Cruising Cuisine – A Review

by artfuldiner on June 15, 2022

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Romantic, Wining and Dining

Azamara Journey -SuiteCruising, like other forms of travel, has its advantages and disadvantages. The major advantage is, of course, that you must endure the onerous rigors of unpacking only once. Also – not a minor consideration – is the fact that you need not worry about the possible consequences of indulging in a bit too much vino over dinner, as the comfort of your stateroom is just a few steps away.

One of the major disadvantages, at least from my perspective as a food writer and gastronomic gadfly, is that – apart from a few shore excursions that may include an excellent lunch or other epicurean delights – you are limited to the culinary vicissitudes of your ship’s floating kitchen(s). And, given the length of some cruises, it is no exaggeration to assume that the quality of the cuisine may owe infinitely more to creative cryogenics than innovative cookery.

Azamara Journey - Discoveries Main Dining Room 2My introduction to Azamara’s cuisine came aboard their ship the Quest during a 2020 cruise along the east coast of South Africa… And my traveling companion and I both agreed that while the food was acceptable it was hardly transporting. During our most recent cruise(s) from Athens to Rome to Lisbon onboard the Journey, we did notice some improvements, especially in Discoveries, their main dining room (pictured), although there were still some significant downs as well as ups.

Azamara Dining - BarrataOur first night’s dinner, for example, was a particularly mixed bag. My dining partner’s Escargot was an excellent starter and her pork dish followed suit. My entrée, Sole with Romesco (a rich Spanish sauce of puréed charred tomatoes & roasted red peppers spruced up with raw garlic, vinegar and red pepper flakes), was also quite good. And our desserts, Crepes with Berries and Financiers (small French almond cakes flavored with beurre noisette), respectively, also hit the mark. On the other hand, my appetizer of Burrata with Spinach & Tomatoes (pictured), which looked so good on the plate, was a complete washout. The spinach leaves were the texture of cardboard carpaccio and, in the dish as a whole, anything even approximating flavor was conspicuous by its absence.

Crispy Chicken KaarageAs time when on, however, Discoveries’ kitchen appeared to hit its stride with a variety of diverse cuisines… The German-inspired Cabbage & Sausage Soup, for example, was excellent… A few days later I started out with a first-rate appetizer of Charred Green Asparagus & Egg Salad aided & abetted by spinach, pine nuts, parmesan shavings, and pink pepper. My dining partner had nothing but raves for her Filet of Hake gently caressed by a subtle Champagne-citrus beurre blanc. My own entrée took an unexpected – but decidedly delicious – turn with Crispy Chicken Kaarage companioned by fried noodles and Asian vegetables (pictured).

Rainbow TroutFrom my dining partner’s perspective, other memorable items included Grigliata Mista, an Italian seafood combo of shrimp, scallops, calamari and white fish filet served on a seabed of Portuguese baked potatoes… Rainbow Trout with grilled shrimp, mushrooms, new potatoes, green pea & broad bean purée (pictured)… Crab Ravioli… perfectly pink Lamb Chops… Lobster TailPotato/Leek SoupDuck TerrineFrench Lemon Tart… and, of course, Escargot.

Crepes Stuffed with Ratatouille Topped with VeggiesMy own favorites were somewhat more eclectic. I particularly liked a number of Discoveries’ Asian presentations. The Yakitori Chicken, for example, served with grilled green asparagus and Japanese fried rice, was quite good… ditto a starter of Chicken Goyza, which was similar to pot stickers, served with a first-rate ponzu sauce. The Mongolian Lamb Strips accompanied by a fragrant mound of jasmine rice were also quite excellent. I also very much enjoyed the Breaded Veal Schnitzel with German potato salad and lingonberry sauce. Quite good… but the portion size, which could easily have fed three, was actually somewhat off putting. Infinitely more appealing were the Crepes (pictured). Stuffed with ratatouille and topped with a variety of vegetables they were a treat for both eye and palate.

Other items of interest included Bonbonnière (bon bons) stuffed with ratatouille and Penne Pasta in Sour Cream Sauce. An appetizer well worth mentioning is the Strips of Veal Tenderloin in Tuna/Caper Sauce. This may strike you as an unlikely combo, but the slightly assertive sauce does wonders for the veal. An absolutely fabulous marriage of flavors and textures. The first time I sampled this dish was in a little wine bar in Munich; and tasting it once again brought back some very pleasant memories.

Prime C - Dover SoleIn addition to Discoveries, the Azamara Journey also has two specialty upscale eateries: Prime C, a steakhouse; and Aqualina, an Italian restaurant. And while things appear to be looking up in the main dining room, their specialty enclaves, at least during our most recent cruise, didn’t fare quite so well. My dining partner’s Dover Sole (pictured), though hardly top of the line, actually wasn’t too bad…

… My Filet Mignon, on the other hand – which should have cut like butter, as the saying goes – was as tough as Clint Eastwood’s Rawhide saddle. And, despite my steak knife’s munificent machinations, simply refused to be cut (or sawed) into submission. So, back to the kitchen it went (something I never like to do, for a variety of reasons). It’s replacement, which demonstrated only marginal improvement, was no great shakes either. Needless to say, this was not the kitchen’s finest hour.

Aqualina - Lemon Liqueur MousseAqualina was something of a mixed bag. Our first visit was extremely satisfying, infinitely better than the experience on our first cruise, as I recall. The starter of Eggplant Lasagna stuffed with red bell pepper tapenade pillowed on a bed of Italian cous cous, for example, was quite good. An entrée of Spaghetti Bolognese was also up to the mark. In this case, however, it was dessert that stole the show. The Sorrento Lemon Liqueur Mousse (pictured) garnished with meringue and accompanied by lemon gelato was nothing short of spectacular. Alive with fresh flavors, it was the perfect conclusion to a perfect meal.

Aqualina - Vegetable Soup with LentilsOur second dinner, however, proved something of a disappointment. It started out well enough… We both enjoyed the Tuscan-style Vegetable Soup with lentils (pictured). And my dining partner had nothing but praise for her Rigatoni with bell pepper-tomato sauce with grilled asparagus, broccoli & pumpkin. My Eggplant Parmesan promised mozzarella quinoa pasta with rustic pomodoro sauce… However, it turned out to be the same rigatoni & sauce that had graced my partner’s dish. In addition, there were only three small pieces of eggplant and they were hard and woefully overcooked. Adding insult to injury, my dish was lukewarm when it hit the table.

Azamara Journey - Windows Cafe 4But let’s conclude on a few positive notes… Located aft on deck 9, Azamara Journey’s most consistent restaurant, in my opinion, is their casual Windows Café. And, as you will note from the photograph, it is well named, as an impressive wall of floor-to-ceiling windows offers diners a magnificent view of the open sea and/or shoreline.

But there is infinitely more to Windows than just the view. Open for early breakfast, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, their buffet-style dining is top-of-the-line and exceeded our expectations in every respect.

My traveling companion and I found the lunches here very pleasant, indeed. Of particular note are their salads – tuna, chicken, egg – all freshly made. Sandwiches also have a great deal to recommend them, as do the rotating hot entrées, which are themed to celebrate particular cuisines. Desserts, however, are truly exceptional, especially my personal fave, the extraordinary made-in-house gelati.

But breakfasts here are also quite good; and, on numerous occasions, we would stop in before setting out on our various shore excursions. The eggs, in whatever incarnation – scrambled, omelet, Benedict – are first-rate… ditto the blintzes, stuffed pastries, potatoes, bacon, and sausages.

Azamara Journey - Windows Cafe 2And, as an added incentive, Windows Café is adjacent to the Sunset Bar (pictured), a welcoming outdoor patio with both covered and open-air seating. After collecting your comestibles from Windows buffet, it’s the perfect spot for dining alfresco, enjoying an innovative cocktail over lunch or later in the day, or simply watching the world sail by.

One final word: A few days before the end of our cruise(s), our usual waiter in the main dining room, with whom we had become quite friendly, offered to have the chef, his good friend, prepare a special dinner just for us with the cuisine of our choosing. Since he was from India, we decided to go that route, which made him very happy – and us, as it turned out, as well, as the food was incredibly delicious.

Azamara Journey - PakorasWe started out with Pakoras (pictured), spiced fritters that originated from the Indian subcontinent, but are also sold by street vendors and served in restaurants in South Asia and the United Kingdom. Pakoras may consist of many different items, usually vegetables – particularly diced potatoes & onions, which we enjoyed here – coated in a batter of chick-pea & rice flours and deep fried. These were served with a spicy chutney made with green chilies, which provided just enough heat to invigorate rather than incinerate one’s sensitive palate.

Azamara Journey - Chicken Tikka MasalaOur main course was Chicken Tikka Masala (pictured). This is a dish consisting of roasted marinated chicken segments served in a rich, creamy orange-colored spiced curry sauce. This dish was popularized by chefs from India living in England and is now offered in restaurants around the world. It is also the most popular Indian dish served in America.

The Masala was companioned by basmati rice, naan bread (naan is a leavened, oven-baked or pan-fried flatbread that is found not only in India but also in the cuisines of Western & Central Asia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and the Caribbean), and papadum (wafers made from ground lentils) with mango chutney.

The bottom line, of course, is: Would I sail with Azamara again? The answer is an unequivocal Yes! Despite a few faux pas, the food has improved considerably over my previous experience. In fact, during our recent cruise(s) my traveling companion and I, along with several other passengers, were asked to participate in a test tasting of various meats that Azamara was considering for its ships’ kitchens. It is obvious to me that this cruise line is continually attempting to up its culinary standards; and that, in and of itself, is a testimony to the company’s ongoing dedication to its patrons.

Bon Voyage!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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