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The new Koningsdam represents a culinary leap for Holland America Line (HAL), with top honors going to its Lido buffet and alternative dining venues, which are as outstanding as they are inventive.
Culinary Arts Center
Gerald Mosslinger, former vice president of food and beverage services for HAL (in mid-November, Mosslinger was appointed vice president of hotel operations for Seabourn Cruise Line), notes that Koningsdam is the first to debut the new Culinary Arts Center, originally a pioneer in bringing celebrity chefs onboard to offer passengers cooking classes and other culinary experiences. The venue has been expanded from a theater-style demonstration kitchen to a hands-on instructional center and exceptional dining venue.
“The original Culinary Arts Center was not able to serve food,” Mosslinger said. “To advance to the new level that debuted on Koningsdam in April, we had to pass rigorous regulations; now people can eat what they cook.”
Microgreens flourish under purple grow lights just outside the center, where the emphasis is on organic, healthful cuisine that is so delicious that guests clamor for the recipes at the end of the meal. With the help of large mirrors, a viewing screen and an open kitchen, chefs prepare the evening’s dishes in full view of guests. One charismatic chef provides a running commentary, welcoming questions at any time.
The written menu doesn’t quite impart the “ooh” quality of the food: roasted heritage carrot soup; herb-crusted beef bavette; pan-fried sea trout; and pumpkin ricotta parcels. The artisanal cuisine is paired with organic chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon from Snoqualmie Vineyards. The meal is topped off with petit fours pops that are as charming as they are delicious.
The ship’s Lido buffet has a mind-boggling selection of foods — definitely one of the most extensive in the fleet.
Breakfast includes all the usual choices, plus salads, several kinds of beans, yogurts, beautifully presented grains and fruits, fish, seafood, cold cuts and much more.
At lunchtime, offerings range from hot and cold entrees to vegetarian and carvery selections, as well as fish, cheeses and excellent desserts. There’s sushi, a create-your-own pasta bar, a variety of salads and whole sections dedicated to healthful dining and dishes from around the world.
This is the Pacific Northwest at sea, where boutique regional wines pair with a selection of steaks and seafood choices. But vegetarians are by no means forgotten: The menu features baked stuffed eggplant with creamy polenta; wild mushroom ravioli; and roasted pumpkin risotto. Desserts include a fresh take on baked Alaska and warm chocolate volcano cake.
Sel de Mer
Sel de Mer is the pet project of master chef Rudi Sodamin, chairman of HAL’s Culinary Council. The concept started as a bistro, but turned into a high-end seafood specialty restaurant with a few nods to traditional French brasserie fare.
Meals begin with fresh whole baguettes on the table, so guests literally break bread together, which also breaks the ice. Entrees range from Maine lobster to fresh fish grilled, steamed or pan-fried and served with a choice of sauces. Meat dishes include classics such as steak frites and coq au vin. Among the fabulous desserts: cloudlike profiteroles dripping with dark chocolate sauce.
One couple proudly told me that they had been on the ship for two weeks and had eaten at Tamarind on no less than 13 occasions. I could certainly understand: The level of both the restaurant’s cuisine and its presentation is truly outstanding. Black and silver organically shaped tableware showcases appetizers such as Indonesian-style “laksa” soup (tofu, quail egg, scallions, snow peas, bean sprouts, cilantro and vermicelli noodles in red curry-coconut milk broth) and the Trail of Spices Satay Sampler, with Malaysian spiced lamb, Chinese pork, Thai spiced beef, Indonesian spiced chicken, Vietnamese spiced shrimp, Asian pickled vegetables and traditional dipping sauces.
For entrees, diners choose among dishes such as wasabi-and-soy-encrusted beef tenderloin served on an oak plank, tempura vegetables that are works of art and sushi in all imaginable combinations. Desserts include Thai mini doughnuts with chocolate, mango and ginger sauces.