Stern's Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World, Stern's Guide to the Cruise Vacation, Stern's Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges, and The Indispensable Guide to Foreign Words and Phrases--by Steven B. Stern (Sponsored by Stern's Travel Guides, Ltd.)
This July, we had the opportunity to sail in the Mediterranean on the 86,700-ton, 2,106-passenger Nieuw Amsterdam, Holland America Line’s newest vessel. When the ship entered service in 2010, all of the cruise line’s “Signatures of Excellence” standards were already in place. Since it had been several years since we cruised on HAL, we were anxious to see the changes and additions. Among the most impressive was the excellence of the dining experience in all of the restaurant venues.
We found the Lido, casual buffet restaurant much improved with numerous food stations avoiding the long lines of bygone years. In addition to the usual breakfast fare, there were separate stations in the morning serving 10 varieties of “Eggs Benedict”, omelets, waffles, smoked salmon and herrings, breakfast meats, as well as, Asian and South American specialties. For lunch, a large variety of salads, cold meats, carved roasts, Asian and Mexican fare, sandwiches made to order, and freshly made pasta were available. Separate stalls immediately outside the Lido Restaurant featured pizzas (some of the best at sea) grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, and ice cream treats.
The main two-deck Manhattan Dining Room, now offers “As You Wish” seating where passengers may choose to dine at one of two sittings on the upper level with the same table mates, or, in the alternative, they can sit at any open table on the lower level at any time between 5:30 at 9 p.m. We found the variety of offerings, the quality and presentation of the food and the service outstanding and superior to what we had experienced on our numerous HAL cruises in past decades. Typically there were at least four choices of appetizers, four soups and salads, seven entrees always including fish, fowl, meat and vegetarian offerings, and several desserts, as well as, a cheese platter. Steak, chicken, salmon and Caesar salads were available as alternatives every evening. Each evening was a new adventure with a different mouth-watering selection of items to choose from.
One of the newest additions found on the Nieuw Amsterdam and its sister-ship, Eurodam, is the exotically decorated Tamarind featuring Fusion cuisine from Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Viet Nam, Indonesia and various regions of China. In addition, the restaurant offered an extensive Sushi and Sashimi menu. Here again the service was impeccable and the presentation of each dish imaginative. This is the best Asian restaurant we have experienced at sea and superior to most we have found shore side. Open for lunch and dinner, there is a modest charge of $15 at dinner time. Before dining at Tamarind, a must is a before dinner or after-dinner cocktail at the adjacent Silk Den Lounge. This exotic locale features, Oriental furnishings with semi-private romantic cabanas, as well as, cocktail tables overlooking the sea.
Another specialty restaurant is the casual Canaletto which occupies a portion of the Lido Restaurant in the evenings with table cloths and table service. Frankly, we were not enamored with this venue and have been advised that there will be improvement in the future.
Undoubtedly the epicurean “piece de resistance” is the elegant Pinnacle Grill with its adjoining bar. Although a similar restaurant is located on all of the HAL ships, on the Nieuw Amsterdam the décor and layout has been changed creating one of the most dynamic eateries at sea. From the crystal chandeliers to the Bulgari and Versace china and fine silver and glassware, this is truly a special venue in which to dine. Starters ranged from French Onion Soup, Lobster Bisque, Caesar Salad, and baby arugula salad to Dungeness Crab Cakes and a “little of everything” Ocean Platter. After a palate cleanser, we had the following main course choices: five cuts of prime steaks with a choice of accompanying sauces, grilled lamb and veal chops, grilled chicken, Steak Diane, a filet mignon burger, broiled king salmon, broiled lobster tails, cedar planked black cod with shrimp scampi, surf and turf, as well as, skewers of beef, lamb, chicken, seafood and/or vegetables. Desserts were equally tantalizing and included an attractive cheese tray. An extensive wine list is also available. The modest charge for this gourmet extravaganza is $25 ($10 at lunch time).
Once each cruise, HAL, in partnership with Sirio Maccioni’s fabled Le Cirque Restaurants in Manhattan and Las Vegas, offers “An Evening at Le Cirque”, which is truly the “pinnacle” (no pun intended) dining experience aboard ship. For $39 per person (less than an appetizer at the French restaurant in New York), guests are able to sample Maccioni’s very special French-style cuisine. We had the privilege of dining with Daren Lewis, the culinary operations manager aboard ship, and Sheldon Prodanuck, the chef who explained the development of each course. I started with “Le Trio”, a combination plate made up of caviar, smoked salmon and pate de foie gras, and my wife opted for the Lobster Salad ‘Le Cirque’ composed of poached lobster with haricots verts and citrus. We followed this up with butternut squash soup enhanced with huckleberries and sage Chantilly. After a sorbet, I moved on to the best Rack of Lamb I have ever tasted accompanied by goat cheese panisse, artichokes and arugula. My wife preferred the seared Alaskan Black Cod with leek and red wine beurre rouge. Our dinner companions opted for the Chateaubriand. For dessert we shared the Crème Brulee ‘Le Cirque, the chocolate soufflé with vanilla gelato, and the Napoleon with fresh berries. Our hosts most graciously treated us to a lovely Meursault followed by a vintage Pommard. This was truly the highlight of our cruise.
Another available option, on select nights, is the Master Chef’s Table, held in a room off of the Pinnacle Grill. This is a special dinner showing off the chef’s talents available for a maximum of 12 people with offerings paired with four premium wines.
12 days later and at least many pounds heavier, we exited our floating dining orgy with many tasty memories.
Steven B. Stern (July 2011)
(Author of “Stern’s Guide to the Cruise Vacation”)