|The menu of Oceania Cruises’ Red Ginger restaurant reflects Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese flavors.|
The old saying “East is East, and West is West,” no longer jibes with consumers’ palates. Nor does the myth of cruise dining as one endless buffet. Increasingly, cruise guests seek diversity in dining, and during the last few years, lines have introduced sushi carts and Asian dishes in traditional cruise line restaurants. The concept has blossomed into full-fledged Asian restaurants. Some charge an extra fee, others don’t.
Travel Agent asked executives and frontline agents about their “personal” favorites. What restaurants are the best? What dishes do they recommend?
The four alternative restaurants below emerged as top-notch picks for savory Asian cuisine on the high seas.
Tamarind, Holland America Line: Earlier this year, cruise travel experts from Cruise Holidays picked their Top 10 specialty restaurants onboard ships. Tamarind on Holland America Line’s Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam was the favorite of 31 percent of agents and solidly in second place overall. Specializing in Pan-Asian cuisine, its complimentary lunch-time dim sum menu ranges from classic steamed dumplings to shrimp shu mai. Dinner is $15 per person, with such entrees as Penang red curry coconut chicken or wasabi- and soy-crusted beef tenderloin served on an oak plank.
“Tamarind, in particular, is one of those rare memorable dining events that I sometimes reminisce about, even several months after being back on dry land,” said Samuel Spencer, franchise owner, Cruise Holidays of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Silk Den, an Asian-themed lounge, is the place for specialty pre-dinner cocktails; Spencer suggested the Snow Leopard and Black Pearl, both whimsically served in their own ice bath bowl.
At Tamarind, “the all-female wait staff team seem to quite literally glide throughout the modern Asian-inspired room,” he said. “It’s hard to say what I liked most…the ambiance and decor; the stellar, understated, yet oh-so-attentive service; or the outstanding cuisine.”
Tamarind’s entrees are arranged on the menu under wood, water, fire or earth categories. “Standouts like the Penang red curry coconut chicken were flavorful and aromatic, and it was also nice to see that, unlike on some ships, the cuisine was not ‘dumbed down,’ ’’ said Spencer, who felt curry dishes were “pretty spicy and flavorful.” Guests may, of course, order dishes seasoned to taste.
Tom Baumann, president of Travel Leaders Leisure Group, Holland, MI, also likes Tamarind and says, “the tempura shrimp appetizer is my favorite.”
Silk Harvest, Celebrity Cruises: The second Asian restaurant cited on the Cruise Holidays’ Top 10 specialty restaurant listing was Celebrity Cruises’ Silk Harvest, which ranked ninth overall; eight other survey picks were non-Asian venues.
|Black cod with miso is the signature dish of Crystal Cruises’ Silk Road restaurant.|
John Lovell, president, Vacation.com, Alexandria, VA, recommended Silk Harvest as a fun and relaxed dinner setting for a group of friends. “Entrees tend toward the traditional things we all love about Asian cuisine—orange chicken, salmon and scallops, and pad Thai, but the small plates menu has some interesting options such as squid and pork ribs,” said Lovell. Other small plate options include fried noodles and pine nuts as well as shrimp and scallop shumai with soy-chili dip. For larger plates, clients might relish the red curry duck with lemongrass, scallions and ginger, or salmon and scallop stir-fry with black bean sauce.
For sushi fans, the restaurant has Maki, cucumber roll, a California roll, and even a so-named “Celebrity Roll” of spicy salmon, tempura fried Ike (squid) and soy. Maguro (ahi tuna) and Saki (salmon) are available by the piece.
Tell clients to order the caramelized bananas for dessert. The restaurant also has an interesting collection of sakes.
“My favorite Asian restaurant onboard a ship is Celebrity’s Silk Harvest,” noted Michelle Fee, the co-founder and CEO of Cruise Planners, Coral Gables, FL. “The food is amazing, but the one item on the menu that I crave is the ‘Assorted Mochi Ice Cream.’ It’s unlike any other ice cream I’ve ever had. I almost rush through the entire meal just to get to the good stuff.”
Silk Road and the Sushi Bar, Crystal Cruises: Crystal Cruises’ Silk Road on Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony is an upscale Asian restaurant from celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa. Japanese-Peruvian fusion cuisine is on tap.
Known simply as Nobu, Matsuhisa gained fame for weaving international influences into his dishes. Years ago in Peru, he was forced to pair culinary talent with spontaneity, as he couldn’t always obtain traditional Japanese ingredients. Through trial and error, using local spices, he created unique tastes. Today, he operates many restaurants worldwide. Nobu personally trains all Silk Road chefs, designs all menus and schedules in-person ship visits every year. Silk Road also serves Matsuhisa wines, his private label.
“Hands down, Nobu [Silk Road] on the Crystal Serenity” is the top Asian restaurant afloat, according to Stacy Small, a luxury travel planner with Elite Travel International, a Virtuoso agency in Marina del Rey, CA. Concurring is Dwain Wall, senior vice president and managing director, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., Fort Lauderdale.
Citing Nobu’s creative cuisine and the atmosphere, Lovell added, “it’s quiet and romantic and my wife really liked that.” Lovell’s personal favorites included the lobster spring rolls, black cod with miso (the venue’s signature dish) and Wagyu ribeye.
“The steak was fantastic,” said Sally Goldwasser, owner, Unique Travel of Palm Beach, FL, who dined at Silk Road in early July. Silk Road was the top pick for Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion, Irving, TX. “The food was fresh, the presentation was beautiful, and it was a real ‘Nobu at Sea’ experience,” she said. Friedman particularly liked that there was no additional charge to dine at the Asian venue.
Nobu’s china was specially designed to not show fingerprints upon handling. This exotic place oozes class and luxury pampering.
Red Ginger, Oceania Cruises: Another standout is Red Ginger, a no-fee gourmet restaurant on Oceania Cruises’ new 1,250-guest Riviera and sister ship Marina. Goldwasser rates both Red Ginger and Silk Road as her top Asian favorites. Red Ginger’s cuisine reflects Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese flavors with contemporary interpretations of Asian classics. For example, your clients might try the savory lobster pad Thai.
Another fan of Red Ginger is Mike Brill, owner, CruiseOne, Palm Springs, CA. Brill dined at Red Ginger twice during a recent transatlantic crossing, and loved the dramatic decor of black and red lacquer, beautiful lighting fixtures and flowers, unique Asian tableware, and a kitchen that allows guests to watch as chefs prepare the cuisine.
“We knew that this would be a unique dining experience when our waiter presented a box containing five completely different types of chopsticks, explaining the country of origin of each,” Brill stressed. “Now that’s class.”
Judging any Thai restaurant on its Tom Kha Gai soup, which is created from coconut milk, chicken stock, mushrooms, lemongrass and chicken, Brill said, “Red Ginger’s was perfect.” He also stressed that “the lobster rolls were tasty without a hint of greasiness” and the miso-glazed sea bass was nestled within a banana leaf held shut by the tiniest wooden clothespins.
Arvid Olson, owner, Travel Leaders, Palm Coast, FL, praised Red Ginger’s excellent service and food quality. “The imperial spring rolls, the spicy duck and watermelon salad, and the miso-glazed sea bass were all signature dishes for us.”
Dessert? Clients might try the green tea banana cake with toffee and hazelnut, served with coconut ice cream.
“Tea is served in an individual, small cast-iron teapot, another unique touch,” noted Brill. Japanese sakes and beer are available.
Several other lines have Asian venues afloat. But our trade experts cite the culinary experiences above as their “personal” favorites.