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Sunday, 20 April 2008

Pesci's big night out

Pesci's on the water has perhaps never quite recaptured the ambience of its era prior to the redevelopment of The Pier when it dominated the Cairns dining scene. A large group of us tried to recapture the moment recently after we had ventured on a cruise aboard the M.V Habitat Explorer on a perfect ‘autumn’ evening to celebrate a birthday.

There is nothing quite like being out on the water as the day turns to night, cruising up a mangrove fringed estuary with the sun fading over the deep blue hues of the mountain backdrop. No waterfront venue can provide a vantage point of our city’s stunning scenic rim quite like this – let alone allow you to sip bubbles for $5 a glass. For only $19 a ticket, the ‘Sunset Cruise’ is a wonderful way to unwind with friends after a hectic week and to leave your stresses on the shore… at least for 90 minutes or so. The only thing lacking from the whole experience was a decent snack… a nice platter of cheese, fruit and antipasto would have been an ideal accompaniment and an option for which members of our group would have happily paid extra. Departing from the Reef Fleet Terminal most days at 5.30pm – for bookings, phone (07) 4031 4007 or check out http://www.cairnshabitatcruises.com.au/

Now… back to Pesci’s. Whether it was the glasses of champagne already consumed or the lack of food or both, we arrived ravenous and in the mood for a good time. Despite only booking for 16, our host, the ever convivial Lou Gianola, happily made room for a few unexpected ‘extras’ we picked up along the way and busily set to work behind the well-stocked bar to keep our drinks flowing.

Always on the lookout for something a little different, a few of us shared a bottle of the Black Chook Sparkling Shiraz ($9 gls/$45 btl) from McLaren Vale. For some the very idea of a full-bodied Shiraz being ‘contaminated’ with bubbles is offensive, but personally there is nothing more suited to our Far Northern climes than a chilled, red sparkling as long as it not of the sickly sweet variety – and the Black Chook was certainly not that. Apart from that there is a selection to tempt most palates—alas, not all within my budget, although the House Chardonnay and Multi-Regional Red Blend ($6/$29) provided a cheaper option as well as five others under $40.

The menu was teaming with temptation and came with the welcome recommendations of Lou on appropriate wine accompaniments – I could have easily and happily ordered from the Pasta Corner and several of us did. The Pappadelle & Ragu consisted of flat wide ribboned pasta in a rich, beef, wine and pomodoro sauce, the entrée $17.50 ample while the $28 main demanded an heroic appetite.

The Mediterranean antipasto tower, at $39, looked impressive and represented excellent value for two and proved a very sociable way to graze through a fine selection of hot, char grilled, cold and marinated fare. Other entrees included the Salt and Pepper calamari ($16.50) which was tender and sweet but not really very 'salt & peppery'; and Sizzling Garlic prawn ($22.50) served hot in a pot and well presented with crusty bread but only a hint of garlic.

I figured if you are going to dine at Pesci’s on the Water you have to order seafood. It is undoubtedly what Pesci’s do best and I was relieved when my young waiter answered confidently that the seafood was all wild-caught Australian product, mostly from the Gulf of Carpentaria. With this in mind I selected the Seafood Curry ($33) ahead of the Tasmanian Oysters ($16.50 ½ doz; $33 bakers’ doz), although I am still curious about the Oysters Watermelon which promised oysters natural topped with watermelon juice and Prosecco wine, apparently Italy’s answer to “refreshing, well-made sparkling wine”.

Only a few mouthfuls of the creamy, quite mild curry brimming with fresh, succulent seafood was needed to confirm its reputation as a “Pesci’s on the Water Favourite”. Not so the Moreton Bay Bugs. Sadly, the seeded mustard batter disguised the very qualities for which bug meat is known and did nothing to showcase this tropical delicacy. At $24.50, it was too expensive to be an entrée but lacking in quantity to satisfy as a main so maybe this dish needs a rethink?

Of the three who snubbed the plethora of seafood options and sought safety in the Char grilled Rib on the Bone ($33.50), all were disappointed. The moral of the story, of course, is eat more seafood… and there is certainly plenty to choose from at Pesci’s on the Water.

It may not be the Pesci’s of old but we should not allow nostalgia to cloud the fact the food was fresh, the flavours real and the ambience hard to beat, especially when you have good friends with which to share it.

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