Holland America's New Koningsdam: Impressions of Sel de Mer & Tamarind

At Tamarind, this savory lobster arrived colorfully presented with a mix of textures. (Susan J. Young)

The new 2,650-passenger Koningsdam has definitely "upped" Holland America's game in the premium cruise segment, particularly on the dining side. That's based on our four-night sailing in mid-November from Port Everglades, FL.

Our two top restaurant experiences onboard? Hands down, the new "Sel de Mer" is our "must dine" choice for Koningsdam, followed closely by the exotic Tamarind.

French-Inspired Sel de Mer

Translated “sea salt” in French, the intimate Sel de Mer is nestled on Deck 2 across from Ocean Bar and adjacent to the atrium. From the moment of entry, guests feel they're inside a brasserie from late 19th century Paris, yet one with a contemporary feel.

Serving just 44 guests, Sel de Mer is open only in the evening. Reservations are a “must” and pricing is a la carte. 

Sel de Mer is a French-inspired culinary experience with a 19th century aura. // Photo by Susan J. Young

We loved the large wall mural depicting late 19th century Paris. It’s a portion of “Boulevard des Capucines,” an Impressionist work by Jean Beraud (1848-1935), reflecting street scenes during the so-called “Belle Epoque.”

The full painting shows more of Paris' sites, but this cropped version seems to take diners right into the street scene, almost as though they know (or want to know as I did) the woman crossing the street.  

Diners at our table also admired the lovely plates displayed on the walls, some depicting fish. Waiters greet guests and arrive at your individual table dressed in traditional braisserie attire. 

But clearly the star of Sel de Mer is its classic French-inspired, fresh seafood with a contemporary twist. Chefs go ashore whenever possible to select local fish for the night's dinner. 

Escargot Sel de Mer Holland America Koningsdam Editorial Use Only Copyright Susan J. Young

Escargot is among the savory Sel de Mer's seafood dishes. // Photo by Susan J. Young

I opted to start with escargot ($7), which arrived en-shell with the appropriate utensils. I’d almost forgotten how to remove the delicacies, but the waiter kindly provided assistance and, presto, they were out within seconds. They were light, tasty and tender.

Starters also included a crab salad ($13), traditional cured Scottish salmon ($8), pan-seared foie gras ($14), or steak tartare ($9), among others.

A hearty Bouillabaisse is a specialty of Marseilles and served at Sel de Mer on Koningsdam. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Next arrived the Bouillabaisse Marseilles, a hearty southern Mediterranean stew, priced at $19. It was piping hot and featured red mullet, lobster claw, sole, shrimp, snapper, clams, mussels, tomatoes, saffron, potato, fennel, orange zest, baguette and rouille. 

If you prefer steamed mussels at $16, you can have them prepared three different ways. It's up to you. Choices include Pernod cream sauce; white wine, garlic and Provencal herbs; or piment d'Espelette with tomato. All are served with the traditional French fries (pommes frites).

Sel de Mer's main course dishes ranged from grilled seafood, scallops, jumbo shrimp and aioli for $24 to whole Dover sole mueniere with brown shrimp for $25; and Maine lobster, which can be prepared grilled, broiled or thermidor-style for $32.

Sea trout on a lovely plate at Sel de Mer. // Photo by Susan J. Young

I opted for the sea trout and it had a bit of a salmon taste but was more smooth than salmon in consistency. 

Fresh fish is offered at market pricing and served either grilled, steamed or pan fried, depending on the guest’s choice. It comes with a choice of house-made sauce including tapenade, sauce verge, tartare sauce, lemon butter, basil-walnut pesto or green tomato salsa.

Those who don’t like seafood or fish can order coq au vin ($18), prime beef steak tartare or double-baked goat cheese souffle ($16).

Also, depending on the specific evening you're dining, the one nightly special might be roasted chicken with French fries and a green salad for $18; veal ragout, pan fried sweetbreads, rice and vegetables for $20; or beef tenderloin, sauce Roquefort and dauphine potatoes for $20; as well as a rack of lamb or smoked cured meat and sausages. 

Sides, all at $2, included cauliflower puree, green beans, ratatouille, wild rice pilaf, French fries and mashed potatoes. 

Photo by Susan J. Young

As one might expect, the desserts were French-inspired; they’re all $4. I recommend the profiteroles (a puffy light pastry) with hot chocolate sauce and chantilly cream. It definitely is rich, but was actually a relatively light "top off" to a robust meal.

Alternatively, guests can order crepes Suzette with vanilla gelato, an apple tarte with cinnamon gelato or “pot de crème” with marshmallow and Grand Marnier. 

Exotic Tamarind

High up on Deck 10 aft is Tamarind, the wildly popular Asian venue on Koningsdam. Reservations are highly recommended and the cost is $25 per person. 

Secret? On the next incarnation of a Koningsdam-class vessel, Ashford is looking to possibly expand Tamarind even farther out to the open deck space on either side.  

Tamarind features sit-down dining and new sushi bars. // Photo by Susan J. Young

The décor of Tamarind is, not surprisingly, exotic, yet rich and elegant at the same time. Menu-wise, this alternative restaurant features multi-cultural Asian choices – everything from Japanese sushi to Indonesian dishes and Thai curry. 

This latest version of Tamarind has new sushi bars on either side of the dining room.

For those preferring to dine at a table, servers will deliver a plate of sushi into the center of the table as a sampler, or guests can order their choice of sushi, sashimi and sushi rolls.

Want to order a sushi sampler? Here's one delivered to our table. // Photo by Susan J. Young

How about a Tsutsumi Roll with snapper, avocado and scallions or a Volcano Roll with Thai chili-sesame marinated salmon?

Moving to the soups, many at our table ordered the restaurant’s signature dish, Indonesian-style Laksa, a vegetarian version with tofu, quail egg, scallions, snow peas, bean sprouts, cilantro, vermicelli noodles in red curry coconut milk broth with lime leaf and galangal. Important note: Those that ordered the Laksa were still talking about it days later. 

Alternatively, I opted for the Thai chicken and rice soup with scallions, celery, lime juice, cilantro, roasted garlic and chili oil. It was tasty and light. 

As for appetizers, diners have a choice of everything from Shanghai ribs to Peking duck with Chinese crepes, from crispy vegetable spring rolls to Thai beef salad.

I chose Malaysian satay with two sauces and both chicken and beef. It was cooked just right and the sauces provided contrasting flavors.  

As for the main dishes, entrees are classified under four categories – water, fire, wood and earth, four of the five traditional Chinese “energy” states.

I chose the ginger and garlic wok-seared lobster with crisp fried noodles, sliced green onion, red Thai chili, soy-ginger broth. This "water" category option featured creative presentation and colors that “popped.” (See photo at the top of this page). 

That said, I couldn’t help myself and also requested a small portion of the Penang red curry coconut chicken to try; it's concocted with spiced chicken, snow peas, eggplant, zucchini, pimientos, opal basil, lemon grass, lime juice, red curry and coconut milk.

Hands down, for me at least, that was the star dish. Curry fans should enjoy it, as a friend seated next to me ordered it for his main course and it vanished quickly. 

If you like beef (in the wood category), one entrée choice is Wasabi-and-soy-crusted beef tenderloin served on an oak plank with onion rings and tempura vegetables.

In the earth category were four vegetarian choices including Japanese sesame udon noodles with stir-fried tofu, scallions, vegetables, sesame oil, chilies, toasted peanuts and sesame seeds.

The restaurant has a number of side choices, and for our table, a selection was placed in the center. The mushrooms were popular but others went untouched, given the wide selection of appetizers, soup and so on. 

The house specialty is the Tamarind chocolate, a bittersweet chocolate shell holding a smooth tamarind flavored chocolate and ginger mousse. Simply put, this was to-die-for if you’re a chocolate or sweets fan. 

More Dining Choices

Light and airy, the Main Dining Room -- white or cream in color, with curved design elements and chandeliers of red and white glassware – seemed a pleasant departure from the rich, over-the-top dining rooms we’ve seen in the cruise industry of the past. 

Main Dining Room Koningsdam Holland America Editorial Use Only Copyright Susan J. Young
The light, airy dining room offers a fresh, more contemporary look. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Small red vases on the tables complemented the red accent coloring in the chandelier. One thing that struck me was that it didn’t feel crowded, as though we were up on top of other people at other tables. The tables are well spaced, unlike some main dining rooms on other lines. 

The casual Lido, the ship’s casual dining restaurant, features both a traditional buffet of sorts plus new tasting stations. Adjacent to Lido is the Canaletto, a new alternative eatery, with small plates, pasta, large plates and desserts.

Canaletto's large plates include “Vitello al Forno,” a slow roasted, prosciutto-wrapped veal tenderloin with artichoke purée, asparagus, an oven braised potato and Barolo sauce or “Costolette de Agnello in Crosta,” parmesan and garlic crusted lamb cutlets with arugula and tomato salad.

Of course, Koningsdam is also home to Holland America’s signature Pinnacle Grill, plus the popular Culinary Arts Center, which now has evening sit-down dining, with chef specialties that you can observe being cooked via large flat-screen TVs around the room.

The Culinary Arts Centers on Holland America are in the process of transforming into America’s Test Kitchens, with Koningsdam expected to get the concept in 2017.

With blue and white décor, the line’s Grand Dutch cafe, situated adjacent to the atrium on Deck 2, is open from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. It offers pastries, light snacks, coffee, tea, beer and liquor.

Hungry cruisers can choose from such options as Dutch pea soup, “Maatjes Herring” with chopped onions and pumpernickel bread, a toasted ham and cheese sandwich,  vegetable quiche, and an apple and bacon pannekoek (a Dutch pancake with powdered sugar and whipped cream).  

Along with the tulip design within guest corridor carpeting, this dining venue is one of the few onboard spaces reflecting the line’s 140-plus years of Dutch heritage.

One new complimentary option that was wildly popular with guests? It’s the New York Deli and Pizza on the deck just above the pool deck. It features views of the cabana-like lounge spaces and the pool and whirlpool below.

As for its food, we loved the complimentary“pies” and can recommend both the veggie versions and the meat pies. In the mornings, this is also a good place for bagels and lox. The venue was very busy during our visit. 

While not a dining venue per se, the new Blend near the Culinary Arts Center on Deck 2, is a glass-enclosed room at which guests enjoy a tasting experience as well as get a chance to blend their own wines and then take the bottles home. 

A bit about service? Culinary and dining room service was friendly, efficient and excellent throughout our cruise, but particularly so in Sel de Mer, Tamarind and the Main Dining Room. Those three eateries earned an A-plus from me on the service side. 

Pinnacle Grill, always excellent on the food side, was a 3.3 hour dining experience. I felt the pace of service, while very friendly, was a bit too slow, but the wait staff was attentive and we did have a large table of diners. 

Overall, Holland America has definitely upped its game on the dining side with Koningsdam's diverse culinary choices.