Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Industry Legend, Patricia Riley, Guest Blogs for Goldring Travel - Paris and Portugal on AmaWaterways' AmaVida - Part VI (The Dining Experience)

Lets talk food and wine. 

What I found interesting on this itinerary is that there is a lot of variety when it comes to dinner venues. In fact, there are three nights where your dinner is not taken in the dining room.  The variety comes in the form of a typical Portuguese Barbecue on the Sun Deck of the ship, 

AmaVida's Chef Grilling Sardines
an evening with dinner and entertainment at a family owned winery and another evening at a monastery.  Add the al fresco dining option one night (it is only available on Nights 2 and 3) and you have some very nice culinary events.
AmaVida's Sun Deck Dining

AmaVida's Al Fresco Dining
The Amavida offers an early risers continental breakfast.   The full breakfast is available in the dining room usually from 7:30 - 9:00 am.  The breakfast is a very good selection of breads, pastries, cereals and fruits.  There are of course the chafing dishes with eggs, bacon, potatoes and other standard fare.  A chef is on hand to do cooked to order eggs.  

AmaVida's Dining Room Set for Breakfast
The real surprise are the bagels.  I am not a fan of bagels if they do not come from the NYC area. While not the NYC standard these bagels were some of the best I ever had at sea.  I was told that an owner of AmaWaterways insists on bagels at breakfast.  I'm glad he does.  AmaWaterways also knows that not everybody likes to get up (relatively) early so a late risers continental breakfast is served in the lounge for an hour after the end of the official breakfast service.  

An AMA breakfast tradition, the ability to make your own Mimosas, is also upheld on the AmaVida.  A chilled bottle of sparkling wine in on hand every morning in the restaurant.

Lunch offers two venue choices.   One can go to the dining room for a buffet with daily specials, or go to the Lounge for a Light Lunch. The option in the Lounge is a modified version of the options in the restaurant.  It always featured a soup, salad, sandwich platter and a pasta dish.  There were usually 2 types of dessert.   A variety of dietary needs can be met and, of course, there are vegetarian offers.  Lunch is usually from 12:30 to 2:00 pm depending on daily activities.

The ability to dine al fresco was a pleasant surprise.   Forward of the main restaurant are the doorways to an intimate area that seats approximately 24 people.  As the dining room can get quite noisy it's a nice getaway.  You are served by the same staff as in the dining room.  It is a set menu, with no choices per course.   As the offering at each course was something I wanted to try I indulged in the four course experience.  The offers included a cold appetizer of North Sea Gravlax and a mushroom basket hot appetizer.  The entree was a Monkfish in saffron sauce.  The caramel and walnut cake completed the courses.

The dining room (including al fresco) opened every night at 7:00 pm.  It is open seating dining.  As is the custom with river cruises all the guests are served their meal at the same time.  There is no staggered dining times.  It is asked that all guests are seated within 15 minutes of the dining room opening.  There are plenty of tables size options and you only have to decide if you would like to be at a small table or join a large one.  As is typical on a cruise, friendships are made and people join together to share their experiences over dinner.  Tables can accommodate from 2 to 10 people.

The nightly menus have an emphasis on local specialties including fish.  There are always three choices of entree.  In addition there is a daily ala carte offering of chicken, steak and salmon. (The most "local flavor" was offered at our deck Barbecue on the day we journeyed to Salamanca.)  While the tour buses were returning the crew were busy on board setting the scene on the sun deck for a meal that would include many Portuguese tapas, salads, traditional cabbage soup with chorizo and barbecued pork, chicken and fish. Fluffy pastries and custard were available for those who wanted to indulge their sweet tooth.   The wine, beer and sangria flowed freely, the music played, the guests danced.  It was a great evening with a perfect sunset and perfect weather.

Speaking of sangria, some thoughts about the wine,  Perhaps I am in the minority but I only associate Portugal with Port.  How mistaken I was to think that way.  Portugal has a thriving, if relatively modest, history of wine production.  In speaking with some of the crew members, all Portugeuse, they said they always hear guests register surprise once they taste both the onboard offerings and the off the ship offerings. 

Complimentary wine is available with every lunch and dinner.  You can choose between red or white, dry or sweet.  There also seemed to be an almost daily opportunity for wine tastings off the ship.  Nowhere was this more evident than on our tour to the small (67 residents) centuries old village of Castelo Rodrigo.

While mostly comprised of ruins, Castelo Rodrigo is one of 12 historic villages of Portugal.  Set at the highest point in the area you are treated to sweeping vistas into Spain.  A walk around the town reveals an ancient Jewish Quarter.  Further rambling brings you to a Romanesque style church dating from the 17th century.  


The highlight for everybody was the wine tasting at a shop called Loja dos Sabores.  Owned and operated by a Belgium gentleman it is a combination gift shop, grocery and wine store and craft shop.  On a patio looking over a vineyard we all received instructions on how to taste the six wines that we were offered.  I learned that you start with the driest and progress to the sweetest.  My favorite is a wine that is called Verde.  The closest translation would be green, but it is not green.  It gets the name from the fact that the grape vines for this particular variety wrap themselves around the barks of trees.  The tastings were fantastic and enjoyed by all despite the fact that they started at 10:30 am.

The off site dinners at the winery and the monastery required motorcoach transportation and a ride of about 30 minutes for each.  Held at Quinta de Avessada, which is family owned and operated, the winery dinner could best be described as country fare.  Nothing fancy just good hardy food.  One might consider it plain but it is representative of a typical family meal in the countryside of Portugal.  The estate's owners are always on hand to answer questions and make for a very personal experience.


Even though held at a monastery the dinner participants did not have to take a vow of silence.  The monastery, Alpendurada, has a terrace which is perfect to sip a glass of wine while taking in a magnificent view.    Both were extremely popular with guests.  In fact, so much fun was being had that no one wanted to leave.  As a result, on both nights, the visits lasted about 30 minutes longer than usual.  In all cases guests were very happy having had unique as well as authentic dining experiences.