I have been on several Olivia cruises before, and they have always proved to be one of my favorite ways to travel. They charter Holland Americaships and this particular trip that I was on at the end of November was aboard the MS Ryndam.
There are so many delicious choices included in one’s cruise fare, and served in different locations throughout the ship, from the daily buffets to the poolside taco bar and burger joint to the formal dining room, and the tea time snacks and sandwiches in the library cafe. Olivia also offers two “specialty restaurants” that are rather impressive for just a small upcharge.
The first such restaurant is Canaletto, an Italian restaurant, and is best enjoyed in a group. You can order as you wish, but sharing family style is the way to go in my book. We actually ordered everything on the menu and doubled up on the things the group liked best, like the polpettine and zuppa.
There are two simple categories at Canaletto: small plates and large plates. The small plate offerings as of November 2014 (they change periodically) are salumi with prosciutto, coppa, grissini, shaved pecorino, and assorted olives; veal and sage polpettine with glazed cippolini onions and rustic tomato sauce; zuppa di pesce with mussels, clams, shrimp, scallops, cod, vegetables, and tomato saffron broth; canaletto salad with Boston lettuce, roasted beets, Gorgonzola, candied walnuts, and raspberry vinaigrette; marinated buffalo mozzarella with extra virgin olive oil, basil, tomato, and balsamic “saba;” and eggplant caponata with golden raisins, pine nuts, and mint.
The veal and sage polpettine (i.e., meatball) and the very simple but lovely Canaletto salad were my favorites in the bunch. The meatball was tender and the sauce perfectly seasoned, and the salad was a perfect balance of flavors and textures, just how I like it.
As for large plates, the menu boasted potato gnocchi with braised beef short rib, mascarpone, and butter-roasted carrots and celery; rigatoni with Italian sausage, Kalamata olives, and spicy tomato sauce; sautéed veal piccata lemon angel hair, capers, and kale crisps; bistecca with grilled asparagus and porcini cream sauce, and grilled lemon-thyme white sea bass roasted fingerling potatoes, shaved fennel, and orange-olive salad.
I’m afraid there’s virtually no contest when short rib is involved, but the gnocchi dish won by heart at first bite. I also really loved the veal and the steak, as did my dining companions.
The second specialty restaurant we dined at on the ship is the Pinnacle Grill, an upscale steak house that even impressed this Texas girl who is serious about her steak. I indulged in the shrimp cocktail, which was as fresh as it gets and cooked just right. Then I opted for the 18-ounce bone-in cowboy ribeye, my all-time favorite steak.
My steak was tender and juicy at a perfectly cooked medium rare. The edges, as always, were the best part, and caramelized just right. And, even though I needed a little help from a friend to finish it, we left nothing but the bones by the time we were done.
The sides at the Pinnacle are designed to share. My little sister and I opted for the grilled asparagus and the shoestring fries with truffle aioli. All I have to say about the latter is that if there’s a wrong way to go with truffles, I haven’t met it yet. For dessert, I simply could not resist the chocolate soufflé. It was light, airy, and rich without being overly sweet. And, if you ask nicely, they’ll bring you a little vanilla ice cream to enjoy with it. A perfect pairing to a warm soufflé.
For one night only during the cruise, the Pinnacle Grill is turned into New York’s famed dining mecca, Le Cirque. Since we were on the cruise to celebrate my sister’s 40th birthday, it seemed crazy not to celebrate there. We couldn’t have been any happier that we did. I started my meal with the Lobster Salad “Le Cirque” with poached lobster, haricots verts, and citrus. The lobster was almost too good to be true and was perfectly paired with the sweet and tart citrus flavors.
I simply couldn’t resist ordering the rack of lamb with goat cheese panisse, artichokes, and arugula as my main course. I’m a sucker for lamb chops. This dish was generously portioned and seasoned and seared impeccably. And, yes, chocolate soufflé again for dessert. A girl only lives once.
And with that said, this particular cruise ended up being a once in a lifetime trip in so many ways, from the lifelong friendships formed to the milestones marked to the food dined upon.