Sherman's Food Adventures: March 2017

The Lost Anchor

To be honest, I’ve never read Anne of Green Gables nor have I ever been motivated to do so.  I do realize it is a big part of Canadiana and something that is known around the world.  Maybe I should show more pride?  At the very least, we were committed in visiting the National Historic Site while we were in PEI.  So we did the 45 minute drive out there to look at the House as well as the grounds.  Pretty neat.  Somehow it reminded me of the PNE show home, but from 1908.  After that, we were pretty hungry, so we went to the nearest spot being The Lost Anchor.

We let the 2 oldest boys sit at a table by themselves which also meant that they could order whatever they wanted.  My son decided to start with the Pork Ribs with aioli.  These were rather saucy as well as being meaty and tender (and a bit greasy).  That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as it was appealing in texture and nicely sweet and savoury.  The dip was creamy, but not as flavourful as it looked.  For his main, he went for the Anchor Burger which featured a well-seared patty that was lean and dry.  It was definitely meaty, but not as tender as we would’ve liked to see.  The side of fries were good though being lightly crispy while very potatoey.

For myself, I went for another Lobster Roll which turned out to be a sandwich.  It featured mostly shredded lobster meat mixed with mayo and celery.  This was okay, but without large chunks of lobster, the texture was almost like crab (except just a bit chewier).  Flavourwise, I didn’t get big hits of lobster, but it was there, while there was a vanilla type finish.  I thought the scallion bun was not a good match as it was too robust.  Elaine had the Bully Forbes Fish and Chips that featured 2 pieces of flaky haddock coated in a crispy and light batter.  Again, the fries were excellent being naturally textured while still being a fry (as in not mushy).

Viv had the Deck Hand Fish Tacos which featured smaller pieces of fried fish which were predictably even more crunchy.  It was texturally on point and went well with the soft tortilla.  There was an interesting twist with a lime sour cream combined with fresh tomatoes and lettuce.  Okay, now don't worry, we also had the streamed Fresh PEI Mussels which were fresh and nicely briny.  They were buttery and sweet featuring only their natural juices (with butter on the side). Okay, for a random restaurant close to a tourist attraction, The Lost Anchor did its job for a reasonable price.  No, it wasn't anything life-changing, but we weren't expecting that either.

The Good:
- Comfy digs
- Friendly service
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- Food is hit and miss  

Holland American MS Veendam Rotterdam Main Dining Room Day 6

Alright, this is the night most cruisers generally look out for - gala night.  Yes, it is time to dress up, take pictures and dine on the most decadent menu of the cruise.  There are exceptions though, namely NCL and Carnival where formal dining is purely optional and lobster requires an extra charge.  For us, Holland America maintains some tradition especially considering their core customers who are of an older demographic. We made our way to the main dining room eager to nom hard on some lobster tails.

Before the large crustacean, we had  smaller ones in the Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail to start and it was pretty much the same at the other nights.  That meant the shrimp had a cold-water meaty snap that was a joy to eat.  The accompanying brandy cocktail sauce was interesting being creamy, but I would’ve liked the classic cocktail sauce with a zing instead.  The Foie Gras with apple tart tartin was nicely prepared with a properly seared piece of foie.  It was buttery and soft without any sinewy portions.  The tart underneath was full of sweet apples that still had a slight tartness.  Rounding out the flavors was a deeply sweet cassis reduction.

Almost all of us, including the 2 older boys had the Surf and Turf featuring a lobster tail and Filet Mignon steak.  This dish was expertly prepared with buttery springy lobster that was doused in butter.  The steak was fork tender requiring not much effort to cut or chew.  It was flavored by the meaty and impactful jus (as the meat itself was predictably mild-tasting).  Costanza (who is indifferent towards lobster) had the Basil Encrusted Veal Rack which was also excellent.  Tender and barely cooked through, the meat was succulent and moist with a herbaceous crust.  Even the mash potatoes were on point being buttery and yummy with bacon.

For kicks, I tried the Sweet & Sour Roast Duck with rice noodles.  I found the skin to be nicely seared, but the meat was rather dry and mealy.  The noodles were woefully overcooked as it was hard and chewy.  I thought they were not flavourful either.  Surprisingly, the sweet & sour sauce was rather tasty.  My daugher decided on the Pan Seared Arctic Char with parsnip puree, arugula oil and roasted Italian vegetables.  This was also well-executed featuring well-seasoned crispy skin where the fish was flaky and moist.  Flavors were rather subtle which fit the dish.  However, I would've liked to see some more salt used.

For dessert, the Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake was a big hit with the kiddies because it was made with their favorite ingredient.  However, I found it rather dense and brownie-like (even with the molten center).  With that being said, it did taste chocolatey and was an excellent brownie (if it was a brownie).  The award for worst dessert went to the Berry Angel Food Cake because it was downright terrible.  It looked impressive, but the texture was akin to a hard marshmallow.  It was far too sweet as well.  To make things worse, the triple berry compote merely added even more sugar that wasn't needed.

Viv had the Passion Fruit Cheesecake which was okay texturally being creamy and light.  But the flavors were a bit off, almost seemingly salty.  I did like the passion fruit hit as it was tangy and sweet.  The best dessert of all was surprisingly the sugar-free Tiramisu.  It was creamy, full of flavour including the espresso while being mildly sweet.  No one seemed to notice the absence of real sugar, so I guess they succeeded in making an appealing sugar-free offering.  Interestingly, this was the "gala dinner", but only a few items stuck out as really appealing (fortunately, the lobster was one of them).  Maybe they knew everyone would be ordering that dish...

Holland America MS Veendam Mariner's Lunch

One of the perks of being a return customer on Holland America is an invitation to the Mariner's lunch.  Normally, lunch service is not available in the main dining room.  However, for one day only, this lunch serves to honor their most loyal guests.  Well this was only our second Holland America cruise (not really our age group), so there were many others who were much more "loyal".  No matter, we merely enjoyed having a nice meal in the main dining room over the hustle and bustle of the buffet.

The menu for the Mariner lunch was pretty simple with 2 choices for appetizer, 3 choices for entree and one dessert. To begin, I tried the New England Corn Chowder which was creamy, yet not heavy.  It wasn’t particularly smooth, but that was fine due to the corn.  It was sweet with a balancing amount of saltiness from the bacon.  The other choice of appetizer was the Quebecois Goat Cheese with Roasted Red Beets and Honey Crisp Apples The beets were tender with a bite while very Earthy.  The cheese was gamy and impactful with a rich creaminess.  The shaved prosciutto on the side added a saltiness to the otherwise sweet dish.

For my main, I had the Herb Crusted Strip Loin of Beef with red wine jus.  The slices of beef were super tender while still retaining an appealing meat texture.  The jus was tasty with an appetizing rich flavour but I wish there was more of it.  The sauteed forest mushrooms were beautifully Earthy with deep umaminess.  The other meat entree choice was the Baked Maple Glazed Arctic Char which was a little overdone, but good otherwise.  It was mildly seasoned where the sweetness of the maple was restrained.  The skin was somewhat crispy, but it probably soften on its way to our table (these are prepared in mass quantities, so they may not be served hot off the grill).

For dessert, we all had the Butterscotch Bake Well Tart with mixed berries which was very rich and buttery.  It wasn’t too sweet (despite the presence of Vermont maple syrup), but the whole thing was not my cup of tea due to the heaviness.  Well there you have it, our second ever Mariner's Lunch.  As you can clearly see, it wasn't anything particularly mind-blowing and the choices were limited.  Yet at the same time, it was nice to have a relaxed meal that recognized cruise line loyalty complete with complimentary champagne and a small gift at the end (HAL coasters).

Holland America MS Veendam Main Rotterdam Dining Room Day 5

Our 5th day on the MS Veendam found us docking in Charlottetown, PEI.  We had booked a car so we could drive out to do the most touristy thing on the island - visit Anne of Green Gables.  Heck, I never even read the book!  Well, it was quaint and I guess it was on our bucket list.  After that, we headed over to Cavendish Beach to catch a glimpse of the red clay.  From there we hightailed it back to the ship.  We could definitely do a return visit to PEI for an entire week!  But for now, we prepared ourselves for dinner #4 at the main dining room

As an homage to where we were, we all started with the PEI Mussels.  Well, the kitchen didn't pay any homage to PEI as all of mussels were underdone.  Many were barely open or not open at all, not because they were not fresh, but they were just not cooked.  Hence, I only got 3 open to eat.  The positive was that they were buttery and briny tasting, the negative was that I had not much of an appy.  I thought the cream broth was too thick for the dish while it was mildly flavoured.  My daughter decided to try the Double Baked Potato Soup with bacon.  Well this was a rich and somewhat salty concoction.  It was thick and cheesy where one could only have a few spoonfuls.

For our entree, almost everyone had the Angry Striped Bass which featured a fairly crispy skin and flaky meat.  It was a bit more done that I would’ve liked, but it wasn’t overly so.  The fish had a fresh taste and texture while highlighted by the sweet chili sauce that had a kick.  The garlicky clams added an appealing brininess while the seemingly plain Jane macaroni was actually quite tasty and al dente.  My daughter had the Turkey Roast and it was a classic dish that was prepared right.  With brined meat, it was tender and succulent.  Of course it was well-seasoned as well where the rich meaty giblet gravy added even more flavour.  I wish there was more of it though.  Served on the side was a sweet apple pecan stuffing which was nicely textured with a bite.

Costanza’s son had the Ziti Pesto with green onion, garlic, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, olive oil and Parmesan cheese.  The dish was visually appealing and was ultimately pretty good with firmly al dente pasta tossed in an aromatic and well-seasoned pesto.  It was herby with a good amount of salt and cheese.  My son had the Tri-Tip with roasted shallot vinaigrette that featured tender slices of medium rare beef in a flavourful, yet subtle sauce.  It wasn't too acidic, which didn't detract from the savoriness of the dish. The polenta underneath was soft, yet not mushy at the same time.

Since a plate of angry bass wouldn't satisfy us, Costanza and I split the Broiled New York Striploin as well.  Sure, this was on the everyday Holland America Line Signatures menu, but we didn't need anything wild, just something predictable (which is why they have this menu).  It was prepared medium-rare as requested and was tender and well-rested.  The green peppercorn sauce was mild, yet flavorful enough to season the steak.  The adults decided to try the Creme Brulee with Grand Marnier-scented custard.  This was pretty textbook as the custard was creamy and sweet while the sugar topping was torched enough to be crunchy, but a bit more color would've been better.

For dessert, my daughter had the Chocolate Avalanche Cake that was moist and richly chocolatey.  As much as it appeared to be super sweet, it really wasn't.  Rather, it had dark chocolate undertones.  We especially loved the berry sauce that came with it as it provided a sweet and tangy counterbalance.  The other kiddies had the sugar free Chocoloate Mousse, which was a bit surprising.  I guess they didn't see the sugar free part...  Since it was missing the sugar, the mousse itself was more stiff and less fluffy.  Naturally, the natural sweetness wasn't really apparent.  No matter, they ate it anyways.  Like the previous night, this meal was okay, but wasn't particularly memorable either.


The Bicycle Thief

When in Halifax, Nova Scotia, it seems almost a crime to not visit a seafood shack-type establishment.  Would that be considered a touristy thing to do?  We seemed to addressed this with the Mike's Pastry post in Boston.  Well, we didn't end up eating lobster with a mallet out on a picnic table.  Rather, we went to the Bicycle Thief right along the waterfront in Halifax.  Not only is it not a seafood restaurant per se, it is more of a pasta place.  But it came highly recommended by more than one person.

We started off with the Lobster Chowder which was pretty pricey for $14.00. When it arrived, the portion size was fairly large as the bowl was pretty deep. It was rich and creamy with a little tomato tang. Interestingly, it was an excellent creamy vegetable soup with generous bits of celery, carrots and onion (which weren’t mushy). However, it didn’t taste like a lobster chowder. In fact, there was very little in the way of lobster meat at all.

Moving onto my 6th Lobster Roll, I shared one with Elaine. This one was very different than the ones I’ve had so far as it was a mix of lobster meat, celery, parsley and mayo. Hence there was much more texture and crunch. I’m not a huge fan of this type of lobster roll as I find the lobster gets lost. In this case, it was overwhelmed by the amount of salt used. I did like the soft and warm bun though and the lobster was definitely fresh. The side of fries were more like crisps, but good nonetheless. I also shared the Seafood Spaghettini which was on point with lots of garlic and chilis. Hence, the flavours were intense and appealing. The pasta was al dente while the seafood was prepared properly including the buttery seared scallops.

Viv had something along the same lines with the Linguine with Seafood. Once again, the ingredients were prepared properly including the meaty shrimp that had a firm snap. The noodles were nicely al dente and salted. As for the sauce, it was tangy and bright. Both of our kiddies decided on the same dish (oh the horror!) in the Cheese Ravioli. This was also good with tender pasta pockets with lots of well-seasoned ricotta. The filling was moist, but hardly wet or soggy. They were topped with a tangy tomato sauce that was flavourful and impactful.

Costanza’s oldest son had the Gnocchi with bacon in tomato sauce. Although the sauce looked incredibly tart, it wasn’t at all. In fact, it was super mild and thick. However, the bacon really came through with both a crunch and saltiness. As for the gnocchi, they were soft and tender while not mushy. His other son had the Spaghetti and Meatballs which was a huge portion sporting meaty and lean meatballs. These were not dry and well-spiced. The pasta was al dente like the other dishes while the tomato sauce was balanced, well-seasoned and mild.

Costanza had the Fried Chicken Sandwich. The chicken was fairly moist and well-seasoned, but the coating was not crunchy at all. Exacerbating the problem was the overabundance of mayo.  On the other hand, it wasn't terrible either as it ate okay as a whole.  In fact, most of the dishes were quite solid, especially the pastas.  With that being said, the lobster roll and chicken sandwich weren't particularly memorable.

The Good:
- Tasty Pastas
- Beautiful location
- Attentive service

The Bad:
- Other dishes were average
- A little pricey  

Holland America MS Veendam Main Rotterdam Dining Room Day 4

We've all seen Peggy's Cove before on TV, in paintings, pictures and on the internet.  The place is picturesque and is just bubbling over with CanadianaAnother one of my bucket list items, it was our first destination once our ship docked in Halifax.  We went straight to the car rental office (in the train station across the street) and hightailed it there.  We originally planned to stay only an hour but ended up enjoying the beauty for more than 2 hours.  Sometimes the seemingly simplest, less glitzy places is where you can enjoy yourself the most...

So far, the cruise yielded a good selection of appies and entrees, but the menu this time had probably the least appealing appetizers.  As such, I got the most interesting item in the Venison Sausage Soup which was not as salty as I would’ve guessed.  Rather, it was pretty mild with a good amount of flavour from the sausage and veggies.  I found it clean and fairly tasty.  The Tomato & Mozzarella Salad with toasted foccacia was less than inspiring with not enough dressing to add any impact to the dish.  The cheese was fresh and texturally on point while the tomatoes were fine too.

It was great that Costanza’s youngest son got to order something off the adult menu in the veritable Spaghetti and Meatballs.  This was an elevated version consisting of al dente spaghettini laced in a fresh tasting and mild tomato sauce.  However, the meatballs were lacking, not in flavor, but texturally, they were really mushy.  The rest of the kiddies all went for the Short Rib which was fall apart tender.  It wasn’t exactly melt-in-their-mouths, but it was soft and still a bit meaty (which was a good thing).  The reduced braising sauce was full of depth and meatiness as well as being properly seasoned.

For myself, I went for the Seared Black Cod which was nicely prepared.  The meat was still buttery and flaky despite being a little overdone (black cod is generally a forgiving fish).  It was well seasoned and sat on a bed of wilted spinach which was a tad salty.  I would’ve liked to see the spinach less cooked though.  I also had the Veal Tenderloin which was attractively grilled and super moist.  I found it mildly seasoned while the tasty jus was lacking in quantity.  I found the polenta underneath a bit stiff, but well-seasoned.

For dessert, the Snicker’s Cake literally took the cake.  Although the chocolate cake was a bit dry, the peanut cream and chocolate ganache made up for it.  Furthermore, the lack of sweetness of the cake nicely balanced the cream.  Hence, the cake was aromatic and not as sweet as it appeared.  Costanza thought this was one of the better slices of cake he's had in awhile.  On the other hand, the Pear Crepes were downright terrible.  Not only was it bland, the crepes were akin to thin cardboard.  We were not sure how they managed to mess this up so badly.

For myself, the Hazelnut Mousse was airy and light while of course not very sweet (well it could be sweet, but they used a moderate amount of sugar substitute).  I found the hazelnut to be a little fake tasting, but okay nonetheless.  Viv had the Peach Crisp which was okay but lacking in varied flavours.  It was mostly sweet and not very hot.  So really, the temperature had a major impact where there was no aroma nor activated flavours.  Other than a few highlights, this unappetizing menu did deliver on its promise of mediocrity.  I would learn a little later on a subsequent Holland America cruise that one of the midweek meals would be just as blah as this one.