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Travel Diary: Food and Drink On Cruise

Thursday January 31, 2019


Lunch at the buffet was okay, but since I primarily eat salad, never bad when I bring my own balsamico from Italy, is a function of the ingredients put out and today they were not the best. It is hard to understand why the salad bars, there are two, change from day to day.

Another 2nd place finish in the poker tournament for me. The winner for the last two days is a woman from Miami who is quite a good player, plays a lot at home and played in the World Series of Poker lasting into the third day. That was not good enough to get into the money, but it is indicative that she is a good player.

Dinner was at the Polo Grill with the couple we first met when the General Manager hosts three couples. The appreciated my 90 L’Angelus which is really a great wine. BGM has dinner nailed down---shrimp scampi and chicken, but I usually get a shrimp or two and I did not last night. I had onion soup and lamb chops again but had three (an order and a half instead to two which come in the standard order.

The man had the small cut of the roast beef with the bone and it was still huge. He ordered horseradish with it and they brought enough for an army. I took some for both my baked potato and also ate some with the lamb. It is not very strong but very good.

The woman keeps kosher and had a kosher veal chop which looks great and she says is great. It was a quite a big piece of meat. We learned that there are about 30 passengers on the boat who keep kosher.

Friday February 1. Our second day at sea on the way to Hawaii. Water very rough and lots of people got sick, particularly those in the front of the ship. Our cabin is at the very back so we were not as bad off. However, two of our big dresser draws came totally out of the wall. In our living room all liquor bottles we are given for each segment, the fancy tequila and rum we port in prior ports fell on the floor. Many bottles of the champagne we brought on board which the cruise line put in a set of drawers in our living room fell—in fact the whole dresser toppled over. Miraculously, not a thing was broken primarily because the floor are carpeted in the area where everything fell.

There were not enough players for the poker game so I just went back to the room while BGM took her yoga lesson.

Oceania had a cocktail party beginning at 5:45 during which all drinks were free without exception including the Crown Royal which I drink.

Because we had gone out to dinner the previous night, and made a date for dinner the next night, BGM stayed in the room and I had dinner in the Polo Grill with Roberto and Damien the head of food and beverage and the General Manager. It was a very good dinner, the service could not have been better, of course, and they loved the 85 Mouton I brought. They are both charming, smart, and, of course, have seen most of the world. When I bring wine that they share, I never see the bill for the corkage.

BGM was already asleep when I got back to the cabin as we closed down the restaurant. There was another time change last night as we head further west so we are now four hours earlier that the East Coast. That means the Super Bowl will start for us at 2:30.

Had dinner at Polo Grill, more fully described below, with a very nice couple from Toronto. She is the one teaching BGM yoga, as she is a professional yoga instructor and he is a very successful real estate lawyer. This is their second around the world cruise. Unfortunately, he is quite ill and they may need to leave the cruise for medical reasons. We hope they can stay on the cruise both for altruistic and personal reasons. We stayed at dinner from 7:30 until about 9:45 so we blew the opportunity to see the show which starts at 9:30. Probably, BGM would not have made it anyway, so nothing really lost.

We brought a bottle of 85 Haut Brion. It was unbelievable and I had to send for a second bottle. The wine steward, very knowledgeable, said it was the best wine he had tasted so far of what I brought on board, and maybe the best wine he had ever tasted. I brought six bottles so used one third of what I brought. Emailed son Charles to try to find some more to bring on board when family joins us in Rome. Although we brought our limit of wine allowed by Oceania, I talked with the head wine steward with whom we have plans to spend the entire day when we get to Papeete, and I will not have a problem bringing the extra wine. We always give him some of our wine, and he keeps our corks.

BGM’s dinner never varies---shrimp scampi and chicken. For the last two dinners, I had eaten onion soup and very good lamb chops. However, not wanting to eat the more highly caloric soup or meat each time, I looked at the menu and was glad I did.

Reasoning that the head chef was from Palermo, having experienced the great Sicilian food at the party given earlier, and knowing that sword fish was the most popular dish in Sicily, when I saw sword fish on the menu, I ordered it---terrific, with a very tasty multi spice sauce on the side. It was not that large a portion so I at BGM’s dark meat of her chicken which she generally leaves. Next time, I will order a double portion. (when ordering the lamb chips one gets two which is really not enough so I started ordering three chops. The general manager Damien did the same thing)

Instead of the onion soup, I ordered a tomato and onion salad and fixed it up with some anchovy, blue cheese crumble and three cut up shrimp. I had it with their vinegar and a little oil and it was very good—more than a sufficient substitute.

Oceania through a Super Bowl party that had the typical food—hamburgers, hot dogs, very good looking but deeply fried chicken wings, fajitas (the guacamole is always good on the ship), baked potato and an assortment of desserts. There was also popcorn and pretzels and a few other things. We took a look, had some popcorn and pretzel, and I had some guacamole and the meat from the fajita and then we went back to our cabin to watch the game. Had some Comte we bought in L.A., some very good hummus we bought in Puerto Valarte and some seafood salad I took from the lunch buffet. Served to our six guests champagne (a bottle of our Ruinart Rose and a bottle of Pommery given to us by Oceania. BGM had no dinner and I went to buffet where had some sushi and lobster tails. Nothing of special interest in terms of food and drink.

On our fifth day at sea, and given that we would be in Hawaii for the next three days which will included two food related tours, we made no meal plans. I had my customary breakfast and just BGM and I had lunch. The buffet had quite a good seafood them, and just outside by the pool at Waves, they had what they called “a European Barbecue”. Included were the ribs which I think is my single favorite dish.

For dinner I had room service and my first turkey burger which was very good, maybe because I ate a roll for the first time on the cruise. BGM had her customary snacks. Probably wise since I will be weighed before I get on the helicopter Tuesday morning.

Tuesday’s so called “lunch” on our Oceania tour, which otherwise was fantastic, was a turkey sandwich, not very good, a bottle of water and a small bags of chips. There was so little to eat that BGM agreed to have dinner when we got back to the ship.

Dinner was at the Polo Grill which we may the last minute. We had no problem getting in because virtually everyone was at the Buffet where they had a great Chinese New Year’s Dinner which we visited after our very good customary dinner at Polo. The swordfish is really good, but not a good as the Peking Duck and eggplant, and dumpling I tasted after dinner. BGM accompanied me but, of course, would only look. Sometimes, they repeat a special dinner but not this one. I would have preferred going to this buffet but I knew that almost everything would not be something BGM would want to eat so I chose Polo where she could have shrimp and chicken.

Wednesday February 6, we had a tour of Honolulu’ Chinatown. Our tour started at Royal Kitchen for Baked Manapua which were delicious. Baked Manapua is a Hawaiian-Chinese fusion based on the Chinese Bao Buns. Traditionally,, these little buns are done steamed with Chinese sweet roast pork. At Royal Kitchen they do a baked version of the original along with several other fillings such as smoked kalua pork, chicken, curry chicken, and Portuguese Sausage. I tried them all and they were all very good. BGM liked the chicken and the curry chicken. There are food trucks throughout Hawaii who sell these buns which are very popular.

We went to Half Moon Dumplings where we had delicious shrimp dumplings. Then we walked through several markets and bakeries. We had some very good fresh chow funn noodles and great barbecue pork. BGM waited until we found a half a roast duck which I helped her eat. Also tried some very good chicken wings

Our final stop, just outside of Chinatown was at Lilha Bakery known for its Coco Puffs. However, everything in the place looked terrific. There is a counter which seats maybe 20 people and serves great looking food. There is almost always a waiting line. I loved the whole tour and could have spent the whole day walking around and eating one delicious thing after another. Not even I had much to eat the rest of the day and nothing notable.

Thursday February 7 we took our culinary tour of three houses. Notable, although I had only one bite was a potato chip for which Hawaii is known. I am not sure of what makes these chips different, but they are very famous and far and away the best I have ever tasted. We were also served great pineapple and several tasty breads which we both just tasted. We were served a very tasty small scoop of chicken salad on a delicious slice of Mango There was not a lot of food that we wanted to eat, but it was fine.

We went to Polo Grill at the last minute for dinner. Had a bottle of Ruinart Rose. The place was almost empty because most of the passengers were at the Chinese New Year’s dinner at the Terrace Buffet. We went down after dinner, and I tried a little duck, a dumpling and some very good Chinese noodles.

Friday February 8, at sea, we had quite a nice lunch as they served delicious lemongrass chicken. The offering at lunch were really very good, including a large baked ham which was served for the first time, but we just had salad and chicken. I had some sushi for dinner as there was nothing else that I cared to eat. There were many more good choices at lunch than there were at dinner.

Saturday February 9: salad for lunch. Standard dinner at Polo Grill with Amelia. Had the 90 Pichon for the first time and it was great. Tasted one potato chip that had been bought at Costco. Served a bottle of Comtes de Champagne in the cabin before dinner. Hard to find a better champagne. Not sure what they do in Hawaii but their potato chips are the best.

Sunday February 10. Dinner at the Polo Grill. The head chef prepared pasta Norma, the most famous of the Sicilian pastas. It is a great dish which I had as an appetizer. Do not like eating pasta at night, but felt I had no choice. Fortunately, the portion was not large. Tried the Maine lobster for the first time. It was just okay but I put the Norma sauce on it so it was quite tasty. Had another bottle of the 90 Pichon which is great.\

Monday February 11. Ate both meals in the Terrace (buffet). For lunch, they made chopped eggplant that BGM loves to make using her Grandmother’s recipe. The dish made on the ship was the best BGM has ever had outside of the homemade dish. Had them pack up a plate to put in the refrigerator in our cabin. Very good guinea hen for dinner.

Tuesday February 12. Ate at local hotel. Smoked fish and local salmon (white not pink) with pesto sauce. BGM had same fish. Leftover eggplant, better the second day and turkey burger in the cabin.

Wednesday February 13. Very good Indian buffet for lunch. Brought BGM three great carcasses from roasted chicken tandoori with bones. Otherwise, nothing of note.

Thursday February 14. Came back to the ship for lunch. Fresh Turkey which I had on a salad and brought BGM the carcass. Dinner at Polo Grill. Fresh Tuna bought that day in fresh in port so very good. Tuna was white and did not taste fishy. Had bottle of Comte de Champagne.

Friday February 15. Lunch at Terre-Mer in Papeete. Very good fresh tuna and mahi mahi. Had local beer. Dinner in cabin. Turkey burgers for me and left over turkey carcass for BGM

Saturday February 16. Lunch at Mai Kai in Bora Bora was really quite good. I had, without question the best tuna tataki I have ever had, and, again, grilled mahi mahi. BGM had a salad with shrimp and some green beans. Tuna, Mahi Mahi and shrimp are all caught locally so it is very good. Vanilla is grown in French Polynesia so, at the recommendation of our waitress, I had it with the fish and it was excellent. The tuna was served with a sesame sauce that was so good, it could be eaten with just about anything. BGM had a glass of Tahitian white wine which I tasted. It is more than drinkable. We bought two bottles of it in a wine store walking back to the ship from the restaurant.

Incredible as it may sound, coming back to the ship, I saw a hot dog stand. It turned out they were chicken dogs from the U.S. but the rolls were locally made and the various condiments, with the exception of Gulden’s Mustard were made by the vendor. I had one and it was a real treat—as good as any real hot dog.

Sunday February 17. Oceania had a very nice Sunday brunch. In addition to be able to order of the regular dining room menus, there was quite a good array for foods, fruit and dessets.

The specialty restaurant Toscana to which one can go only with reservations has dover sole on the menu. Of course, it has to be frozen but they do quite a good job of serving it although the portions are not that large and I order two. The had dover sole on the menu for dinner in both the main dining room and in the Terrace/buffet so I made plans to go to buffet with friends. (BGM had brunch so dinner was out of the question). I had said to the General Manager at the brunch that I was surprised because it is so difficult to serve dover sole to a lot of people. He assured me that they had a way of doing it.

So, I went up to have the sole and it was not out.I was told it was coming. Then, I went back and they had one piece which I took. It was not boned. W

The taste was fine, but when I went back for more, there was no more.

My opinion that Oceania could not put out dover sole in the same way other dishes were served on the buffet was based on what I learned many yeaqrs ago from the owner of one of my favorite all time restaurants Le Caravelle which was in mid town Manhattan and considered one of New York’s best restaurants. We frequented this restaurant countlessw times and became quite friendly with the owner and most of the staff.

I do not recall the price of the meal but it was a fixed price that was expensive, say $85 just for illustraton purposes. However, the restaurant would add a $15 or $20 supplement for the Dover Sole. I told the owner “just increase the fixed price of everything by $10 and stop “nickel and diming” diners wo wanted the sole.

He laughed and explained as follows: he was not charging more for the dover sole to make more money. He was doing so because there were a lot of diners, who as a matter of principle when dining at a high fixed price, not to pay additional sums. He said that he did not have room in his kitchen to put out as many portions as would be ordered if he did not supplement the price.

Monday February 18. Nothing remarkable in terms of food or wine. Had bottle of Ruinart Rose with dinner at Polo Grill.

Tuesday February 19. Less than nothing remarkable as did not eat in port and even I am not interested in thinking about what was eaten and not eaten yesterday.

Lost Wednesday February 20 due to crossing International Dateline

Thursday February 21. Went to Toscana with Roberto, head of food and beverage, and Damien, the General Manaager.83 Palmer was great as was Louise Champagne. BGM had halibut and said it was her favorite meal of the trip. I had the lamb which was fine but not as good as Polo Grill.

Friday February 22. One of my favorite, if not “the” favorite meal I have had, certainly the best lunch. At the recommendation of a local Figi merchant, we had lunch at an Indian restaurant in a food court on the 4th floor of a department store. The best nan bread I have ever eaten and great Saag. Great rice, with an entire hard boiled egg on top, shrimp in a red sauce so hot that i could hardly swallow it, but it was great, and a delicious chicken dish. We ran into all of the butlers from the ship who were also eating food from this place, and the head butler is the one who ordered for us. Ate so much, dinner was some slices of watermelon. Cost of this feast was $20. This is was the best Indian food I have had outside of Southern India.

Saturday February 23. Nothing of note.

Sunday February 24. Nice dinner at Polo Grill with Michael and Dana, Gary and Alex. 90 L’Angelus was great. Had roasted potatoes from Toscana. No problem bringing me a dish from the other restaurant. We prefer the ambience of Polo but some of the dishes at Toscana are very good and now I know we can have those dishes at Polo.

Monday February 25. We had a very nice lunch at The Duke of Marlborough Hotel on the waterfront in Russell, Bay of Islands. BGM had half a very good roast chicken and I had an excellent bouillabaisse. It was not a huge portion—I could have eaten a second one easily, but the huge mussels were the best I have ever had, the tuna was fresh, the white fish was very good, and the tomato sauce, with the help of a little tobasco was so good that I was tempted to just order a cup of the sauce.

Dinner was turkey burgers in the room.

Tuesday February 26. A truly memorable lunch at Soul. We were not crazy about the six different New Zealand wines we tried, but the food and the atmosphere were really great. We each had a different red snapper dish. The whole red snapper had a great white wine sauce, with fried capers and the best roasted almonds I have ever had on any kind of almondine preparation. I had a snapper filet with a great red sauce that had a little kick to it. BGM and I shared the two dishes.

The first course, smoked fish BGM and heirloom tomatoes for me were first rate. BGM said “hold the bread” which was a mistake.

I saw some people eating what I thought were mussels. New Zealand mussels are great, I had a few the day before in my bouillabaisse, but the waiter, Des, who was terrific said they were clams. I ordered some. The clams came with as good a pasta as I have ever had even though we live in Italy several months a year. The sauce was to die for. It was such a great dish that I asked to meet the chef.

The chef turned out to be from Ireland. He has been in New Zealand for 9 years. His name is Gavin Doyle and he is a superstar. We go to Dublin, where he trained and was have the name of the restaurant he recommended to us. We visited with him for about half an hour.

The pasta, a thick noodle, was homemade. The secret is that it is made with special fresh eggs. The sauce was as good as any I have ever had. BGM tasted it, loved it, but then we found out that there was some kind of pork byproduct in it so she stopped eating it. She did try the pasta and agreed it was phenomenal. Almost everything on the menu is fresh and made in house. The atmosphere is great. We sat outside overlooking the water. This is a great place to go and can match just about any fish restaurant in the world. Not surprisingly, there was no dinner for either of us as we did not finish lunch until 4 p.m.

Wednesday February 27: Dinner at The Terrace was phenomenal. There were 7 varieties of great fresh mussels, all kinds of lamb and other fresh fish dishes, and great roasted potatoes made Italian style. I do not eat desserts but the ones put out for this dinner looked exceptional and the people with whom I had dinner confirmed they were great. I ate only the mussels, lamb lollipops and the roasted potatoes all of which were great.

Thursday February 28: The lunch on our food, wine and art tour of Wellington was, essentially, composed of chocolate, coffee, scones, gelato fish, cheese and wine. All of the places we went were unique to Wellington. Each had only one location .

Although it is counter-intuitive, we went first to a chocolate factory. The Wellington Chocolate Factory, where we bought large bars and were given two small bags of different kinds of chocolate, uses only the very best chocolate beans in the world and makes all of its chocolate very carefully. We had a lecture about how chocolate is made. The ten of us on the tour sat at a table and were given tastes, first of the bean itself, and then of many kinds of chocolate, mostly dark chocolate but some milk chocolate.

We then we went to a coffee shop that, in addition to several kinds of coffee, served some unique sweets, and the best scones everyone in our group had ever tasted. When we walked in, there were two huge plates of the sweets, and they were good enough that what was not eaten was wrapped up and taken back to the ship by some of our fellow passengers—not us. The scones, which were toasted had a great melted cheese and just enough jalapeno pepper to give the scones a fantastic taste. Even those who do not like spicy food, loved these scones. Walking around the store, I saw other homemade dishes displayed, many of which I would have bought in a minute. All the ingredients were fresh, from New Zealand and made on the premises.

Neither BGM nor I tasted the homemade gelato at our next stop, but we saw how it was made. The other people on the tour liked the various flavors they had. Living in Florence several months a year, we know how to tell what gelato that is home made (it lies flat and if not all puffed up) and we know the best places to go. The temperature the gelato is kept is crucial. It cannot be served too cold. Many of the readers know that, when we are in Florence, we go to the Four Seasons every Sunday for what I think is the best brunch in the world. The chef has a special guest each Sunday. Sometimes, it is a purveyor of special cheeses, or of Sicilian pastries, or various jams, just to give a few examples. However, the most memorable was when the world champion gelato maker (actually he is the only one in the world who has won the championship twice) came to the Four Seasons.

There are at least a dozen or so first rate gelato places in Florence but this champion, who is from San Gimignano makes gelato so great that even BGM had more than a taste of what he brought to the Four Seasons. The chef had told us that no matter what we had to have this man’s gelato because we would never taste anything better anytime anywhere and he was right. When I asked the gelato maker how he selected the five flavors he elected to bring to the brunch, he said “all of my flavors are like my children” so he made a random selection. I am confident that what this store in Wellington produced was very good, but it could not be as good as what we have had in Italy on multiple occasions.

Lunch was next and was quite good although I was looking for a kielbasa stand when it was over despite tasting the chocolates and eat a scone. We had a choice of first course and a second course. There were two wines and two beers to choose from. The first course was either a tomato salad with a great fried cheese which I had with a good pilsner beer, or a fish called whitebait which BGM had with a white wine that was okay. Her fish was over a really good celery puree that was as good as the best mashed potatoes. One could have duck confit or fish for the second course. We both had the fish, some kind of snapper, which was very good, but not nearly as good as either fish dish we had had in Auckland at Soul, and the portion was barely enough for a bulimic midget on a diet.

The last eating experience was in a grocery store, sort of Wellington’s version of a mini Costco where we were served various good local cheeses. Fruits etc. We like going into grocery stores in the various ports and we had time to look around. I have been buying the local hot sauce in a lot of ports and I bought one here. There was a decent price on Veuve so we bought a bottle along with some cheese so we could spend the rest of our New Zealand cash.

Dinner on the ship was the same great dinner as the night before, but this time I just went up to get a sampling of the mussels to have with my customary turkey burger (actually two with one roll) in the cabin.

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