Sherman's Food Adventures: Holland America Oosterdam Alaskan Cruise (August 2012) Part 2

Holland America Oosterdam Alaskan Cruise (August 2012) Part 2

Continuing on from yesterday's post, I'm attempting to compact a weeks worth of food in one post.  Yes, it's as long as a novel.  But I'm not going to do 7 different posts on cruise food.  It would bore most people. So if you don't want to read, just look at the pictures.  I won't be offended...  LOL...  So we begin with the morning after the first night aboard the Oosterdam... Normally, we don’t wake up in time to have breakfast in the main dining room. However, my mom wanted to avoid the buffet, so we woke up in haste to make it before 9:30 (which was the cutoff time). For me, breakfast isn’t rocket science and the stuff found in the main dining room is generally not much different than the buffet or room service. And it turned out to be pretty much that. I had the Full English Breakfast which consisted of eggs, banger, ham, beans and a fried hashbrown triangle. Pretty standard stuff and not overly impressive except for the sausage which was nicely textured (smooth) and tasty. My dad had the Egg White Omelet which was well, an egg white omelet.  It was a healthy alternative. My daughter had the Scrambled Eggs and Cheese on an English muffin. It was fine again for what it was. I did like the ham though, it was real ham and had a nice bark on the outside which was sweet. My mom and Viv both had the Eggs Benny which was typical. Not especially buttery, tart or salty. Just middle of the road and acceptable. The eggs were poached nicely being runny.

Less than 3 hours later, we were back in the dining room for lunch. I started with the Cheddar and Crab Chowder which was cheesy and rich. Not exactly a whole lot of crab going on in the soup, but it was still tasty nonetheless. I had the Ginger Glazed Salmon for my main and it was pretty much overdone for my tastes. The fish was fine though and the glaze added the necessary flavour. My mom had the Calamari which 
was coated with panko batter. Therefore, it was really crunchy. Possibly too crunchy. The accompanying tomato sauce was a bit weak. Viv had the Curry Chicken Salad which was pretty spicy considering the clientele. She also had the Chilled Pear Soup, which was mildly sweet and indeed cold. I'm not a huge cold soup fan, so I stuck with my chowder. My kids shared the Mac n’ Cheese which was rich and creamy. It was cheesy without being salty. The pasta was not overcooked while the breadcrumb topping added a nice crunch. My dad had a Salmon Salad and the fish was a touch rubbery and cooked at too high of a heat.  Yet, that was to be expected when so many pieces of fish were prepared at once. I gave the sugar-free Napoleon a try and well, it was not that great.  Sugarless desserts and pastries seem to be missing something...  Oh yeah, the sugar!

And only a mere 4 hours after we finished,
we were back in the Vista for the first formal night of the cruise. I started with the Beef Carpaccio which was sliced super thin. Hence it was melt-in-my-mouth tender. I wasn’t a huge fan of the mustard they used as it resembled regular yellow mustard too much. Therefore, it was too tart and “French’s” tasting. For my main dish, I had the Beef Wellington. I asked for medium-rare and that is what I received. The beef didn’t require a whole lot of chewing while the duck liver duxelle was noticeable. Lots of duck flavour. My only complaint would be the puff pastry as it was a little wet. My mom had the Rack of Lamb which was prepared amazingly well for such a large kitchen operation. It was moist, tender and cooked to medium. The medeira demi had depth and we could really taste the wine. My dad had the Quail and it was stuffed full of ingredients which made it look much bigger than it really was. The meat was sufficiently moist and the skin was nicely rendered. Viv had the Ginger Pesto Salmon which was a Culinary Council featured item from Marcus Samuelsson. The salmon was overcooked and by its appearance, had been seared too hot. The pesto was mild and more seasoning was needed. For dessert, I had the no sugar added Black Forrest Cake which was predictably so-so. Without sugar, the cake was not exactly moist while the whipped cream on top resembled jello. I did like the cherries though as they were not too sweet and plump. My mom had the Culinary Council dessert being the Rice Pudding. It was pretty stiff and cold. It wasn’t overly sweet having definite hits of cinnamon and the sweetness of raisins. We didn’t prefer for this. 

Not wanting to wake up for breakfast, we merely put out our order sheet the night before and voila, food arrived within a 30 minute window of our choosing. We did make it to the Mariner’s Society Brunch for returning customers. There wasn’t much choice with the menu as there was only 2 appies, 3 entrees and one dessert to choose from. I started with the Salmon Salad and it was not bad. The arugula was dressed in a tart and sweet dressing while the large piece of salmon was cooked nicely with a rare center. I had another fish dish for my main being the Basa. It was also prepared well where it was flaky and not overcooked. However, the soy-based sauce was too salty and really overwhelmed the delicate fish. Viv had the Short Ribs and they were a disappointment. Instead of tender slices of
meat, we found chewy and dry instead. It had obviously not been braised long enough. With that being said, the sauce was flavourful and full of depth. As for the last option, the Broccoli Quiche, it was a bit wet and too eggy. We did like the crust though as it was still firm. The Key Lime Tart was only semi-sweet and had an adequate amount of zing. The berry sauce was pretty sweet as with the tart shell. It was buttery and firm though.

For dinner, we had another early time, but that didn’t stop us from ordering a bunch of items. I started with the Salmon Tartare, which was another Culinary Council featured item. Unlike the previous night, this one was a hit. The discs of salmon were tender, not fishy and naturally sweet. Really nice and accented well by the other components of the dish. I also tried the Duck Pate Brioche. It was ducky and smooth while the brioche on the outside was a touch gummy. For my soup, I had the Ketchikan Fisherman's Chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. It was really creamy and mild. The seafood was as good as it could be in a soup application. This reminded us of a Hong Kong style cafe chowder, which was not necessarily a bad thing as it was really nice. Viv had the Venison Sausage Soup which was a consume with bits of veggies and tender morsels of meat. The soup was on the saltier side though.

For my main, I returned to the well and checked if they had improved upon the Braised Short Ribs from brunch. Indeed they did as they were moist and tender. I wouldn’t say super tender, but it was a noticeable improvement. Once again, the sauce was good. As a second entree, I decided to sample the other featured item being the Olive Oil Poached Halibut. It sounded good on paper, but the fish was overcooked. I realize halibut is a firmer fish, but this was pretty hard and dry. My mom had the Spruce Hen and it was baked up moist and surprisingly not too dry. The skin had a nice colour and was nicely rendered. Viv had the Scallops and Clams on Noodles and it was basically a seafood fettuccine. The pasta was somewhat al dente while the sauce was buttery and creamy. It was balanced and pretty decent. For dessert, I had the Yukon Gold Rush Bread Pudding made with sour dough bread served with a whiskey sauce. This was our favourite dessert of the night as it was moist and we pretty much forgot it was made with bread. There was a good amount of egg to make it wet enough without making it mushy. The whiskey sauce provided a nice touch to the pudding. My mom had the Chocolate Souffle and it was alright. It was airy and light, but didn’t rise enough for our liking. It was sufficiently chocolaty since there was a side of rich dark chocolate sauce.

Moving onto night 4, this was definitely our least favourite in terms of food and service.  For some reason or another, plates were not cleared expeditiously, nor was our order taken quickly.  I guess we were spoiled by the previous nights so far?  As for the menu, it didn't look all that appetizing and in fact, the appetizers looked uninspired.  Viv had the Captain's Antipasto Plate and something looked familiar...  The duck pate from the night before reappeared! Rounding out the dish was the usual prosciutto and some pickled veggies. I guess the captain really liked the duck pate... Not.  My dad had the Rainbow Trout with Citrus-Cured Salmon Tartare and it was...  not a tartare.  The darn thing was cooked all-the-way through and was super bland.  The texture was dry and mealy.  Yuk.  I had the Glacier Bay Seafood Cake and it was alright.  There was a good amount of filler including onion and vegetables which made it more of a vegetarian cake than seafood.  It was moist though and there was a spicy kick from the mustard.  Lastly, my mom had Grandma's Chicken Noodle Soup.  Okay, if this "really" was some grandma's recipe, she must've worked for Lipton.  It resembled a dry mix soup more than a homemade version.  It was salty and lacking in chicken flavour.
Off to the mains, the award for the worst dish of the cruise went to the Veal Chop with Creamy Porcini Sauce.  Forget about using a knife, we needed a chainsaw to cut through the shoe leather posing as a veal chop.  It was neither tasty nor actually edible.  Too bad since the sauce was creamy and Earthy.  The spatzle underneath must've been jealous and did its best chewy impersonation as well.  The one saving grace for this meal was the Duck Breast a l'Orange.  The duck was cooked very close to perfect as it was moist and tender.  However, the duck fat could've been rendered more.  The sauce was also quite balanced with a proper mix of sweet and tartness.  For myself, I gave the Flank Steak with Roasted Shallot Vinaigrette a go.  The meat was sliced thin and stacked atop a polenta cake.  It was on the chewier side, but nothing could top the veal.  I liked the sweetness from the onions which was a nice counterbalance to the vinaigrette.  Although the polenta was a touch stiff, it did taste good.  For curiosity's sake, I also ordered the Crispy Sweet & Sour Shrimp.  For real!  These panko-crusted shrimp were greasy yet crunchy.  There was too much batter which essentially made the shrimp look bigger than they really were.  The sweet and sour sauce was pretty typical.  As for dessert, I didn't really get a chance to do much with it as my son need to do #2... So I actually headed back to our cabin (which was pretty nice).

Okay, night 5, another formal dinner.  And the one dish most people look forward to on most cruises...  The lobster!  They paired it with a beef tenderloin to make it a Surf & Turf.  Sneaky are they!  This way, it would be a lot more difficult to order multiple plates of lobster.  On a cruise a long, long time ago, Big German Guy and I had a lobster eating contest where he ate 11 and I ate 9.  I was not attempting it this time around!  Anyways, we enjoyed some appies first.  I had the Escargots Bourgignonne which were predictably buttery.  These were pretty typical except being a bit too salty.  But then again, it was still tasty especially with the butter soaking device aka the bread. Viv had the Cream of Four Mushrooms which was not really all that creamy.  Moreover, it was not that Earthy either being quite mild.  It wasn't bad, yet wasn't that impactful either.  We also got an order of the Orange-Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail.  After we had the shrimp cocktail at the Pinnacle the first night, these looked like puny shrimp.  I didn't really like the orange-coriander coulis, it was a bit strange and didn't go with the shrimp.  Yes, the last appie was a Caesar Salad.  Enough said.

Onto the main event, the Surf & Turf came exactly as advertised.  The large lobster tail was broiled just right.  There was a nice snap to the meat while the unmistakable essence of lobster was apparent.  The tenderloin was perfectly medium-rare and moist. Just for kicks, we tried a few more items including the Seared Pompano Fillet with lemon-parsley vinaigrette. Well, that was a mistake...  The fish was horribly overdone and dry.  Furthermore, it was bland as well.  Fortunately, the Orange-Ginger Pork was much better.  Orange-ginger pork???  Yes, it was true.  The flavours were actually pretty balanced with a slight kick.  Although the rice was mushy and the veggies were overdone, the pork itself was quite moist.  Our last savory item was the Brown Butter Gnocchi with Roasted Squash.  The gnocchi itself was a touch chewy while being soft enough.  The sauce was clumpy and creamy at the same time.  The balsamic reduction helped cut the richness with some acidity and sweetness.  The fried sage was a nice compliment as well.  Lastly, we finished off with a couple of desserts.  I went for the classic Cheesecake and it was pretty much forgettable.  I was pretty convinced at this point that nobody on the ship knew how to make cheesecake.  The texture wasn't bad as it was somewhere between fluffy and hard.  However, there was little cream cheese flavour nor was there any other distinguishing flavours beyond sugar.  The Souffle was pretty decent despite sinking on one end.  It was fluffy and not too sweet.

If you are still reading at this point, you deserve a gold star.  I'm getting bored writing this!  I can only imagine someone reading this far into the post!!!  So on to night 6!  The theme was International cuisine where there were 4 sections of the menu representing the Americas, Asia-Australia, Europe-Africa and Chef Rudi's tour around the world.  In other words, anything goes...  Viv started with the Brie in Crispy Phyllo with apple cranberry chutney. The phyllo was really crispy and held up well to the other components of the dish.  There was a good balance of savory and sweet elements with the fried onions providing a crunch and aromatics.  For some reason or another, the Latin America Style Gravlax was plated with tortilla chips.  Okay, I get the theme, but premade round chips?  Really?  If it were American style gravlax, would there be some Lay's on the side?  Just sayin'.  The gravlax itself was sweet and almost candy-like.  It was moist and the jalapeno honey mustard dressing only further amped the sweetness level.  The acidity from the lemon wedge was much needed.  For myself, I tried the Scandinavian Seafood and Potato Chowder. I found the chowder a touch gritty and floury.  It was creamy enough though, yet it was quite fishy.  I was not a huge fan of this.

Onto the mains, I had the Bourbon-Glazed Beef with grilled portabella mushroom. The beef was somewhat medium-rare and was tender.  The bourbon sauce was quite mild where I was expecting something more impactful.  I did like the bed of Swiss chard and cheddar grits though.  The grits were neither too stiff nor watery. Viv had the Sauteed Shrimp Provencal which only consisted of three shrimp.  Yet, the meager amount of shrimp were sauteed nicely as there was a sweet snap.  The sauce was mostly sweet with a certain level of tang.  This was a pretty good and we probably should've ordered more.  Ah, but why do that when we could have variety?  Continuing on, my mom had the Lebanese Lamb Shank served over flageolet beans, basil minted couscous and roasted carrots & okra.  The shank was soft, gelatinous and moist.  The tomato lamb-jus was slightly tart and reduced just enough so it was not watery.
My dad had the Wattleseed Roasted Duck with apricots which was beautifully roasted where the fat had been rendered down.  The meat itself was moist and full-bodied in flavour.  The tamarind sauce was predictably tart and sweet which went well with the duck.  I wasn't a huge fan of the bacon and potato galette as it was too dry.  Lastly, we had the Oricchiette with Italian Sausage and Escarole.  The pasta was almost al dente, which was no small feat considering the amount of food produced by the kitchen. The sauce was creamy and mild while the crisp escarole added added some brightness.  Contributing to the rich sauce was the meaty sausage which added some heartiness to the dish. As for the desserts, I'm not going into detail (no pictures as a result), but there was a Pear Cheesecake, which was another indication that they couldn't make a proper version.

Okay!  The last night!  We had a round of soups to start and I decided to try the Cream of Asparagus.  It was creamy while not being too heavy.  I liked how they didn't overseasoned it where I could still taste the asparagus.  The crunchy pesto croutons were a nice textural addition.  The second soup was the Italian Wedding.  Unlike many versions of the canned variety, this one had fresh veggies.  Hence, it was had a brightness to it rather than the usual salty limp greens.  The broth was clear and the flavour was clean while the meatballs were moist.  Viv had the dreaded cold soup being the Chilled Strawberry Bisque.  Hey, it was refreshing, but for me personally, not an appetizer (more of a palate cleanser).  Finally, my dad went for the French Onion Soup and it was pretty weak.  Furthermore, there wasn't enough cheese in my opinion.

Moving onto some appies, I had the Calypso Shrimp Cocktail, which was more like a shrimp salad.  The shrimp were somewhat hard in texture and the flavours were bland. I didn't care for this dish.  The Garden Bounty Salad was a salad.  End of story.  Moving along the last appie was the Beef & Chicken Satay.  For what it was, the satay was decent.  The chunks of meat were tender and had a decent char.  The sauce was very peanutty and mild.  With our mains, I just ordered a bunch and we shared.  There always seemed to be salmon on the menu and for some odd reason, we were stuck with it as one of our dishes.  This time it was an Apricot-Glazed Salmon with a soy, ginger and garlic splash. Surprisingly, the fillet was seared up nicely being rare in the middle.  The glaze wasn't too sweet where the soy acted as a counter-balance.  And where there is lamb, my mom orders it, so we had the Lamb Souvlaki which done medium-rare which contributed to the tenderness of the meat.  There was a noticeable char which added some depth.  However, the tzatziki was really weak and watery which detracted from the dish.  The most surprising dish of the meal was the Peppercorn Crusted Swai Fillet with whole-grain mustard sauce.  Otherwise known as iridescent shark, we've never had it prepared in this manner before.  It turned out to be moist and flaky.  The peppercorns announced themselves with each bite and the mustard was just enough as a compliment.
The randomness of the menu was exemplified by the Stuffed Chili Rellenos.  The exterior was pretty crispy and the cheese stuffing (was not completely melted) combined with the pepper was pretty tasty.  Not the most spicy version we've had, but I'm sure they were going for mild in this case.  For myself, I wanted to try the Red Wine Braised Brisket.  It turned out to be a good decision as the meat was moist and the sauce itself had depth and had a nice consistency.  The mashed potatoes underneath were super creamy and buttery.  With more randomness, we also had the Turkey Roast with giblet gravy and cranberry sauce.  The breast was moist and tender (I couldn't phrase this any other way!) while the veggies were not too overdone.  The stuff was really dense, yet the gravy was flavourful without being salty.  Our last entree was the Ziti Pesto which was tossed in a mixture of green onion, garlic, cherry tomatoes, asparagus tips, olive oil and Parmesan topped with fried basil. The ziti was al dente while the sauce was creamy, herby and greasy.  This was not bad.

Finally, our final desserts!  My mom had a Crumble of some sort.  I didn't try it, but it was okay with a crunchy topping.  For myself, I had the Warm-Espresso Date Pudding.  It was moist and not overly sweet.  I didn't get much espresso, but there was the sweetness of dates.  We got an order of the surgarless Hazelnut Mousse Torte to try and obviously it wasn't sweet.  The textures were smooth and moist, which was surprising since there was no sugar.  My dad went for the Poached Pear which looked slightly sad when it arrived.  It was poached a bit too long and began to slump.  Hence it was too soft.  It tasted alright though with just enough red wine and a touch of sweetness.  Okay, the last item in this ridiculously long post...  The Chocolate Alaska Avalanche Cake.  It was moist, fluffly and chocolaty.  It wasn't too sweet and overall a good dessert.  Wow, if you read the whole post, you must be a diehard fan because I could barely read the whole thing while editing...  Anyways, the food as a whole on the Oosterdam was pretty decent in terms of cruise food.  There were some real duds, but at the very least, they were not the norm.


Chaki said...

Sherman, I loved reading about your cruise food!! Not boring at all, but the volume -- ridiculous. Was any alcohol, beer and wine, included?

I haven't done a cruise with my family yet. What were the activities for kids like onboard?
To Alaska, it's mostly inland waterways so no big waves? My son gets motion sick and is scared of cruises.

Seriously considering a short cruise next year, a three generation one like yours...

Sherman Chan said...

@Chaki Thanks for reading the whole thing! LOL... The alcohol was extra. There are plenty of kid's activities since they run a program onboard. Some cruiselines are better than others. HAL is not known for their kid's programs, but RCCL and Carnival are. In terms of Alaska, it's pretty stable. Not much open seas. You should really go on a family cruise. Great way to travel.