Thursday, April 21, 2011

Crystal Symphony - Goldring Travel's Pacific Exploration of Crystal Cruise's Luxury Experience - Part VII

Dining on Crystal Cruises has been a real treat. My feeling is that overall Seabourn has the edge if I was to take the entire day’s meals, including presentation, into account. However, it is not a contest and I am very comfortable in saying that Crystal has some options that are better than Seabourn and visa versa.

If I were to compare breakfast offerings and the manner of offering them, I give the three larger Seabourn ship’s a definite edge; especially when it comes to variety and presentation. Various types of herring, more diverse cured meats, easily obtained poached eggs, etc. and a modern presentation in an upscale setting is more to my liking. However, on Crystal Cruises you really want for nothing, breakfast offerings are available from very early to well past 11:00 a.m. and, for example, you can sit in The Trident Grill area or on the aft deck of the ship and comfortably read a book or write your blog because the Crystal Symphony is larger and has sufficient space for same and eat breakfast as you wish.

I have not yet, and probably will not, try the main dining room for breakfast or lunch. There just is not enough time on a seven day cruise with only one sea day. But I can say that I am not in love with the Lido buffet. The offerings are fine…an upscale expectation of what you would receive on a premium line, but at least for me, no “wow factor”. The setting is a very traditional Lido so it is a bit noisier and tables closer together than I prefer. I did, however, really enjoy my lunch today sitting outside on the aft deck and, to be sure, the food was fine. Nothing struck me as memorable, however.

Dinner is, to be sure, another story. Here Crystal really shines. (Sorry, I didn’t see the pun until I was re-reading this before posting…but it fits so I am leaving it in.) I have written about my two dinners in the Main Dining Room and my Prego experience, so you know I am a very happy camper. But only now can I write about the Nobu overseen Silk Road.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I have to give Nobu’s Silk Road a 12. Yes, skeptical and jaded Iamboatman gives a cruise ship restaurant an over-the-top rating.

Everything in Silk Road is exceptional. The décor is perfect, the spacing between the tables (and the size of the tables) are great. The service is outstanding. And I have to say our waitress Katherine was so charming and gracious and informative...oh, and she was a great waitress too. Now down to the important stuff: Food.

I started my meal with a spicy seafood soup that had layers of flavors that built on each other, using the heat of the spices as an after-note. This was followed by some sort of tiny peach (I forget the type) that incredibly cleansed my palate so it would be ready for my sushi and sashimi. (I actually should have had the sushi first, but there was a sudden rush at the first come-first served sushi bar (there are only 8 seats, but they get priority…and rightfully so), so we switched just as a matter of convenience.)

I tried all four of the Nobu specials: Salmon tartar with Caviar (great flavors with a surprising wasabi kick), Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno (one of the best things I have ever eaten), Tuna Tataki with Ponzu Sauce and then White Fish “Nobu Style”; all presented in a beautiful platter with each in its own small plate; a work of art! And they were “required” to be eaten in that order. But, in interest of research I also ordered Octopus sashimi and a Soft Shell Crab Roll. My wife ordered the House Special Roll and it was, to be sure, special.

My wife then ordered a Salad with Tuna Sashimi and I the Lobster Spring Rolls. Mine were fine – not a homerun though, but hers was outstanding. Just the flavor and colors/textures of the lettuce made me happy.

Now it was on to the main course. On strong recommendation from clients of mine I ordered the Nobu Box which is a three course meal consisting of a fabulous Shrimp Tempura, one of the best pieces of Black Cod I have ever eaten and Wagyu Beef…again eaten in that order. Outstanding. My wife ordered the Lobster and it was excellent…though I really didn’t want to interfere with my dinner by sampling hers.

By the way my wife drank a favorite wine of mine for seafood and mildly spicy foods: Conundrum. I had a small carafe of the Nobu sake, which was kept cold in a very unique presentation. Our dessert…which was totally unnecessary and really just picked at…was coupled with some excellent Green Tea.

It is here when I do not think of comparing Silk Road to Seabourn’s 2 (because they are just so different and unique in their own rights), but Regent Seven Seas’ Prime 7 or Signatures. There is just no way you can with a straight face claim they are in the same league. Elegant and graceful presentations of outstanding cuisine versus a crab leg on a plate or Signatures’ tired and uninspired continental menu (but that restaurant is soon to be replaced; ‘nuf said.)

There is a fine art to luxury culinary experiences and, without question, Crystal Cruises has hit the pinnacle with Silk Road. Or has it?

Why do I say that? Because tonight we are attending the Vintage Room Dinner; a $200 per person dining experience for only 12 people where the food is supposed to be secondary to the wine…and every person I have spoken to about it has said it is extraordinary. I will, most certainly, let you know.

But before I do, I have to pose a very legitimate question: With some very interesting itineraries (like this one or the Crystal Serenity’s present one along the west coast of Africa), strong service (which I will talk about more later), real quality enrichment programs, extraordinary dining experiences, and more, how much should the size of your accommodation affect your decision as to which cruise to take? Where does the value lay for you?

I do not want to give an answer here. I have to rest my stomach and my palate for this evening…Off to the hot tub!