Saturday, July 26, 2008

Rotorua Day 4: Fine dining, take II

On Thursday we took our rental car out of Auckland and drove down to Rotorua, about three hours south on the North Island. The drive was very beautiful, incredibly green and bucolic. And once we got to Rotorua—a tourist town built around hot springs and geothermal activity—we went to see the geyser and hot mud pools (very cool). We then hit up the Polynesian Spa to soak in the sulfur hot springs and get spa treatments (a scalp massage for me. Mmmmm).

Gratuitous tourist geyser shot

We also had an awful lunch at a crappy place that I will not say any more about.

But dinner—dinner was wonderful. We went to Bistro 1284, a place I had found online (apparently it’s “the” restaurant in Rotorua). It was a small, homey place that felt sort of like the Elm Court. The host/waitress who sat us was very accommodating and had no trouble swapping out my entrée choice after I had ordered.

We started with two glasses of local Sauvignon Blanc (delicious). It went very well with our order of French Baguette and garlic-herb butter—also delicious, warm, and crusty.

Really high-quality bread

Then our entrée selections arrived. Mom ordered a new type of local fish—harapaku or something like that. It came on cauliflower puree and was accompanied by a complimentary side salad (quite nice). She very much enjoyed the fish, all the garnishes, and the side salad.

It's like a smiley face!

I had ordered a large garden salad for my entrée. It was one of the best salads I’ve ever had. An interesting selection of mixed greens (not just mesclun here), accompanied by roasted red tomatoes and parmesan cheese, was deliciously set off by the incredible dressing. The waitress offered to bring it on the side, but I ended up using almost all of it anyway—it was a tangy oil-and-vinegar concoction with a hefty amount of shallots, walnuts, and herbs and spices mixed in. Incredible.

With the addition of the dressing, this was something special

After we had polished off all of our food (um, all of it), we moved on to the dessert course. I had seen two desserts be delivered to the table next to us and was geared up for action. After a relatively amusing conversation with the waitress (Mom: “Can you describe the sticky date pudding?” Waitress: “It’s a steamed pudding with butterscotch.” Mom: “But what is it like?” Waitress: “It’s like a steamed pudding.” Me: “IT’S CAKE. JUST GET IT.”), my mom chose the sticky date pudding. It came as—surprise—a cake-like sticky toffee pudding with a small pitcher of butterscotch sauce and a scoop of nutty ice cream. This was incredibly delicious… I wish I had gotten this.

It's pudding. It's cake. Oh, you zany Brits...

My own dessert was scrumptious, though, don’t get me wrong. I ordered the vanilla and passionfruit crème brulee. It was an ENORMOUS cup of vanilla crème brulee with that awesome caramelized top layer. It was capped with a scoop of passionfruit cream—with only the merest, lightest hint of passionfruit, not that powerful passionfruit hit you usually get with anything p-fruit flavored. There was also a scoop of vanilla ice cream and two frosted biscuits. I managed to put away the biscuits, ice cream, passionfruit cream, and top layer of bruleed crust before I collapsed from exhaustion. There was about ¾ of the cup of vanilla custard left when I waved the white flag of surrender. Considering crème brulee is just about the most filling substance on earth, I’m not entirely sure how anyone could conceive of finishing this dessert. Let’s just say I failed, and miserably.

This angle doesn't fully do justice to the massiveness of this creme brulee. It was like a freakin' entire pint.

And then back to our hotel it was for a quick night’s sleep before we took off in the morning… back to Auckland with a few surprises along the way!

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