Five Star Dining at Sea
Urban Girl Style!
Onboard the Carnival Magic, where the food is as plentiful as the drinks, my hopes of finding 5 star quality meals paired with 5 star quality service wasn't as far off as I had imagined. To my joy, and duly noted, what they are not serving is boring food. Although my travel on this large vessel did include the sometimes long lines just to get a made to order burrito, I was happy that I had the option. I had nothing but time on my hands anyway...I was on vacation!
The evenings proved more interesting than the mornings/afternoons; and we are talking about the food and not the entertainment. However, the daytime entertainment was questionable, but we will leave that for another day and another blog. Pulling myself out of bed in time for breakfast proved to be a feat, but I NEVER missed a meal at my assigned 8:15 p.m. time! One notable mention for the breakfast selection...the scrambled eggs were freakin' fabulous! I craved them every morning and found myself slightly irritated when I awoke and realized lunch service had started.
Dinner each evening, in short, was wonderful. Having multiple selections for each course and the option to choose as much or as little as you liked was both flexible and fun. If you didn't like it - try something else; if you loved it - order more! In the span of a few days, I had found my favorite....The "Chocolate Melting Cake" (see the recipe below). This wasn't your ordinary chocolate molten cake, but was something unique and so tasty I had it 3 nights in a row! Yeah, I know...but don't you know about the "cruise pass"? It's like a pass to eat all you want for 7 days straight with no regrets! Great idea, right? :-)
Settling for a change every now and then, with only a minor surcharge, we ventured out three times during the week. One night we tried the "Prime Steakhouse" and for a cool $30 per person you could choose your own cut of meat; literally. Our eyes were fixated on the waitress as she headed in our direction with a silver platter of beef. We were offered ribeyes (bone in or out), lamb chops, filet mignon, and everything in between. Another night we opted for the "Cucina del Capitano ("The Captain's Kitchen"), where we got an opportunity to sample the personal family recipes of the Captain. For only $12 per person, I had the biggest piece of Chicken Parmigiana you have ever seen, and that is saying a lot for us Texans where we are accustomed to huge portions! Check out my seven day dining experience in the slideshow below:
Last but not least, we had the amazing pleasure of taking part in a Chef Table dinner right in the middle of the galley. With the hustle and bustle going on in the kitchen on a cruise that feeds over 4,500 people per night, the waiters seemed to move in tandem. With only 12 seats available, we were lucky to have called as soon as they were accepting reservations. I am sure to the average person my steady back and forth pace while watching both the clock and phone waiting from 10:00 a.m. to come would seem a bit odd. But yes...perseverance paid off and I was in! The cost of the opportunity was $75 per person; actually less expensive than I have seen in previous years. However, the portions were smaller which may explain the decrease in cost.
Executive Chef Soumen Banerjee is from India and has been with Carnival for 12 years and before his stint there, worked in kitchens all over the world including those in Dubai and France. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures in the galley, but I will assure you of this...those were the prettiest plates I have ever seen! You almost didn't want to eat the food at all. I ate as though I were a child just learning to color staying within the lines and confines of each decoration and ingredient. During our experience we were given a tour of the galley and insight into how it all came together. Jaws dropped to the floor as Chef Banerjee ran through stats like the whopping 8,000 eggs the kitchen goes through every day! As each course was served it was described in detail as 6 chefs placed one plate in front of each of us. The dinner was great with the exception of the Food Network experts who swore they had the best kitchens and made the best food known to man! I enjoy a great "foodie" conversation (over food) just like the next person, but there is a difference between bragging and sharing. I directed my attention to those who were actually enjoying the food and experience versus critiquing it. Hey, if you don't like something, push it aside, but always respect the chef...lol! The dinner was comprised of 7 courses, including wine, and here was the menu:
Parmesan Core & Olive
Chorizo & dates, Piquillo Sofrito
Focaccia, Mascarphone Cream & Prosciutto Crudo
Langoustine & Sundried Tomato Jam Fritters
Tomatoes Our Way!
Aerated Tomato Juice, Cocoa Butter Coated, Chardonnay Poached
Tuna Banh Mi
Lemon Bread, Sesame Crisp, Miso Cream Avocado Gel
Caramelized, Butternut Squash, Sofrito
Spinach, Green Peas, Warm Turnip & Apple Juice
Herb Pesto, Cured Tomatoes, Carrots, Fava, Mushroom Earth, Condensed Beets
Slow Stewed Short Ribs, Potato Pebbles, Pumpkin Fudge, Tomato Dust
Chef in a Candy Shop
I was less impressed by my visit to a so-called authentic restaurant (The Pelican) on our stop in Montego Bay, Jamaica. If this is what they call "authentic", I'd rather stick to Tex-Mex! The "Curried Shrimp" left much to be desired and lacked the mustard flavor I enjoyed. Curry in Jamaica has become entrenched into the island’s cuisine and you can find it everywhere. Indian laborers, who came to Jamaica in the early 1830's, brought many aspects of their culture with them and this curry spice was one of them. Another one of my favorites is Jerk Chicken. I wasn't happy with this one either and found it dry and bland. Oh well, back to the ship!
Now, my stop in Cozumel was opposite of my Jamaican disappointments. I was initially a bit taken back by a Foursquare advertisement, but that quickly changed after checking in and receiving a 20% discount! Hey, works for me, I was sold, and this wasn't Tex-Mex. Flavorful sauces and homemade tortillas adorned our table, at the La Mission, immediately followed by the well-seasoned fajitas and cheesy enchiladas. Although different from what I am used to, I welcomed the change.
I think my journeys aboard cruise vessels in the past lacked a real appreciation for food and the dining experience. Or, maybe I just didn't care...good food is good food, right? I don't think that way anymore and left the cruise with great foodie memories. Every single ingredient used on that ship was fresh and everything was made from scratch. I am still amazed that they pull it off each and every day. I guess those are the benefits of running a tight shift. Of course, the cruise was fun too (smile), but how often do you get to dine at sea and have a 5 star meal every night? Well, I know where you can come close without breaking the bank! Two thumbs up to the chefs, cooks, and waiters onboard the Carnival Magic. You have just been swanked!
Chocolate Melting Cake
8 ounces of semisweet chocolate
1 cup (2 sticks) of butter
7 eggs, divided use
6 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 cup of flour
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Melt the chocolate and butter and cool for 10 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix four eggs with sugar. Whisk. Then add flour and whisk. Add the remaining three eggs and add the egg mixture to the chocolate mixture. Pour this entire mixture into individual ramekins. Bake until just done, about 15-20 minutes (interior will be melting). Serve with vanilla ice cream.
~ Urban Swank, Shanna "Urban Girl" Jones