Sunday, May 29, 2011

Something funny is going on at Bar Alto

Bar Alto ( has been around for a good while and is the more casual dining option at the Powerhouse, where your average Brisbane urban wanker can go and see bands, plays, comedy acts and all manner of other artistic endeavours.  I'm told that it is owned by the same people who own Ortiga (YUM), but because it operates out of the Brisbane City Council owned Powerhouse arts centre, the Council restrict them in terms of pricing which is why you can get mains under $30.  Maybe so starving actors can engage in some fine dining without breaking the bank?

I've eaten at Bar Alto twice now, and both times the food and service has been pretty good.  And certainly EXCELLENT for the price.

But here are two tips for you:
  1. If you sit inside, you will come out smelling like a fish and chip shop as there isn't a lot of ventilation and the deep fryer gets a real work out here
  2. If you order off the a la carte menu, you will have food envy of those who order off the pasta menu
What began as a very tame birthday dinner for a pregnant friend of mine at Bar Alto, became a raucous, saucy, booze fuelled adventure that eventually led us to the Brunswick Hotel on karaoke night (*shudder*).  Throughout which I remained stone cold sober.

Much to my chagrin, a lot of my friends are beginning to become sensible, stable, responsible types with mortgages, spouses and babies.  Hell, even the gay couple I'm besties with have bought a neat as a pin townhouse in inner northern suburbia and want to adopt a Cambodian baby.

That's not to say that I'm against those things.  I married at 21 and have my own (frighteningly large) mortgage.  And these days, my idea of a good Friday night consists of spending it on the couch with a bottle of red, and some takeaway, watching reruns on Tivo rather than out on the town, lurching from a cheap Asian BYO to the nearest nightclub in the Valley as in earlier days.

The night began innocently enough.  I was running 40 minutes late, mainly because I had to drive myself and I am both an awful driver and somewhat challenged when programming a GPS.  The guests were ravenous and I was none too popular for turning up late.  I was also surprised to find that a few of them were a little tiddly already. 

I shared an entree with a friend: the veal sweetbread and pigs trotter milanese, green apple agrodolce ($19).

For the uninitiated, a sweetbread is basically a little gland from a calf, lamb or pig either found in the neck, tongue or cheek of the animal.  The meat is quite sweet, hence the name.  These were good, but not exactly healthy, what with all the deep frying.  Not that I was complaining.

Having learnt my lesson about pasta vs a la carte at my earlier visit, I ordered the agnolotti dal plin: porcini ravioli filled with slow braised oxtail, wild mushroom and chestnut brodo ($27).  I was not disappointed.

For sides we ordered a salad, chips and these zucchini fritters ($7).  Yes folks, just what I needed: something else deep fried.  These were a big hit at the table.

With my nostrils full of deep fryer kitchen smell and my mouth full of rich, fatty, buttery and dark agnolotti, I felt more than a little disoriented.  I became even more so upon witnessing the embarrassing debacle of epic proportions the dinner was turning into.  A friend who had recently stopped breastfeeding seemed to be channelling her former, younger self and making lewd comments at the waiter, while one of the gay couple was making lewd comments about all of the women of the table (well ok, that is not actually that unusual).

As predicted, those who had ordered off the a la carte menu were suffering from serious food envy of my dish and I had more than a few offers for taste swapsies.  There were those of our party who were taken in by the amazing description of the rabbit fagottini with pancetta, buckwheat polenta, tarragon and almond butter ($29). 

While tasty, it was a little on the small side.

While chowing down on this fat laden fare, our table grew more and more raucous.  Was it the wine?  Was it the lack of ventilation?  Was it simply that a few of us now conservative types just don't get out that much anymore?  Who could say.  

Even more interesting, however, was the tip from our waiter that the table next to us had been a table of swingers who had all but propositioned him during the meal and given him a hug when leaving.  It seemed we weren't the only table of boring 30 somethings trying to spice things up a little that night.

And then there was dessert.  A friend recommended the chocolate budino with hazelnut ice cream as the best thing on the dessert menu.  And who can argue?

It was cooked perfectly and oozed its innards out onto my plate when I dug into it with my spoon.

Not to be outdone by the swingers, a few of our table tried to hug our waiter as we left the restaurant.

And while I can't blame Bar Alto for what happened next at the Brunswick Hotel, truly where the glitterati of Brisbane come out, I think they had something to do with it. 

There's just something funny going on at Bar Alto.
Bar Alto on Urbanspoon

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