sparklers to boot (note to readers: Pop Rocks wait for no one and pop upon immediate application to the icing).  ST was delighted at having a homemade cake as a chorus of Happy Birthday erupted around her.  I have never really had a great deal of luck with baked goods in the past.  According to my entire family I am super crap at making cakes.  I made a pretty ordinary cake for my dad’s birthday back in 2010 and the assholes have never let me forget it.  And let’s not forget the all out family war I started with my extended family in Melbourne because I got angry at my cousin on Facebook after I found out his mum (my aunty) was baking her own birthday cake.  SERIOUSLY???!!!  So before tucking in I warned my two dining companions that the cake probably looked a lot better than it tasted and that in itself wasn’t great.  Much to my delight it turns out I was onto a winner with my coconut/pop rocks cake and ST took the leftover 3/4’s home with her to devour later on.

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So there you have it… Our two course meal at Vivo which was an absolute steal for only AU$39 per person including a glass of Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc or Shiraz (AU$49 for three courses plus wine).  The service from our lovely waiter was attentive but not obtrusive.  The wait period between meals was spot on and all meals arrived together  with no one left waiting.  Breakfast, lunch or dinner any day of the week you can certainly count on a crowd but this still doesn’t take away from the laid back tropical atmosphere that Vivo has to offer.  Vivo Bar and Grill is one of Cairns’ and the surrounding areas very few ‘bankable’ restaurants and one of the best in Palm Cove.  I have eaten there many times and never been disappointed with the food or the service, the atmosphere and stunning beach front location is just a bonus.

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Salsa Bar and Grill, Port Douglas

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Cairns – beautiful one day, torrential rain the next.  That’s pretty much what it has been like for the last couple of weeks anyway.  Last week it was such a lovely day that I thought it would be nice to book lunch at Salsa Bar and Grill for MS and I the following day.  Fast forward to the next day and here is MS and I driving up to Port in torrential rains where we can barely see through the windscreen.  In hindsight we probably should have turned around but no I was determined that we went for lunch at Salsa – rain, hail or shine.

Although I had made a booking the day before – this place regularly gets booked out – I called ahead and tell them we would be a bit late due to the weather conditions but that was no problem for the friendly waitress on the end of the phone.  In the end we made it up there safely, soundly and hungry for what by all accounts was going to be a delicious lunch.  Salsa Bar and Grill is renowned by the locals as ‘the’ place to dine in Port Douglas, plus I have heard rave reviews from plenty of others.  I even overheard a woman on the plane from Darwin to Alice Springs telling another passenger that it was one of her favourite restaurants in all of Australia.  Big call.  Salsa certainly had my expectations set high and that was before we had even made it through the front door of the breezy low-set Queenslander just off Macrossan St.  My mission was to see if Salsa lived up to the hype…

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Upon entering MS and I were greeted by a smiling waitress and directed (in a friendly way) towards a table on the far left, right in front of the fountain.  It was a nice little intimate spot – perfect for sharing our last lunch together before I headed off to sea, again.  The waitress poured us a glass of water each and left us with the drinks menu for a few minutes.  When she returned I ordered a glass of Shaw and Smith Sauvignon Blanc and after a little bit of persuasion from me (he’s always so responsible but one drink wasn’t going to hurt) MS ordered a Black Russian.  In the meantime whilst waiting for the drinks to be poured we had a look over the menu’s and the waitress recited a well rehearsed run down of the specials for the day including Smoked Salmon and Goats Cheese Souffle, a tapas plate and a pan fried fillet of Mahi Mahi on an Indonesian rice cake with prawn curry broth and green mango sambal.  My word.

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A few minutes of conversing and MS and I had decided on two entrees and two mains to share for our lunch together.  For our entrees we ordered the Tapa’s Plate with tuna tartar, red-hot chicken wings, prawn dumpling, chicken tortellini and shiitake arancini for AU$21.50 and the Squid and Chorizo Panzanella with buffalo mozzarella, slow roasted cherry tomatoes and salsa verde for AU$20.50.  For our mains MS chose the Tandoori Leg Tenderloin with Split Lentil Dahl, Roti Bread and Mint Yogurt (AU$25.50), something I was most surprised about since he hates lentils, or at least refuses to eat my mum’s homemade Dahl so I assume that he does.  I on the other hand was nearly swayed by Salsa’s famous Linguine Pepperincino (red claw pasta) but wasn’t all that keen on being in a carb coma for the rest of the day (plus I had big plans for visiting the new frozen yogurt shop YoMyGoodness on the esplanade later that day).  Get on with it….  Ok so for my main I ordered the Japanese Seven Pepper Rubbed Beef Tataki with sushi rice tian, goma shabu emulsion and sweet pickled vegetables (AU$24).

Whilst waiting for our entrees to arrive MS and I took some selfies (no we did not post them on FB or Instagram, they were just for us) and pined over the fact that we were about to be apart for a total of four weeks.  Distance in a relationship is something that we are very much used to, certainly not something we enjoy however… You have to do what you have to do and I have never had a normal 9-5 job, I’ve always been on shift one way or another.  In the meantime and before I get too sentimental our entrees had arrived.  The presentation was outstanding – crisp, clean and it all looked so good that neither of us wanted to touch it.  Photo’s ensued and typically we both headed straight for the chicken wings.  I’ve got to tell you these were the best damn chicken wings I’ve ever had.  Slightly saucy and just the right amount of bite.  I only wish that there was more than a couple and looking over the online menu it doesn’t look like these can be ordered on their own for next time.  Sad panda.

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We split the tortellini which I think was chicken tortellini – I can’t really be sure, nor can I remember.  The tortellini was just ok.  It looked really bloody good but the outside was a little dry and chewy.  The filling inside however, was soft and creamy.

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MS edged the tuna tartar towards me since he never eats raw seafood (the big sook) but I placed a small spoonful on the little piece of crostini that was laid over the top of the shot glass and put it on his plate.  He really had no choice but to eat it.  I didn’t get a word out of him after he ate it which means, in man terms, that he enjoyed it.  He just didn’t want to give me the satisfaction of telling me that.  The tuna tartar was fresh and flavoursome with slivers of Spanish onion mixed in for a bit of extra texture and crunch.

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Like the tortellini before it, the shitake arancini was carefully split into two halves so we could both enjoy it.  MS who has absolutely no foodie culture, except what he derives from me as I drag him along for the ride, wouldn’t know an arancini ball if it jumped up and bit him on the ass so he was pleasantly surprised when he realised it was essentially a crumbed rice ball.  Another soft and chewy morsel on our tapas plate filled with a delightful earthy shiitake flavour.

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And last but not least on our tapas plate was the prawn dumpling in a small dish covered in an aromatic broth.  Hey it was no Xiao Long Bao, (it’s a bit rough to compare the two… I fear my dumpling expectations have been forever ruined after going to Shanghai) but it was tasty none-the-less.

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Still on the entrees it was time to divert our hungry gaze to the Squid and Chorizo Panzanella.  We each served ourselves a share from the entrée plate and dug in.  The flavours of the chorizo, squid, bread and mozzarella with the salsa verde were a match made in heaven.  I’m pretty sure that chorizo has come straight from hell for it is wickedly tasty in all it’s fatty goodness.  Why must it be so damn good?!  MS and I both agreed that the liberal amounts of cucumber were a little bit overpowering in the end.  Don’t get me wrong I love cucumber but a little less and this salad would be absolutely spot on!

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As the waitress came and cleared our plates we told her that the chicken wings were in fact our favourite part of the whole entrée spread, to which she didn’t seem very surprised.  Perhaps she has a penchant for the chicken wings herself? About 5 minutes later our mains had arrived…

Again we were impressed with the presentation as our meals were laid out in front of us.  MS’ lamb tenderloin was topped with a small pile of very fine strips cucumber which he gently pushed to the side as he dug into the rest.  The tenderloin was as it should be – tender and juicy – atop the soft, buttery roti underneath.  Obviously the roti was his favourite part of his main but that’s a roti for you.  I remember buying freshly made roti’s from a road side vendor in Sri Lanka for 10 cents each for breakfast a couple of years ago.  One of the best breakfasts I have ever had I reckon!  MS even ate all of his dahl god love him.

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Next up was my lunch – the Beef Tataki, which pretty much had me sold at sushi rice tian.  The beef was lean and tender, the sushi tian was sweet and the mayonnaise was kewpi (#winning) but my favourite part, although I enjoyed the entire dish, was the pickled vegetables on the top.  They reminded me of Rahmah’s – my childhood fave for all you true blue Cairns locals.

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So we MS and I finished up our romantic ‘last lunch’ at Salsa’s Bar and Grill, contemplating a coffee before the drive home but were informed by the waitress that they only had whole milk and soy milk.  What kind of restaurant doesn’t have skim milk for people’s coffee?  Full cream was out of the question since I was the one that had to sit in the car with MS on the drive home and flatulence is an understatement when it comes to MS and dairy.  We politely declined and trudged back to the car for the long drive home.

I do feel that our lunch at Salsa was over a little too quickly.  After driving an hour to get up there you kind of don’t want lunch to be over in less than an hour, only to drive back to Cairns for another hour.  It would have been nice to have a little more of a break between meals and lingered just a little longer  – I probably would have needed another glass of wine though.  One is a enough nowadays for this little Cadbury kid.

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Our lunch at Salsa Bar and Grill was excellent and I guess it did live up to my expectations although I will need to return for dinner and indulge in a main dish of that infamous red claw linguine just to be certain!  Dinner would be a whole different experience since the place seems to be regularly booked out during the evenings whereas we were only one of about 6 tables occupied this lunch time, although that may have been due to the severe weather.  The menu at Salsa was well thought out but not pretentious, the food was both flavoursome and satisfying, the presentation was outstanding and perfectly prepared, the service was attentive without being pushy and the airy atmosphere was a splendid showcase for the laid-back FNQ lifestyle.

Salsa Bar and Grill

26 Wharf St, Port Douglas QLD 4871

Ph: (07) 40994922

Website: http://www.salsaportdouglas.com.au

Opening Hours: 7 days 12pm – 3pm, 5.30pm – 9.30pm

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