Sherman's Food Adventures: La Cucina (NCL Bliss)

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


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