Sherman's Food Adventures: March 2020

King Noodle

Coming off a decent meal at Northern Dumpling House in Kirkland, we had not totally satisfied out Asian food cravings after a week aboard the NCL Bliss.  So we considered going to V Star Buffet which used to be Lucky Buffet (we visited when it was that).  However, since we just came from a cruise, it was probably not the best idea to pig out on more mediocre food.  So the next course of action was to hit up a moderately-priced spot that featured made-to-order hand made Chinese noodles.  That place was the highly rated King Noodle on Yelp.

We started off with the Seafood Hand-Shaven Noodles which was a huge portion.  Although picking seafood was not the optimal way of maximizing the texture of the noodle, it was still a good dish.  Chewy and exhibiting great mouth feel, the fresh noodle was on point.  As mentioned, the seafood didn't add a whole lot of body nor carmelization (due to the moisture) to the dish.  Along the same lines, we had the Shrimp with Snow Peas.  Now this dish had enough caramelization from the ample wok heat.  Hence, there was more impact.  As you can see, the veggies were vibrant and they were still crunchy.  The shrimp was just as good as the noodle dish being large and meaty with a sweet snap.

Onto something soupy, we had the Build-Your-Own Noodles.  We selected hand-pulled noodles with BBQ duck and beef, These thin noodles were slippery and al dente.  We found the soup to have enough seasoning but lacked depth.  There was enough BBQ duck and beef (even though you can't see it) for the portion size.  Our last noodle dish was the Singapore Fried Noodles and it was quite flavorful.  Plenty of caramelized curry essence combined with a good amount of seasoning.  The noodles were a bit wet, but not clumpy though.  There was more than enough ingredients that we hardly had any bite without some.  Once again, this was a large portion and we barely finished it.

One more dish, we had the General Tso's Chicken and it was a miss in my opinion.  This was drowning in far too much sauce which was also way too sweet.  Yes, it is supposed to be sweet and spicy, but the heat was completely lost due to the sugar content.  The chunks of chicken were fairly most though and it did sport a light crunch despite the amount of sauce.  As you can see, the noodles are the draw here and they were quite good.  Prices are very reasonable bordering on cheap.  Combine that large portion sizes and nice people, this place does the job for most people.  

The Good:
- Good hand-made noodles
- Inexpensive
- Large portions

The Bad:
- General Tso's Chicken was meh
- Inconsistent wok heat

Northern Dumpling House

Normally, when we return from a trip, the first thing we look for is comfort food.  This usually includes some form of noodles, congee and/or dim sum.  Therefore, our first meal after disembarking the NCL Bliss in Seattle was at Northern Dumpling House in Kirkland.  This happened to be the one new place I haven't tried before and it was fairly close to Goose's house (where I ditched my car prior to the cruise and also I had to pick up my usual US purchases).  So on our way over to out hotel in Everett, we stopped by for some dumplings and noodles.

Since their signature item is in their restaurant name, we decided to get the Boiled Pork & Cabbage Dumplings as well as the Pork & Shrimp Potstickers.  Naturally, boiled dumplings are as sexy as flannel pajamas, but believe me, these were good.  We found the outside wrapper to be fairly thin and not doughy at all.  Rather, there was a nice soft elasticity that was delicate.  Inside, the pork and cabbage filling was juicy and well-seasoned.  Sporting a seared skirt, the Potstickers were a bit chunky due to their size, but the bottom was still crispy.  Somehow, the skin on these seemed thicker despite essentially being the same dumpling.  I thought the pork and cabbage was a better filling as it was juicier, possibly due to the cabbage.  With that being said, the shrimp were buttery with a snap.

Continuing on the same theme, we tried the Wonton Soup with seaweed and green onion.  Light and definitely influenced by the seaweed, there was an umaminess to the soup to accent the natural sweetness.  As for the wontons, they were delicate even though the dumpling skin was not as thin as the Cantonese-style of wonton.  Inside, the pork filling was just as moist as the boiled dumplings.  Moving away from dumplings, we got the Dan Dan Noodle which was not as spicy as the red color of the sauce would suggest.  Rather, it was more nutty and and creamy than anything else.  Also, the noodles were a bit too soft for our liking.  Despite this, I still enjoyed eating it, but it might of been the fact I was missing this type of food rather than it being good.

Totally carbing-up, we also ordered the Braised Pork Rice with tea egg and milk tea.  As you can see in the picture, there was a considerable amount of pork belly.  It was buttery soft and full of flavor from the braise.  The sauce was a bit salty, however, that was fine as there was plenty of rice on the plate as well.  We actually got a side of Tea Eggs, so this one was a bonus.  It was pretty typical with the marinade seeping into the cracked shell.  Our last dish was the Jian Beng or Pan-Fried Chinese Pancake.  We really didn't like this as it was gummy and thick.  Furthermore, it was not seared enough for a crispy texture nor aroma.  There was quite a bit of filling inside though, yet that didn't make up for the lack of execution.  With that being said about this dish, the rest of the food was pretty solid and it definitely hit the spot for a reasonable price.

The Good:
- Large portions
- Good dumplings
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- Pass on the Jian Beng
- Seating isn't the best with the high-tops

La Cucina (NCL Bliss)

Our final specialty dining experience aboard the Norwegian Bliss was at their Italian restaurant – La Cuccina.  Even though we have been on 3 NCL cruises, we’ve never tried this particular restaurant.  Initially, we had a very late 8:30pm reservation, but we decided to take a chance and arrive earlier and see if they could accommodate us.  That they graciously did and let it be a tip to all other cruisers that they shouldn’t give up on a restaurant if they cannot get a reservation.

Since we had the dining package, we went nuts with the ordering and started with an array of appetizers including the Antipasti featuring salami, capicola, San Daniele prosciutto, mortadella, parmesan, pickled veggies and olives.  This was a generous portion that featured a good selection of meats which were good quality.  The kids devoured it all and if there wasn’t more appies coming, we would’ve gotten another.  Continuing on impressive quality, the Burrata Caprese with heirloom tomatoes and basil was on point being creamy and delicious.  Honestly, I’m not sure how this was achieved since burrata needs to be eaten within 72 hours.  This was the end of the cruise, but it was on point.  Did they get more in at one of the ports?  I’m not sure.

Another appealing starter was the Breasola (thinly sliced air-dried beef) served on a bed of arugula with lemon & olive oil dressing.  If appearances meant anything, this looked legit and indeed it was where the meat was firmly tender.  Nutty and aromatic, the meat definitely had a certain mustiness to it, but in a good way.  Classically plated with arugula, lemon and olive oil, this was a table favorite.  Compared to the others, the Calamari Fritti didn’t look all that impressive.  However, looks were deceiving as the tender rings were lightly coated in a crispy batter.  The best part was the side of marinara sauce as it was impactful with bursts of tang and sweetness.

Although unassuming in appearance, the Cannellini Bean Soup with bacon and pasta was quite good.  In fact, it was so good, my mom got a bowl for herself.  The best part was the actual broth itself where it was just thick enough for body without being too rich.  There was an appealing smoky saltiness from the bacon.  Of course, the bacon fat and the beans themselves provided the texture for the soup.  I really liked the beans as they were soft, yet not completely melted either.  Moving onto the pastas, the Shrimp Ravioli with lobster tarragon sauce was good despite the appearance of far too much sauce.  Yes, they could've done with 1/3 the amount of sauce, yet it was pretty tasty though.  It was full of lobster aroma and spiked with the brightness of tarragon.  Sufficiently al dente, the ravioli contained a briny shrimp filling.

My favourite of the bunch had to be the surprising Wild Mushroom Risotto.  One would think that a good risotto would not be possible on a cruise ship right?  Well, this was actually very well-executed where the arborio rice was chewy while cooked through.  The whole thing was cheesy and rich with plenty of earthy mushroom flavor.  Sure, this wasn't the best risotto I've ever had, but given the venue, it was pretty darn good.  Also in the good category, Spaghetti Carbonara featured al dente pasta that featured just enough moisture.  Often, carbonaras can get rather clumpy and wet.  This one was more on the drier side without the spaghetti being stuck together.  With that being said, there was enough "sauce" on the bottom for both lubrication (not sure if that was the right word for this) and flavoring for the dish.  It was sufficiently cheesy and salty enough.

Although the pasta was similarly thick to the one found at Savor, the Penne Amatriciana was appreciably better.  Sure, it was still a little dense, but it was nicely al dente at the same time.  The promise of heat from the spicy marinara didn't fully materialize, but then again, we have a high tolerance to spiciness.  In terms of actual impact, the cured pork was nicely salty and fatty, which added body and depth.  Continuing with tomato-based sauces, the Tortellini with sundried tomato sauce, garlic and ricotta was the most pedestrian of the pastas we had.  Also featuring thick pasta, these ate rather heavy and it didn't help that the sauce was rather one-note.  I thought the globs of ricotta did help create some really nice creaminess that helped temper the tang on the sauce.

Now if you think the Gnocchi with creamy basil pesto sauce looked more like a soup, well, you aren't wrong.  This was far too much of it and it frankly wasn't appetizing to look at and was too heavy as a result.  Such a shame as the gnocchi was actually decent.  They weren't fluffy per se, but not overly dense either.  The pesto was aromatic and creamy which would've been great if there was 1/4 of it.  Believe it or not, after that appies and then the pasta course, we went ahead and ordered a Pepperoni Pizza with basil and mozzarella (ahead of the entrees!).  So was this a true Neapolitan pizza?  Well no.  With that being said, it was fine for what it was.  The crust was fairly thin and crispy except with a lack of charring and leoparding.  It was topped with plenty of tangy tomato sauce so there was enough moisture and flavor. 

Onto secondi, my daughter ordered the Branzino Filet with cherry tomatoes and taggiasca olives.  Sporting crispy, well-seared skin, the fish was moist and somewhat flaky (this type of sea bass is more soft than flaky).  The simple sauce of cherry tomatoes and olives provided tang, saltiness and brightness to the dish.  Just my luck as the worst dish of the meal was the one I picked - Livornese-style Red Snapper with shrimp, clams, mussels, cherry tomatoes, herbs, potatoes, black olives and braised fennel.  From that description alone, it sounded fantastic.  However, the whole thing was lacking flavor and worst of all, the snapper was rock hard.  It was a chore attempting to eat it.  I eventually gave up and just tried to finish the other dishes we had prior.

Viv ended up with the Sauteed Veal Scaloppini with dry marsala sauce and mushrooms.  In terms of preparation, there wasn't anything inherently wrong as the veal was nicely seared and the sauce was plenty impactful.  However, the slices of veal were far too thick which meant the texture was more dense than usual.  Ironically, the thickness of the veal meant it was also more moist and almost juicy.  My son loves steak, so it was no surprise he had the 8 oz Beef Tenderloin with green peppercorn sauce and blue cheese ravioli.  As with all of the other steaks we had on the cruise, this one was spot on.  Medium-rare (as requested) and well-rested, the meat was buttery soft.  Since tenderloin can be rather bland, the salty and peppery sauce helped matters.  With gobs of blue cheese on the plate, the al dente ravioli was definitely sharp and flavorful.

As per usual, my dad stayed with fish in the Grilled Salmon with white beans, crispy cured ham strips, carrots and arugula.  Not that you could actually see the salmon underneath all of the arugula, but it was nicely seared and flaky.  I wouldn't go as far as saying it was moist, but it wasn't dry either.  The fish was on the milder side where the ham really helped salt things up.  I really liked the beans as they were tender with a bite.  Okay, to end off this bountiful meal, we went for the Mijune special (aka all of the desserts) beginning with the Cannoli.  These were filled with sweet ricotta and came in 3 flavors including chocolate, pistachios and tutti frutti.  We found the cannoli to be a bit firm and dense, but still crispy on the outside.  Fairly creamy and light the ricotta was purposefully sweet.  The chocolate and pistachio were pretty standard while we could've done without the candied fruit.  It was too sweet.

One of the best desserts was Chocolate Tartlet with raspberry, pistachio and vanilla sauce.  It was visually-appealing where pistachio really popped against the chocolate backdrop.  I thought the tart shell was pretty good. It could've been a bit more firm, but it was indeed buttery.  Best of all the chocolate ganache was rich and chocolaty with a bitter finish.  I found it just sweet enough.  I also enjoyed the Panna Cotta alla Vaniglia with blackberry compote and meringue crunch.  Also asthetically-pleasing, the panna cotta was served in an angled cut glass bowl.  This was also very practical as we were able to spoon out every last bit easily.  We found the panna cotta creamy and not overly gelatin-like.  It was aromatic and purposefully sweet.  The compote added a sweet tanginess.

Finishing off this huge feast, we had the Ricotta Cheesecake as well as the classic Tiramisu.  Yes, ending a meal with cheesecake could be heavy.  At the very least, they topped this with lemon curd which lightened things up with tartness.  As for the cheesecake itself, I found it consistent in its creamy texture and was appealingly sweet.  Finally, the tiramisu was actually the lightest dessert of the bunch with completely soaked lady fingers (maybe a bit too wet) and creamy mascarpone.  This wasn't very sweet and due to the good hit of espresso, it was impactful.  Overall, we thought this was a good end to the cruise and a more than respectable meal.  Does it compare with the best on on land?  Well no, but given the conditions, I thought this was one of the better specialty restaurants on the NCL Bliss.

The Good:
- Lots of choice on the menu
- Generally good
- Smaller venue

The Bad:
- Some of the pastas could've used less sauce
- Must have reasonable expectations

Savor Main Dining Room (NCL Bliss)

After 2 serviceable, yet unremarkable meals at Taste and the Manhattan Room aboard the NCL Bliss, we were going to eat at the other main dining room - Savor.  We decided on lunch because we had one more specialty dining experience on the last night of the cruise at La Cucina.  Besides, having a sit-down lunch with service was something we hadn't done much of during the cruise.  Sure, the buffet was convenient, but avoiding the hustle and bustle slowed things down a bit.  So unlike the changing dinner menus in the main dining room every night, the lunch menu remained the same throughout the cruise.

On that note, we ordered a few things my parents suggested as they had visited Savor for lunch on a few occasions.  They recommended the Popcorn Shrimp as well as the Stuffed Potato Skins.  I thought the popcorn shrimp was pretty decent for what it was.  The shrimp were fairly large and the breading wasn't too thick.  It was still crispy and not overly greasy.  It came with cocktail sauce and also a jalapeno & cornichon dip (fancy tartar sauce).  Their interpretation of potato skins was good in our opinion.  Normally, we'd find cheese and bacon stuffed inside, but they went with something much lighter in a crab salad accompanied by mixed greens on the side.  So really, it was more of a fluffy crab salad that was on top on a fried potato skin (which we didn't end up eating).  

For myself, I decided on the Roasted Tomato Soup with pesto macaroni and crème fraîche.  I would have to say the NCL Bliss had a strong soup game.  I don't think I had one that wasn't good.  It applied to the tomato soup as well.  Exhibiting plenty of depth and rich flavors, the soup was smooth with a balanced amount of tanginess and sweetness.  The dollop of crème fraîche added a welcomed creaminess.  Even the macaroni was well-executed with and al dente herbaceousness.   Although haphazardly plated, the Cajun Shrimp Salad was pretty solid.  The plump shrimp were meaty with a sweet snap.  There was enough seasoning for some light spice and saltiness.  Underneath, the combination of arugula, radish and red onion was tossed in a sage vinaigrette.  I found it to be tangy with a bit of earthiness.

We had one last simple appie before our larger plates being the Chicken Nachos with cheddar, jalapeños, salsa, sour cream and guacamole.  The chips were similar to the ones found at The Local, so they were more crunchy and firm.  We much preferred the ones we had at Margaritaville.  Anyways, nothing particularly interesting here other than the pieces of chicken, which were a bit dry.  I guess this was okay if you were craving nachos, but the other appies were better in my opinion.  Off to the entrees, Viv went for the Shrimp Arrabiata with penne, spicy tomato sauce, black olives, parmigiano-reggiano and basil oil.  In terms of texture, the penne pasta was all wrong being too thick and gummy.  On the other hand, the flavor was pretty good with a spicy tanginess.  The shrimp were good too with an appealing meatiness.

For myself, I ordered the Roasted Leg of Lamb with rosemary gravy, grilled red bell pepper, eggplant and zucchini.  As much as the lamb was prepared medium, the meat itself was not that tender.  Being sliced thin helped matters somewhat, but it was chewy in spots.  I did like the gravy though as it was woodsy and well-seasoned.  Veggies were nicely grilled too with a caramelized smokiness.  As for my son, he went straight for the Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf smothered in BBQ sauce.  At first glance, the darn thing looked more like a meat pie than meatloaf.  Alas, it was definitely a meat loaf that was a little on the denser side, yet was still fairly moist.  The bacon on the outside was rather fatty and not rendered enough.  Sweet and tangy, the BBQ sauce was a compliment.  On the side, we found a twice-baked potato and grilled eggplant.

Not being super creative, my daughter once again chose the Fish & Chips made of pollack and accompanied by the usual tartar sauce.  I'm not sure what I could possibly say about this as it was meh.  The fish looked and ate more like the frozen ones you'd find at the supermarket.  Don't get me wrong, it wasn't terrible as the fish was flaky and moist and the batter was crispy.  It is just the dish was very unremarkable.  The one at Margaritaville was much better (at an extra cost though).  Onto dessert, I thought the Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake was pretty solid.  It had all of the characteristics of a good baked cheesecake.  Rich and creamy, it was purposefully sweet where the topping of peanut butter cups added aroma and even more sweetness.  Not sure if the chocolate sauce was necessary though.  There was enough impact to go around already.

Last two desserts consisted of the Key Lime Parfait and the Crème Caramel.  I quite enjoyed the key lime parfait as it was smooth and full of key lime essence.  As such, it was refreshing and light.  It sat atop some vanilla cream and a sprinkle of ginger crisp.  Also smooth and creamy, the crème caramel was smoky sweet while topped with crisps and fresh berries.  Believe it or not, this lunch service yielded some of the better desserts of the cruise so far (although we had one more meal after).  In fact, if you were to ever go on an NCL cruise (after the Covid-19 pandemic is over), doing at least one lunch service at Savor (or Taste) would be an okay alternative to the buffet.  However, have tempered expectations as the food ain't anything special.

The Good:
- Sit-down meal instead of the buffet
- Decent desserts
- Decent appies

The Bad:
- Decent, but not great either

Manhattan Room (NCL Bliss)

Here we are, back to the regular I guess.  Yep, another main dining room aboard the NCL Bliss.  However, this was the largest and most well-situated dining space on the ship.  Located at the back of the ship on deck 7, it still served the same menu as Taste and Savor.  It just did it with a bit more flair.  We ended up here after a decent meal at Taste the night before.  We were seated near the window had the view of the water as well as natural light.  I found it a bit louder and more energetic as the dining room was full.

For our appies, I decided to go fairly simple in the Avocado Hummus served with crispy pita thins and a cup of vegetable sticks. I may have missed something here, but there wasn't a whole lot of avocado in the hummus.  It ate like a regular hummus.  Not bad really as it was creamy with some texture, garlickiness and acidity.  The pita was actually more fluffy than crispy, which was fine by me.  Veggies were fresh and went well with the hummus.  My son had the Italian Beef Meatballs with spicy marinara sauce and parmesan cheese.  Pretty standard stuff where it was still decent.  The meatballs were juicy and moist with a good amount of char on the outside.  This added smokiness while the sauce did live up to the promise of being spicy (it just wasn't very spicy, that's all).

The 2 soups on the menu for the night were Chicken and Matzo Ball as well as Cream of Asparagus. Surprisingly, the matzo ball itself was pretty good.  We weren't expecting much as even some Jewish delis cannot even nail a good matzo ball.  However, the one here was fluffy while not being too much so.  I'm not sure if they used any egg, but it sure seemed like it.  The broth itself was a touch salty and in need of more natural chicken essence, but it was fine and we liked the veggies.  As for the cream of asparagus, it was indeed rich but not heavy.  It was in a beautiful shade of green which made it appetizing . The topping of toasted hazelnuts were a nice textural contrast as well as adding an aromatic nuttiness.  There was plenty of asparagus flavor which was elevated by just the right amount of seasoning.

Onto our mains, the best of the bunch had to be the Braised Lamb Shank with roasted carrots, shallots and rosemary potatoes.  Large and cooked perfectly, the meat fell off the bone easily and was uniformly tender throughout.  Normally, the shank can be dry in spots, but not this one. The gelatinous meat was very moist and well-seasoned.  Even the sides were on point with all three veggies being fully cooked while still retaining a firm exterior texture.  Large and robust, the Herb Crusted Rotisserie Chicken was serviceable.  Naturally, the dark meat was much more juicy and tender than the breast meat.  With that being said, the breast meat wasn't exactly dry either.  We liked how the skin was fairly well-rendered and seasoned.   The mashed potatoes were creamy and the broccoli wasn't horribly overcooked either. 

We also had 2 fish entrees including the Broiled Lemon Pepper Coalfish with Cajun roasted potatoes and creamed leek.  This dish was mostly average as the fish was a touch overdone.  It was nicely seasoned though where the lemon pepper was noticeable.  The best part of the dish was the creamed leek as it was aromatic and indeed creamy.  Not particularly Cajun-tasting, the potatoes at the very least were tender and browned.  Similarly to the one at Taste, the Breaded Flounder Fillet was essentially the same except a bit thicker.  As such, it was more moist.  The breading was nicely browned and crispy while not being overly greasy.  Nothing amazing, but well-executed nonetheless.

Another classic "available everyday" entree was the 3-Cheese Baked Ziti with parmesan, mozzarella and ricotta cheese.  This was similar to the one found at The Local, but done much better.  First of all, there was actually enough sauce which wasn't watery.  Second, the pasta was al dente, but not hard.  Hence, it ate more like a uniform dish rather than feeling like it was thrown altogether (which this dish still was, but better).  Something that sounded rather tasty was the Sauteed Beef Strips with chimichurri sauce.  I wouldn't say it was as flavorful as the description, yet at the same time, it wasn't bland either.  The beef was sufficiently tender and the roasted veggies were still vibrant.  It sat atop a fluffy cilantro rice that was mild (which was a good thing).

Moving onto the sweets, the that caught my attention was the Snicker's Pound Cake consisting of Snicker's pieces, vanilla ice cream, white chocolate curls and fresh strawberries.  So one would assume this was super sweet and yep, they wouldn't be wrong either.  I still enjoyed it since the pound cake was moist and I do like Snickers.  I can see how some people would find it too sugary though.  Something less sweet and also not as sweet was the Chocolate Eclairs with vanilla custard and chocolate glaze. I found the choux pastry to be on the drier side but light.  Vanilla custard was semi-sweet while the chocolate glaze was fairly sweet.  Yet as mentioned, it was nowhere as sugary as the pound cake.

The last 2 sweets included the Warm Banana Souffle and Mexican Chocolate Cake.  As evidenced in the picture, the souffle was pretty sad-looking.  It was still light and fluffy despite not rising much.  I'm not a huge fan of banana desserts, so the flavor was meh for me.  I did enjoy the Mexican chocolate cake though as it was moist and rich without being too heavy.  It was on the sweeter side due to the dulce de leche.  Overall, this meal was okay, but more on the "meh" side.  Considering it was no extra charge, it did the job.  We loved the dining space though as it was classy and spacious.  Definitely better atmosphere than Taste and Savor.

The Good:
- Classy dining room
- Nicest view of the 3 main dining rooms
- It's included

The Bad:
- Food was okay, but not memorable