Monday, November 22, 2010

2010 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Odyssey - Malta and Food for Thought

After a fantastic day in Catania, Sicily it was time for the Ensemble Experience in Malta.

This is a port that is well worth being awake for the arrival. Its imposing limestone walls and architecture lit by the early morning sun was memorable.

After clearing the ship, I arrived on the dock before my guests in order to be sure our tour operator was present and I went over the details with him. Strangely I could not find him and people were walking past me. Eventually I walked up to a few and found our guide, Ernest.

Ernest was a knowledgeable, charming yet quiet guide who provided us with a very nice day showing us Malta and helping us understand Maltese customs and history. I won’t bore you with all of that, but would suggest that Malta might well be considered as a worthwhile cruise port or, possibly, a place for a short holiday.

We stopped at one fishing village which, unfortunately, was very quiet early that morning. However there were a few stalls and we purchased some Maltese linen. While I strolled two of the stall owners stopped me and asked me if I was of Maltese heritage. I thought that was either an interesting sales technique or really strange. So back on our minibus I asked Ernest and he smiled. He said, “You know we were having trouble finding you. You were wandering around at the pier and we said to ourselves, that can’t be Eric. That guy is Maltese!”

Eventually we made our way to Mdina, also known as The Silent City. It was beautiful…and quiet. After a short walk we arrived at Bacchus, the restaurant for our lunch. The restaurant was beautiful; built into the wall surrounding Mdina. Where we ate was actually the room where they stored the gun power and weapons. Its beautiful arched stone ceilings and dim lighting were a perfect setting for our traditional Maltese meal consisting of a ham and cheese starter followed by either a huge cod fillet with tomatoes and capers or a beef filet. Of course we shared some Maltese red and white wine. (I cannot recall the names of the wines, but I will retrieve them and let anyone know that is interested.)

After lunch it was a nice stroll around Mdina and a short ride back to the Seabourn Odyssey. From there a few of us took a stroll along the Valetta waterfront which I think probably is more inviting in the evenings. (I did stop at the Hard Rock Café to buy a ridiculously expensive T-shirt for my son.)

That evening we had dinner in The Colonnade because Chef Fritz had arranged a special, and delicious, appetizer for our group made from the scabbard purchased in Catania, Sicily and he provided each of us with the recipe (hand signed, of course). This was, of course, followed by the fresh sea bass he purchased at the same time.

What Chef Fritz continues to underscore is that “less is more”. Most of Seabourn’s and Chef Fritz’s personal dishes are not huge, but are beautifully presented, elegant, fine cuisine. It is the art of combining a few ingredients so as to create magic that is focused upon.

Compare Regent Seven Seas guests comments and its menus: They are straight forward and in some instances focused on volume rather than quality. How many times do you need to hear about how great the (frozen) Dover Sole was or how great the steak was? Or how about pretty much the focus of Silversea’s unfortunately ever sliding level of cuisine being focused on its Hot Rocks Grill where a huge slab of meat or chicken is presented partially cooked so you can continue to cook it on a lava rock? All of these dishes are fine and can be someone’s favorite, but it just isn’t what Seabourn is about. To me Seabourn is just at an entirely different level.

But I digress. Our dinner al fresco was fantastic and, even with a slight chill in the evening air, warm and friendly. This was highlighted by Chef Fritz taking the time to come up to The Colonnade and stop by each table to be sure we enjoyed his special dishes.

After dinner a few drinks in the Observation Bar and then a midnight hamburger (I know it is terrible) on the balcony before a good night’s sleep.

Tomorrow: The Food & Wine Tasting!