Sherman's Food Adventures: May 2017

Holland America MS Westerdam Vista Dining Room Night #3

Unlike our time on the Oosterdam and Veendam, the Westerdam sported some technological goodies including big flat screen TVs with information throughout the cruise as well as creative Internet packages. The most useful innovation was the Holland America app which was free and allowed us to check on our daily schedule, book shore excursions and reserve tables at their specialty restaurants. In addition, we could also view the daily dinner menu from the main dining room which could help us decide whether we wanted to head to an alternative dining venue if it wasn’t appealing.

Well, the David Burke inspired menu for night 3 was not super attractive to us (and we’ve had this meal on the Veendam recently), but we went with it anyways. We both began with some simple appies including the Fruit Ceviche, which is always a fancy name for fruit salad. Hey, it was a very fresh fruit salad with sweet chunks of pineapple. The Tuna and Salmon Tartare was a bit small in size, resulting in a less than impressive looking plate. By itself, the tartare was buttery and tender, but it definitely needed the drops of sesame sauce and mustard to add the necessary acidity and aromatics.

We also went for both of the featured soups including the surprisingly good Black Bean and Chorizo. At first, it looked very much like a sweet Chinese red bean soup, but it surely wasn’t. There was a robust bean grittiness that was actually appealing. The addition of meaty and spicy chorizo kicked up the flavour and body of the soup. For the Chili Corn Chowder, it was slightly thick and mildly sweet with a spicy kick. The creamy crème fraiche provided little pockets of creaminess, but the charred corn was sticky and mealy.

For our mains, I had the classic Prime Rib with baked potato and veggies. Whoever sliced the steak was probably off-balance as it was thin with the cap and thick with the rest of the meat. No matter though as it was a perfect medium-rare and buttery soft. It was well-seasoned where the rub penetrated beyond the exterior. The sauce was a bit too salty though. I would’ve liked some bacon bits, but they didn't offer any. Viv had the Black Cod which was also executed properly. The meat was buttery and flaky while being aggressively seasoned. We would’ve liked to see some crispy skin though. Underneath, the risotto was cheesy but too soft.

As per usual, we added a 3rd dish just because. It was the Pork Medallions with mushroom sauce and spatzel. Although well-charred, the pork tenderloin nuggets were dry and underseasoned. However, the creamy mushroom sauce was impactful and plenty Earthy. Also under-seasoned, the spaetzel was texturally on point though being chewy with a proper sear.

For dessert, I went for the Blueberry and Mango Crisp which was stone cold. So much so, the ice cream on top stayed frozen and didn’t even melt. Hence, it was not enjoyable to eat despite the crispy sugary topping and semi-sweet fruit filling. Viv’s Chocolate Cake was much better being moist and chocolately. It looked very sweet, but ultimately was not.  As you can probably guess, we were not super-enthused about the meal as a whole, even before we ate.  Things were just not executed that properly.  With that being said, the food was definitely serviceable and yes, we realize we were on a cruise ship.

Maro's Shrimp House

For all the cruises we have taken, we have never joined any VIP shopping groups to get off the ship earlier. I guess it had to do with the obvious partnerships between the cruise lines and specific shops at every port. This is not a criticism as it would be bad business if they didn’t synthesize their opportunities to make more money. Well, after we did a quick stroll around the jewelry shop that we were taken to, we made our way to Maro’s Shrimp House in the quieter part of Cabo for lunch.

Due to its location, the prices were reasonable and at least for us, there were no crowds. We were started off with complimentary Chips and Salsa which were very good. The firm and crunchy chips were the perfect vessel for the bright and flavorful salsa that was supremely fresh. However, we thought the spicy chipotle dip on the side was even better as it had rich impactful flavors. Viv decided to try their Strawberry Margarita which was very large in size. It looked awesome, but the taste was fairly watered down and the alcohol content was low.

Large in portion size, the Shrimp and Fish Ceviche was bright, fresh and lightly acidic. We found the fish to be moist and flaky without any fishiness. The bits of shrimp were meaty with a firm snap. There was a touch of heat from the intermittent bits of chili while the addition of the bright salsa kept things refreshing. Okay, For $17.00USD, we felt the Lobster and Shrimp was a fantastic deal. It came with 2 lobster tails and 9 shrimp served atop rice. Although a touch past done, the lobster was still appealing with a firm rebound texture. The shrimp were buttery and fresh.

To complete the meal, we decided to try the Malchojete with chicken and shrimp. Served in a lava heated lava bowl, the melted cheese sauce was a bit salty and somewhat spicy. We found the chicken to be nicely seared but dry. The shrimp, on the other hand, was exactly like the previous dish and went nicely with the cheese. This was served with rice, beans and tortillas.  Overall, we thought our meal at Maro's was well-priced for Cabo as things can get pretty pricey.  However, the proteins were overdone, which tempered our eating enjoyment.

The Good:
- Inexpensive for Cabo
- Decent eats
- Interesting vibe and decor

The Bad:
- Proteins overdone



Holland America MS Westerdam Vista Dining Room Night #2

Our 2nd dinner of our Mexican Cruise aboard Holland America’s MS Westerdam would be the 1st of two gala dinners. Generally, the menu for these meals are more appealing with certain premium dishes. Well, having just cruised on the MS Veendam in the Summer, the menu looked very familiar. In fact, it was exactly the same except for a few items. It was not surprising though as I would imagine the menus to be consistent fleet-wide.

Despite only being 2 of us, we tried our best to put a dent in the menu by going for all 3 appetizers including the simple, yet appetite-whetting Honey Pineapple with coconut and strawberries. We found the slice of pineapple to be tart and sweet as well as the chunks on top. However, we would’ve liked to see the presence of more coconut. Also rather light, we had the Orange Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail with lime and melon balls. The shrimp was a bit underdone in this case, so the snap texture was interrupted by a soft and slightly chewy interior.

Completely opposite of the 1st 2 appies, the Escargots Bourguignon was immersed in butter, wine and parsley. I found the snails to be decent in size and buttery soft with a slight rebound chew. Of course the flavors were rich due to the butter, but that’s the whole point of the dish. I needed a bit more bread from our basket to help soak up the buttery goodness. Viv decided to add the Salad of arugula and frisee just to provide some balance to our meal. It was nicely plated and reminded us of the same refreshing one we had on the Veendam. The vinaigrette was acidic but nicely balanced by the fresh fruit.

Completing our starters, I also added the Carrot Soup that was lightly sweet and a bit aromatic from the oil. There was some creaminess added by the dollaps of crème fraiche. I would’ve liked to see a bit more salt as the soup was very mild. It was silky and smooth though. Heading into our entrees, we split 3 of them including the Rack of Lamb with couscous. Unfortunately, the lamb was overdone and at least with one of the pieces, it was well-done. Hence, the meat was heavy and not moist. Flavors were okay though as the rub on the outside was impactful. The couscous was nicely prepared being soft with a rebound.

Also overdone was the Maple-Lacquered Duck Breast as each piece was dry and a touch chewy. Moreover, the skin was not well-rendered, which meant it was chewy and fatty. However, the sweetness of the figs were a nice compliment to the duck. Not sure about the bread pudding underneath as it was a bit wet and somewhat heavy. Nice use of day old bread though. On the other hand, the Beef Tenderloin was quite rare (which was even evident on the outside of the steak. I asked for medium-rare. No matter, it was still nicely charred and completely tender. Although the green beans took on the color of canned beans, they were actually still crunchy. The grilled shrimp were on point and flavorful.

For dessert, Viv had the Chocolate Souffle, which had completely collapsed. Interestingly, the chocolate sauce was served table side incorrectly being merely poured out top without making a hole at the top. It looked heavy, but ultimately, the soufflé was fairly light and not over-sweetened. I had the Lemon Meringue Cheesecake which was super light. It was airy and tangy with only a purposeful amount of sweetness.  Despite being a "Gala Dinner", we thought the selection of dishes was only somewhat better than the regular nights.  Coupled with some of our proteins being overdone, it wasn't a particularly memorable meal.

Holland America MS Westerdam Lunch at the Pinnacle

For the last 2 cruises on Holland America, we’ve had dinner at the Pinnacle at least once. Yes, it is an extra charge of $30, but for us, it is well worth it due to the use of premium ingredients served in a more intimate environment. The fact that the service is top notch is an absolute plus as well. This time around, Viv and I decided to give lunch a try at the Pinnacle for a $10 surcharge. Reservations could only be made aboard the ship and we did just that for our second day on the cruise.

Since we could order as many appies as we liked, we decided on 3 starting with the classic Beef Carparccio. In terms of appearance, this had to be one of the least appealing versions we’ve seen. However, it ate significantly better with a buttery smooth texture. Flavor compliments included pine nuts, crispy capers, Parm, mustard aioli and diced red onions. I thought there was a restrained amount of saltiness and the crunch of the nuts and capers added a textural contrast. There could’ve been more acidity though. The Dungeness Crab Cakes were lightly crispy outside with a nice panko coating. However, on the inside, it was rather crumbly. Also, the crab did not appear to be Dungeness as indicated on the menu. To us, it looked and ate like king crab (which wasn’t a bad thing).

Our last appie was the fantastic Grilled Prawn Bruschetta with primavera sauce, aged asiago and balsamic fusion. Underneath, the crunchy crostinis were firm yet retained a bread-like texture. The topping of peppers, zucchini and onion were bathed in a sweet and tangy balsamic EVOO sauce that went well with the large and meaty prawns. This was both a textural and flavor success in our books.

For my main, I had the Beef Tenderloin with Oregon blue cheese. This was prepared a beautiful medium rare with a nice caramelized sear on the outside. As much as tenderloin can be rather mild-tasting, the pungency of the melted blue cheese helped alleviate that issue with a smooth buttery sharpness. On the side, the scalloped potatoes were tender while not being mushy. They were buttery and sinfully cheesy while not salty. Viv repeated her dish from the Veendam with the Cioppino featuring king crab, salmon, halibut, clams and mussels. This was a hearty dish where the fish was a bit overdone while the shellfish were on point. The broth was light, a touch briny, lightly tangy and aromatic.

We ended up with 3 desserts including the Warm Fudge Brownie with coffee gelato and popcorn brunch. The brownie itself was very sweet with a crunchy surface giving way to an ooey gooey center. The best part of the dessert was the aromatic and not-too-sweet gelato. Our favorite of the trio was the Coconut Trifle with lime and pistachio. Although looking heavy, it ate lightly with only a purposeful amount of sweetness accented by the aromatics of coconut and bitterness for the dark chocolate. We loved the crunch of the pistachios.

Ending off in a lighter fashion than the previous 2 desserts, we tried the Fresh Berries with sabayon.  It was a light and refreshing dessert where the sabayon was airy, fluffy and not overly sweet.  Although one could eat at the buffet or the Dive-In burger bar for no extra charge, I would personally go for the Pinnacle Grill instead for the $10.00 per person.  It is a fantastic alternative than dining there in the evening.  Yes, there are some dishes that are not available at lunch, but the overall food quality and service justifies the surcharge.

Holland America MS Westerdam Vista Dining Room Night #1

After taking a sneak peek of the menu while we were exploring the ship, it was decided our first dinner aboard the MS Westerdam was going to be in the Vista main dining room.  However, it would be in the lower level since we did not have fixed dining.  Interestingly, we seem to eat at around the same time, but choose open seating.  No matter, it was easy enough to just call down to the front desk to make a rez.  However, most of the available times were after 8:00pm.  Didn't matter though as we were without the kiddies!

We decided to split the Seared Scallops and Calypso Shrimp Cocktail for our appies. Attractively caramelized, the smallish scallops were buttery and sweet. They were barely cooked, hence, they retained a good amount of moisture. I found them seasoned well on their own, however, the confit tomato and vanilla-scented vinaigrette added some acidity. Eating more like a potato salad without the potatoes, the shrimp cocktail was tossed in a mustard calypso sauce. It was creamy and lightly flavoured and allowed the sweet brininess of the shrimp to come through. Texturally, the baby shrimp were buttery and meaty.

Since these were fairly light appies, we added 2 mains as a mid-course prior to our larger dishes. The Salade Nicoise sans tuna was definitely a larger dish of greens, but we were a bit perplexed how it would be enough for a meal. It featured all of the usual suspects of a nicoise except for the aforementioned tuna. Nothing particularly interesting about this, but it did the job. The second item was the Eggplant Cannelloni Parmigiano which was smartly constructed with thin layers of soft (but not mushy) eggplant stuffed with herbed ricotta. This was a flavourful dish with the zing of the tomato sauce and the saltiness from the Parm.

For our actual mains, I had the Shrimp, Andouille & Grits featuring braised okra, tomato sauce, citrus and roasted pepper. This was a winner in my books with fluffy grits that were seasoned completely by the spicy tomato sauce. There was a lingering kick to go with the equal parts of acidity and saltiness. The shrimp was on point being meaty with a firm snap. Interestingly, I didn’t notice any andouille on the plate – was it purely in the sauce? Viv ended up with the Apple Cider-Brined Pork Chop with cherry raisin chutney. The pork chop was meaty, yet fairly tender from the brine. It had more of a braised quality where the meat was completely cooked and moist. Flavours trended towards sweet with the strong taste of cloves being overwhelming though.

For dessert, we had the Key Lime Pie as well as the Apple Struedel. Despite the pastry being on the wet side, the filling in the struedel was very good. The bits of apple were tender with a bite being tart and only purposefully sweet. Buttery and rich, the key lime pie was tangy and sweet. The crust was very buttery.  A minor complaint was that they served a slice with a broken edge.  Not aesthetically-pleasing at all. Our first dinner aboard the Westerdam was consistent with Veendam, which we cruised on 5 months prior.  It was decent for cruise ship food with a few issues here and there (but then again, they are serving so many people at once...).

Holland America MS Westerdam Mexican Cruise

For all the cruises we've been on, not in a million years would I have thought that the cruise line that we'd be cruising with the most would be Holland America.  Yes, it is true that Viv and I are no longer spring chickens, but we are also hardly their main demographic.  Last time we checked, our hair hasn't gone grey and don't have grand children.  But due to the fact we won a cruise aboard the MS Veendam playing bingo, it meant that our Mexican cruise would be aboard Holland America's MS Westerdam leaving out of San Diego.

We were pretty familiar with the ship as it is essentially the same as the MS Oosterdam, which we sailed on to Alaska in 2012.  Boarding in San Diego was a breeze partly because the cruise terminal isn't particular busy (only one ship in at the time) and we arrived pretty early.  This was also facilitated by the fact we stayed across the street at the Marriott Springhill Suites.  Once aboard, the rooms were already made, so we could drop off our carry-ons before making our way up to the buffet.  We ended up with an outside room (with an obstructed view) on the Upper Promenade Deck.  Didn't matter to us as there was plenty of natural light and were not in our room very often.  It was pretty standard in size, similar to other HAL ships.  I did like the orientation of our bed as it made the room seem more spacious.  I still do not understand the chair in the room as there is nowhere to put it and it was always in the way.  The amount of storage space was sufficient for all of our clothes and belongings.  Our room came with a full tub (the small tubs found on cruise ships), but we stuck with the shower, which had good water pressure.

Despite not being the newest ship, we felt it was kept clean and all of the public areas were maintained properly.  Being a medium-sized vessel, there seemed to be plenty of room to move about without feeling like it was crowded.  Furthermore, since HAL does not have any mega ships in their fleet, lineups around the Westerdam were minimal.  As with all HAL ships, the decor was classy with traditional colors.  As you can clearly see in the pictures, this was a holiday cruise where Christmas decor could be found throughout the ship. Despite the use of soft and neutral colors, the ship didn't feel old due to some renovations and addition of technology.  One new addition was America's Test Kitchen where live demonstrations emulated the TV show.  We did catch a couple of them and they were entertaining with a lively host and interesting recipes.  At night, it became a blues club and the house band was fantastic.

In terms of the other on board entertainment and activities, they were the usual team trivia, music trivia, crafts, technology seminars and the sort.  Viv and I were amused at the music selection for name that tune as it was pretty ol' skool, even for us.  That was the same for the movie trivia too.  Again, the line appeals to an older demographic. We found the theater to be relatively spacious for the size of ship and we never had a problem finding a seat to watch a show.  With that being said, the lounge-type seating in the front section could get a bit squished depending on how the movable seats were arranged.  In terms of the food, it was pretty much as expected where it was decent for a cruise ship but still had various issues.  However, the meals that cost a surcharge were generally better.  Overall, the cruise was enjoyable and the mid-sized ship provided enough space and venues for everyone.  Personally, we found the lack of on-board activities for more active cruisers a negative.  Again, we are not exactly their core demographic either.

The Good:
- Generally attentive and friendly service
- Ship is in good condition and sports some upgrades
- Food is generally decent

The Bad:
- Lack of on-board activities for more active cruisers
- For the size of ship, it could use one more port as it became somewhat boring