Why: After enjoying the success of their first location in Battle Ground, the owners of South Pacific Cafe & Lounge have opened a second restaurant in downtown Vancouver, providing another casual dining experience and full bar. The Polynesian cuisine focused menu is generally the same at the new restaurant, with the addition of rice bowls and more salad options. Their house-made Jager Sauce is used prolifically throughout many selections, and most items are made from scratch and made to order.
Atmosphere: The space, formerly occupied by the defunct Tigerlily Restaurant & Bar, has been completely remodeled. Light, bright paint and wood tones bring a sense of new to the restaurant, which now sports a surf theme similar to something you might find along the Pacific Coast Highway, where surfing is a way of life. Large-screen TVs provide entertainment, and booths, lit by eye-catching Italian glass pendants line the restaurant's perimeter. Tables and chairs also are available on the restaurant's floor. I found the look of the new restaurant a refreshing addition to downtown dining. South Pacific does well at imparting the qualities of a counter culture that will survive as long as there's a wave to ride.
What I tried: I decided on the fondue to start. I settled on the summertime salad topped with candied almonds and the sautéed prawn rice bowl for my entrée.
The fondue may be ordered with just focaccia squares, or you may add Zennar's spicy Italian or chicken basil sausage. In light of my other meal choices, I opted for bread alone. The focaccia squares were generously sized; about two to three bites each. The cheese fondue reminded me of spicy nacho dip, and there was plenty to cover all the bread. I found it an appetizing start to my meal.
The summertime salad consists of mixed greens, pineapple, mandarin oranges, strawberries and candied almonds. You may add either chicken or salmon to the salad as well. I stuck with the meatless version. The mixed greens were super fresh and pleasantly absent a single spot of slimy decay — a common downside of "mixed greens" and an appetite killer for me. The fruit that topped the salad was likewise very fresh, ripe and sweet. If I ordered this salad again, I would ask to leave out the candied almonds, which are better defined as sugared. Quite a bit of granulated sugar accompanied the generous sprinkling of them, which I did not find complimentary to the rest of the ingredients.
I chose the orange ginger chili sauce to go with the sautéed prawns, which sat atop a bed of perfectly cooked white rice (brown may be substituted for $1). The sauce was delectably sweet and spicy on the prawns. Once I finished the prawns, the sauce took on its spicier characteristic with just the rice.
Menu highlights beyond what I tried: The Jagermeister steak strips from the appetizers sounded delicious, as did the Cali chicken burger made with your choice of char-grilled breast or fried breaded tenders, topped with pepper bacon, pepper jack cheese and avocado. The southwest veggie rice bowl with black beans, corn, green onions and chicken, topped with cheddar jack cheese and cilantro, sounded like a light chicken option. A black bean burger is on the vegan menu, but more intriguing was the "meat" loaf, which is made with black beans, brown rice and vegetables. This is served with roasted sweet potatoes and house vegetables. Soups are house-made and chowder is available as well.
Other observations: The wai staff was relaxed and friendly, although the person who waited on me was still learning the details of the menu items. I appreciated the clean, tidy environment. Rain or shine, I believe a visit to this restaurant will lift the spirits.
South Pacific has gluten-free items.
Portions, quality and price are in balance — and along with the atmosphere, it's a fair deal.
Cost: Lunch menu items are as follows: Appetizers are $5 to $9. Soup is $2.75 to $12. Burgers cost $7.75 to $12. Rice Bowls range from $7 to $11. Pasta starts at $8 and tops out at $15. Specialty entrees are served with your choice of soup, salad, fries, mashed potatoes or rice and cost $8 to $14. Dessert is $3.95 to $7.50. The vegan menu items are served with a side salad and range from $8 to $14.
Hours: Lunch is 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner is 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday. Happy Hour is 3 p.m. to close Monday through Friday. On Saturday, happy hour and items from the lunch menu are available all day.
Where: 1109 Washington St., Vancouver.
Health Score: South Pacific Cafe & Lounge has received a pre-opening inspection and is scheduled for a routine inspection in the near future. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants with a score of 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.