|Its all about ships
on Holland America Line’s
Nieuw Amsterdam and
Richard H. Wagner
Several cruise lines have developed relationships with celebrity chefs
in which the chef creates specialty restaurants for the cruise line's ships.
For example, Todd English has created specialty restaurants for Queen
Mary 2 (see review) and Queen Victoria and Marco Pierre White has
developed restaurants for P&O Cruises.
In an innovative twist on this idea, Holland America Line has
established a relationship with a celebrity restaurant - - the legendary Le
Cirque. Throughout its fleet, one evening during each cruise, the
Pinnacle Grill specialty restaurant is transformed into a seagoing version
of Le Cirque.
Le Cirque has been critically-acclaimed since it opened in 1974 in
New York City's Mayfair Hotel. Over the intervening years, it has
moved twice and had a string of celebrity chefs. Its founder and moving
spirit Sirio Maccioni, has been recognized as one of the world's leading
restaurateurs. In addition to the New York City restaurant, there are Le
Cirques in Las Vegas and New Delhi.
Working with Holland America Line's Master Chef Rudi Sodamin, Le
Cirque's Executive Chef Craig Hopson is seeking to re-create the
experience of dining at Le Cirque onboard the Holland America ships.
The chefs onboard the ships follow Le Cirque recipes and have been
schooled in how to prepare those dishes in Le Cirque style. Similarly,
the servers are instructed about the way things are done at the restaurant.
On Le Cirque evenings, the Pinnacle Grill replaces its own fine china
with plates bearing Le Cirque's design. These are a charming red and
white design with a drawing of impish monkeys that recalls the
restaurant's circus connection.
More importantly, the Pinnacle Grill's normal menu, which features
Pacific Northwest specialties, is replaced by a French-influenced tasting
menu. (See Menu) The appetizer and soup courses are set. The only
decisions the guest has to make are which of the three main courses and
which of the three desserts to have.
Before the appetizer, the guest receives a present from the chef - - a
layered combination of fois gras and rhubarb chutney in a glass. The fois
gras is delightfully light and the chutney provides contrasts of both
sweetness and tartness.
The appetizer is Le Cirque Lobster Salad, a dish that has been a
signature item at the New York restaurant since 1978. It is a cold dish in
which poached lobster tail is placed upon a bed of bib lettuce surrounded
by string beans, sections of grapefruit as well as pieces of avocado,
tomato and potato. The lobster has been prepared beautifully and each
bite is something to savor.
The soup course is a change of pace. It arrives in two parts. First, the
guest is presented with a bowl partially filled with kernels of corn and a
corn fritter. Then the server pours hot soup over the contents of the
bowl. This two part process protects the integrity of the vegetables and
the crispiness of the fritter, ensuring that they do not become soggy and
For the main course, the guest can select from Wild Halibut, Rack of
Lamb or Cote de Boeuf.
On the Le Cirque evening on the Nieuw Amsterdam, I chose the beef.
This is a very large piece of aged prime rib strip steak, which is
normally prepared for two. However, it can be had on an individual
basis and I had no difficulty getting through it myself.
The steak was char-broiled on the outside but pink to red on the inside.
It was extremely tender and a noir sauce added to the meat's own flavor.
It was an excellent steak.
On the Zuiderdam, I ordered the rack of lamb. It was melt-in-the-mouth
tender with an excellent sauce. Accompanying the lamb were sautéed
vegetables and potato dumplings that delighted by being crisp on the
outside while not being hard all the way through.
As noted earlier, dessert requires the guest to make another decision.
The options are: Crème Brulee Le Cirque; Chocolate Soufflé; and an
Assortment of Sorbets.
Crème Brulee is the popular favorite. The vanilla pudding, made with
heavy cream, egg yolks and brown sugar, receives its final glazing with a
torch, creating a fragile venire over the soft pudding.
I was somewhat skeptical of the idea of replacing the vanilla sauce that
traditionally accompanies a soufflé with vanilla gelato. However, it can
indeed work. The key is in the service. The gelato must be applied in
the same manner as the vanilla sauce would be, i.e., placed inside the
soufflé through its broken crown. This allows the ice cream to melt into
the soufflé, softening it and adding flavor. It makes it a great dish. If the
gelato is not mixed in, the dish becomes just a mediocre cake ala mode.
The Le Cirque evenings on the Holland America ships offer guests a
fine dining experience that provides a glimpse of the famed New York
restaurant. On both Nieuw Amsterdam and Zuiderdam, the décor of the
Pinnacle Grill is different from that of Le Cirque. However, the
contemporary sophistication of those ships' rooms does call to mind the
feel of Manhattan.
While there are more choices on the shoreside menu, the dishes
selected for the seagoing version are dishes that are served by Le Cirque
on land. Moreover, the chefs at sea have mastered those dishes,
preparing them in a style that is different than the Pinnacle Grill style.
Thus, not only is the Le Cirque evening a good meal but it also is
sufficiently different so as to enable a guest to try the Pinnacle Grill on
another day during the cruise. As such, it gives the guest another way in
which to vary his or her cruise experience.
Cruise ship specialty restaurant review - - Holland America Line - - Nieuw Amsterdam - Zuiderdam - - Le Cirque Evening
Above: The Chef's surprise.
Below: Lobster Salad Le Cirque.
Above: Sweet Corn Soup.
Below: Cote de Boeuf.
Above: Chocolate Souffle.