Archive for the ‘cruise’Category

Oceania’s ‘Marina’ features fine dining five ways

Grand dining room on Oceania's Marina
Experienced cruisers expect a Grand Dining Room—and that’s exactly what Oceania Cruises (oceaniacruises.com) calls its spacious and glittering Continental dining venue. It has the requisite fine linens and crystal chandeliers. A full armada of water and wine glasses gleam on the tables. The menu borrows a little from Italy and a lot from France. It includes a few Jacques Pepin signature bistro dishes (steak-frites, roast chicken, poached salmon). Or diners can go fancier with lobster bisque and venison medallions. The menu even proffers spa-inspired “healthy living choices,” such as steamed artichokes, chicken consommé, and simple roasted fish. In short, there’s a little something for everyone in a very pleasant and lively room with excellent service. Although the GDR is larger than most other restaurants on board the Marina, it is only one of many fine dining choices.

Jacques aboard Oceania Marina

Dinner with a French accent at Jacques

Although he consults to the entire Oceania dining program, Jacques Pepin’s personal stamp is most pronounced in the restaurant that bears his name. Jacques serves what might be called the greatest hits of French cuisine, from baked escargots with garlic butter or foie gras terrine with candied black cherries to bouillabaisse or baked onion soup topped with stringy Gruyère. The classic preparation of Dover sole makes superb dinner theater—the waiter fillets it tableside before serving. The dessert menu is a delectable class in French pronunciation: baba au rhum, pot de crème, mousse au chocolat, tarte au pommes, and—of course—crème brûlée a la lavande.

Photographing the lobster at Toscana on Oceania Marina

Mangiare come un italiano at Toscana

The menu at Toscana is nominally Tuscan, but the kitchen balances the Tuscan grill with a choice of no less than ten pastas. They are all beautifully executed in generous portions, making them suitable as secondi instead of primi. The risottos (asparagus or lobster) arrive with the rice slightly soupy and al dente. (Bravo!) The grilled veal chop with wild mushrooms is a quintessential representation of the Tuscan countryside. One of the most popular dishes at Toscana (besides the incredible breads) is the lobster fra diavolo served over fresh tagliolini. Presentation is so striking that even in the romantically low light, it’s hard to resist taking a photo (above).

Polo Grill on Oceania Marina

Polo Grill celebrates American steakhouse

The steakhouse is possibly North America’s greatest contribution to the worldwide constellation of restaurant types. Polo Grill is arguably better than many steakhouses found back on land. It serves generously cut and perfectly cooked beef, veal, and lamb. (Three people at our table one night ordered filet mignon—one medium rare, one medium, and one medium well. They arrived at the table exactly cooked, which is no mean feat since meat keeps cooking between kitchen and table.) Polo also has the full range of rich salads—Caesar prepared at the table among them.

Beet appetizer at Polo Grill on Oceania Marina

But Polo truly excels in the attention paid to sides and appetizers. The napoleon of roasted beet layered with garlic goat cheese and dressed with a Champagne and truffle vinaigrette (above) was a work of art that tasted as good as it looked. Side dishes even included lobster mac and cheese. Huge porterhouse steaks are a big hit at Polo, but it seemed like every table had at least one person wearing a bib and a satisfied smile while tucking into an entire steamed Maine lobster.

Red Ginger dining room on Oceania Marina

Red Ginger conjures flavors of East Asia

All the specialty restaurants can be booked by advance reservation, and some passengers make those reservations when they buy their cruise tickets. As a result, Red Ginger is one of the hardest reservations to score aboard the Marina. With glittering gold walls, a proliferation of shiny lacquer, and the dramatic spot lighting, it is also perhaps the most glam of the shipboard dining rooms. The sharing plate of appetizers called “Skewers, Sushi, and Tempura” sets the pan-Asian tone for the menu. It’s easy to mix a Southeast Asian spicy duck and watermelon salad with a second starter of Japanese tuna tataki, as shown below.

Red Ginger plates on Oceania Marina

The main courses at Red Ginger are similarly international. They range from rib-eye beef prepared as Korean bulgogi to a roasted rack of lamb rubbed with seven spices. The lobster that’s such a big hit in Polo, Toscana, and even Jacques, makes a cameo at Red Ginger as lobster pad Thai. The tamarind and lime make it sweet and tart at the same time—an excellent way to treat the rich flavor of lobster. One of the culinary classes focuses on Red Ginger favorites. The lobster pad Thai recipe below is exactly as it’s taught.

Lobster pad Thai at Red Ginger on Oceania Marina

LOBSTER PAD THAI


Serves 2

Ingredients

For sauce

1/4 cup tamarind juice
2 tablespoons each palm sugar, fish sauce, nam prik pao (Thai chili-garlic paste), and creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon ginger juice

For pad Thai

2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons ginger juice
1/4 cup scallions, thinly sliced on diagonal
1/4 cup leeks, thinly sliced on diagonal
1 cup lobster pieces
2 eggs, beaten
4 cups rice noodles, softened
1/2 cup bean sprouts
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
4 lime wedges
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts

Directions

Whisk together all the sauce ingredients until smooth. If needed, thin with warm water. Reserve.

Line up the ingredients in order, with 1/2 cup of the prepared sauce between the eggs and the noodles.

In a wok over high, heat the peanut oil. When the oil is hot, begin adding the garlic, ginger, scallions and leeks to the wok in sequence. Use two spatulas and continuously toss to cook evenly and keep ingredients from burning at high heat. Slide the vegetables up the sides of the wok and sear the lobster. Slide the lobster up the sides of the wok and add the egg to scramble.

When the egg is just cooked, bring back the vegetables and lobster and add the ½ cup of the sauce, noodles and bean sprouts. Using the spatulas, gently toss the ingredients to cover them with sauce, adding more if needed, being careful not to break the noodles. When heated through, divide among two serving dishes. Finish with the sesame oil, lime wedges and peanuts.

24

03 2017

Jumping ship for a taste of the port

Ana Svoboda shows ginger at Blue Harbor Tropical Arboretum, part of an Oceania shore excursion
When Oceania Cruises (oceaniacruises.com) culinary director Kathryn Kelly designs the culinary shore excursions for Marina and her sister ships, she asks herself one essential question. “Where would I like to go if I had one day in this port?” she says. In Europe, the answer might be a visit to a winery or a three-star restaurant. In the western Caribbean, culinary expeditions are more likely to focus on local foods and foodways.

Arboretum looks to future of Roatán food


We joined Kelly for the “Honduran Farm & Ocean to Table Experience.” This shore excursion on the island of Roatán starts at the Blue Harbor Tropical Arboretum (blueharbortropicalarboretum.com). The plantings on this 160-acre property represent most of the economically significant plants of the growing zone, including several species of fruit trees. Walking through the grounds, general manager Ana Svoboda (above with ginger) points out familiar fruits like guava and mango and less familiar cacao, mangosteen, and custard apple. (Red cacao and coffee are among the key crops in Honduras, but coffee grows poorly at low altitude, so it’s not part of the arboretum.)

Lettuce at Blue Harbor Tropical Arboretum's hydroponic farm

While the plantings represent Roatán’s botanical past, the facility’s extensive hydroponic farm is an investment in the future. Roatán is part of the MesoAmerican Reef system, second only to the Great Barrier Reef, so fresh water is at a premium. Hydroponics uses only 10 percent of the water required for conventional farming.

The farm focuses on high-value lettuce, other salad greens, and herbs. Annual production is 70-80,000 heads of lettuce alone. By growing in waist-height “rows,” the farm maximizes its succession crops. It harvests every 53 days. The organic produce—Blue Harbor uses organic fertilizers and no pesticides—is sold to local restaurants and supermarkets, and some to nearby islands. The facility also sells cashews and citrus fruits from the arboretum groves.

Chef Samuel on Oceania shore excursion in Honduras

Going big on shrimp for cooking


Roatán is known for its succulent pink shrimp. The large, sweet, and almost iridescent species played a starring role in the cooking demonstration given by Chef Samuel, a quiet mountain of a man, on Big French Key. The chef bought them from fishermen setting their nets about 70 miles south. To show the versatility of the shrimp, he prepared them three ways.

He first made cocktail shrimp with an accompanying sauce. He prepared the shrimp by peeling away the shell, leaving just the tip of the tail. He cut down the groove in the back and removed and discarded the “vein,” or alimentary tract. He heated salted water to a boil, cut a large lime in half and squeezed half for its juice. He added both halves of the fruit to the water to cut the fishy flavor and aroma. The shrimp simmered just three minutes. The cocktail sauce was equally simple. He sautéed diced tomato, minced garlic, chopped onion, and parsley. When the mixture was cool, he added a small Scotch bonnet pepper and puréed in a blender.

Chef Samuel with homemade grater on Oceania shore excursion
His second preparation was garlic shrimp. In very hot oil in a frying pan, he quickly cooked some minced garlic to flavor the oil. The shrimp—again, shell off except for the tip of the tail—cooked up in just a minute or two.

As a final preparation, Chef Samuel made coconut shrimp. They were truly heavenly, in part because he grated a fresh coconut using a distinctive island-style grater. It consists of a large can punctured with nails to make sharp bumps, as shown in the photo above. It made quick work of the coconut. Chef Samuel dipped the shrimp in beer and milk-based tempura batter, rolled them in coconut shards, and deep-fried them in 375°F oil until golden brown. Wow!

Coconut shrim in Honduras on Oceania shore excursion

Since most of us don’t have a deep fryer at home, Chef Kathryn Kelly has come up with this pan-fried version.

CHEF KELLY’S COCONUT SHRIMP


Serves 2

Ingredients

1/2 cup chickpea flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup bread crumbs (preferably panko)
1/4 cup dry shredded coconut
6 to 8 jumbo shrimp (10 to 12 count), deveined, whole with tail on
Sunflower or peanut oil, for frying
Lime wedges

Directions

Set out three small, shallow aluminum trays. Pour the flour in the first tray, the beaten eggs in the second, and the bread crumbs and coconut flakes in the third. Dry the shrimp with paper towels.

Dredge a shrimp in the flour. Gently shake off any excess. Dip the shrimp in the egg, turning the shrimp so it is completely coated. Dip the shrimp in the bread crumb and coconut mix, turning and pressing gently so it is completely coated. Repeat with the other shrimp. Allow the coated shrimp to rest and set for 15 minutes.

Line a plate with paper towels. Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Oil depth should be half the thickness of the shrimp. When the oil is hot (365°F to 375°F), carefully place the shrimp in the pan and fry until the bottom halves are golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully turn the shrimp and fry until the other halves are golden brown, about 3 to 4 more minutes. Transfer the shrimp to the towel-lined plate to drain. Serve with chili garlic sauce (easily found at the grocery store), lime wedges on the side, and enjoy!

21

03 2017

When life gives you lemons, make limoncello cakes

Kathryn Kelly leads Oceania cooking class
“Acid is as important to a chef as a knife,” executive chef Kathryn Kelly (above) tells her culinary class aboard the Marina. “Use acid instead of salt to bring out the flavors in food.”

Kelly is such a believer in gastronomic acids that she builds an entire cooking class around the signature tart fruit of the Mediterranean: the lemon. She calls the class “Amore—Love of Lemons,” and it’s a zinger. In two hours, up to twenty-two students learn to make egg-lemon soup, limoncello, preserved lemons, fennel salad with preserved lemon, lemon risotto, chicken scallopine al limone, drunken limoncello cakes, and lemon-basil gelato.

When Oceania Cruises (oceaniacruises.com) decided to make food the centerpiece of their voyages, the founders knew they needed more than good fine-dining restaurants. In this age where every experience needs a DIY component to make it seem authentic, they committed to a full-fledged on-board cooking program. And they found just the right person to run it. Kelly was teaching at the Culinary Institute of America in 2010 when Oceania Cruises wooed her to serve as culinary enrichment director.

She designs and often leads culinary shore excursions as well as the cooking classes. When the ship is at sea, the center usually offers two classes per day. When it is docked, there’s usually only a single class. Since passengers can sign up for classes when they book their cruises, many classes are fully booked before the ship ever leaves port.

Cooking class aboard Oceania cruise

Intensive classroom experience


The state-of-the-art culinary education center has eleven combination prep and cooking stations, each of which will accommodate two students. The instructor—Kelly or another chef—demonstrates dishes at the front of the room where overhead mirrors and video screens allow every student to see what’s going on. Typically the teacher runs through a recipe, then sends the students back to their stations to execute.

Kelly notes that the popularity of the lemon class is exceeded only by the “Fish Master Class.” It teaches students how to handle six different fish and shellfish and prepare a striking dish with each. “A lot of people hesitate to cook fish at home,” Kelly says. “This class gives them the techniques and the confidence.”

The lemon class is full of bonuses—like a quick lesson in proper pan-frying technique when making the chicken scallopine with lemon and capers. “You want the oil just half the thickness of the meat. When you flip it over, no part gets double cooked and you don’t get a brown line down the middle.”

Or, when cooking risotto, she has every student bite down on a grain of rice at the eight and one-half minute mark. It provides a sensory memory of the point where the risotto is exactly half done. (Done properly, her risotto recipe cooks exactly seventeen minutes.)

The rustic little cakes for dessert are a special treat. She cautions that the thick dough should be placed roughly into the ramekins. “That way it cooks up with lots of holes and crannies to soak up the limoncello!”

Cook tests cakes in Oceania culinary class

DRUNKEN LIMONCELLO CAKES


Kelly says that she adapted this cake from her great aunt’s recipe. Any liqueur or liquor will suffice to make the soaking syrup, but limoncello is lighter and fresher than most.

Serves 4

Ingredients

Limoncello Syrup

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup limoncello

Cakes

1 tablespoon plus 4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 cup almond meal
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 cup fine semolina
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon

Directions

For Limoncello Syrup

In a small saucepan over medium, melt the sugar in the water. When cool, add the limoncello. Divide the simple syrup into four small soaking bowls, large enough to hold small cakes but not much larger.

For Cakes

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter four 6-ounce ramekins using 1 tablespoon of the butter. Cut parchment paper lifts (1-by-8-inch strips) and place two in each ramekin in a crisscross pattern.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond meal, flour, semolina and baking powder. In another medium bowl, mix the remaining 4 tablespoons butter, egg, vanilla, sugar and lemon zest. With a spatula, fold the wet mixture into the dry mixture and blend into a thick batter. Spoon one-quarter of the batter into each of the ramekins and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until thoroughly cooked (instant read thermometer registers 210°F in the center).

Soak the Cakes
Remove the cakes from the oven and allow them to cool slightly for 3 minutes. While they are still warm, but not hot, lift the cakes from the ramekins and place in the small bowls with the limoncello syrup mixture. Allow the cakes to soak up the syrup for 15 to 30 minutes.

To Serve
Lift the cakes from the bowls and place on small plates. Top with gelato. (Kelly makes lemon-basil gelato for hers.) Here’s how it looks:
cakes and gelato in Oceania cooking class

18

03 2017

Cruising with an appetite on Oceania Marina

Oceania Marina at dock in Key West
Despite an industry-wide upgrade to shipboard dining in recent years, few cruise lines dare to make the culinary experience a brand signature. But Oceania (oceaniacruises.com)—the middle sister in the Norwegian-Oceania-Regent family—has embraced the plate. We sailed the western Caribbean aboard Oceania’s Marina in February and can report that it was a tasty trip.

Oceania Marina galley
The Marina‘s galleys were designed before the rest of the ship. With a capacity for 1,250 passengers, she has the largest number of square feet of galley space per passenger of any comparably sized vessel afloat. That translates into a massive central galley and smaller galleys for each of the individual restaurants and for cabin service. Marina was originally planned at 54,000 gross tonnes, but the finished galleys pushed her over 60,000.

Master chef Frank Garanger aboard Oceania Marina
During our sailing, Marina had more than 140 cooks aboard. Jacques Pepin, the former personal chef of Charles de Gaulle, is the gastronomic godfather of the Oceania line, and contributed to the line’s culinary vision. Two chefs who are members of the prestigious Maîtres Cuisiniers de France (MCF) oversee the galleys directly. One of them, Frank Garanger (above), explained the organization. “We hire young cooks from all over the world and bring them up in the system of the classical kitchen,” he said. “It’s the same system you’d find in any five-star restaurant in Europe.”

Master chef Laurent Trias aboard Oceania Marina
Laurent Trias, also an MCF, showed us the library of more than 2,000 recipes. Binders fill shelf after shelf. Each recipe includes detailed directions and photo of how the finished dish should be plated. We did some quick math and realized that the galleys were producing about 25,000 individual meals each week.

Great taste cooked to order

bread basket at Toscano aboard Oceania Marina

Twenty-five cooks deal entirely with pastry, and the bread ovens aboard Marina would be the envy of many a bakery ashore. Working almost entirely with French flour, the bakers create all the baguettes, rustic loaves, beignets, croissants, muffins, and even bagels served morning, noon, and night at the various shipboard restaurants. (That’s the bread basket at Toscana pictured above.) Maybe getting to see the bakery skewed our perception, but we found breads and pastries uniformly superb throughout our voyage.

Dining room at Jacques aboard Oceania Marina

Even the offerings in the buffet restaurant (Terrace Cafe) are a cut above most cruise food. But Marina also has six fine-dining restaurants, including Jacques (pictured above), featuring the food of Jacques Pepin. Restaurant themes range from Italian to French country and steakhouse to pan-Asian. Only one—a wine and food tasting restaurant—carries a surcharge, though all require reservations. We’ll be writing about some of the options in a later post.

Fortunately, gastronomy is a participatory sport aboard Marina. The ship’s culinary center is a state-of-the-art culinary classroom for a hands-on cooking school at sea. Port excursions also include some culinary expeditions—foraging for local foods, visiting local restaurants, trying local dishes. (More to come on those subjects, too.)

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14

03 2017