Silversea Cruises : Cruise Culinary Firsts

| April 19, 2010

Silver Spirit is the first luxury cruise ship with six fine dining venues. A story to whet your appetite.

Cruise ships always play one-upmanship games, and the hot contest this minute is culinary. All lines, not just luxury, are out to make gastronomic news. But today, Silversea Cruises wins the prize. Silver Spirit, a 540-passenger, 36,000-ton ship on its inaugural sail, is now the only luxury vessel to feature six fine dining venues.

And that doesn't include room service. (Which on Silversea Cruises, means dinner served in guest suites, course-by-course.) Each of the six restaurants provides a radically different dining experience, from cuisine to design. Two of the newest three are so well conceived, they could double as high-end trendy restaurants in an urbane locale ashore.

Like its four sister ships (Silver Wind, Cloud, Whisper and Shadow), Silver Spirit has The Restaurant (main dining room), La Terrazza (Italian) and Le Champagne (six-course food and wine pairings). But this ship also has three more modern venues: Stars, Seishin and The Grill.

I just spent five nights on Silver Spirit on a Mexico sail. Here's my first take on the new trio and other game-changing culinary concepts of Silver Spirit.

Seishin Seishin had me the minute I walked in the door. The design was so Zen. Rich woods, lustrous marble, soft neutral hues. It was like dining in a sanctuary. When the ship even gently rocked, it jolted me from a blissfully cocooned state.

Seishin is tiny; just 24 passengers. It's the go-to restaurant for sharing exquisite cuisine that unfolds in multi-course meals.

Guests choose from three Asian-inspired menus. Two are four-course. One is seafood, and the other a mix of seafood, poultry and Wagyu beef (highly marbled, richly flavored). Each menu is priced at $30 per person.

Seafood Display at Sushi Bar Freshly steamed lobster Signature Caviar Sorbet at Seishin

The nine-course tasting menu is the most elaborate. It unfolds languidly, in small bites. Primarily Japanese, the plates can feature a French twist -- in technique, ingredients or presentation. The cost is $40 per person, including two complimentary wines or Japanese beers. It's $80 per person when paired with premium sake, and $200 per person with premium wine pairings.

The sushi chef is a show onto himself. He stands in a showcase sushi bar in the center of Seishin, entertaining guests with his prowess. Surrounded by a dazzling array of seafood and produce, he slices, dices and rolls his way to admiration.

I tried the nine-course menu; here is some of what I sampled. The amuse bouche (French for "amuse the mouth") was the ship's signature caviar sorbet with Petrossian caviar that was intriguingly salty and sweet at once.

Signature Caviar Sorbet Sushi Chef's Knife Skills

Sushi and sashimi were presented on a gorgeous marble slab. The fish was gorgeous, too, from tuna sushi sprinkled with caviar, to Alaskan king crab in a cucumber "flower."

Tempura oysters were crisp outside, with luscious, melting oysters within. They were drizzled with tonkatsu (Japanese dipping sauce; traditionally served with pork or chicken cutlet). Simply sliced teppan-grilled Wagyu beef was über-rich and tender.

Not everything was perfect. The lobster in lemongrass consommé wasn't sweet and the teriyaki-glazed tilapia was overcooked. Still, this dinner was a culinary highlight of the cruise.

Stars Stars is a glitzy, buzzy 58-seat supper club. When you enter, the gregarious Aussie hostess lets you know a night at Stars is all about fun.

Guests traveling with friends, or who make new friends onboard, come here to party. And that's easily accomplished, especially with complimentary cocktails. Who can resist a Mad Men Martini (named for the hit TV show)? Drink at the bar, in the sexy lounge or at your table. (Or all three. No one's driving home.)

An accomplished pianist begins entertaining at 8:15 p.m. At 10 p.m., the singer performs. The woman I saw had good presence, putting a stylized spin on jazz standards.

The small plates menu is playful. Each table is set with multiple condiments, many in test-tube-style glass vessels. Think olive oils, such as plain or rosemary, balsamic vinegar and salts like Himalayan rock and lava. Add what you like to custom-enhance your food.

The concept is cute, but the menu is confusing. Each of the letters that comprise the word Stars stands for a course. Listed under each letter are three primary ingredients, like prawns, asparagus and veal. Under these ingredients, are three or four more ingredients. Upon reading the menu, it's unclear what goes with what.

Sushi Sampler Freshly grilled fish Dessert Sampler at Stars

Ask or just be surprised. The latter is actually more fun. Choose all five letters (or courses) or just pick one or two.

Each plate is a beautifully presented trio of tastes. My A was the standout: oyster poached in sparkling wine with spinach and hollandaise; pike perch with pumpkin and asparagus; and scallop with an intensely orange sauce.

My R meant beef bourguignon (French-style beef cooked in red wine); venison in red wine; and veal osso bucco with gremolata (chopped parsley, lemon and garlic).

The last S stood for yummy dessert. In my case, grilled apple; forest berries; and cinnamon chocolate cake with raspberry jelly and lemongrass cream.

The menu should be tweaked for easier reading. But kudos to Silversea for thinking outside the cruise ship box. Guests wanting lighter, edgier meals in a jazzy supper club ambiance are going to love this place.

The Grill The Grill is on the second level of the pool deck, an area transformed nightly into an al fresco restaurant. It's ideal for evenings when you don't want to dress fancy or have a frou-frou meal. When you want to feel the ocean breeze. Or watch the sun slip beneath the horizon and see the sky morph into one hundred hues -- all reasons why we cruise in the first place.

Note that The Grill is located upstairs from the lunchtime pool grill. You're not eating dinner where you had lunch. The Grill is a fine-dining venue because it has a concept, style and a menu driven by premium ingredients.

Table at Stars Caesar Salad, Grill-Style

The menu is steakhouse with a twist. The twist lies in do-it-yourself cooking. Servers bring the food in custom platters topped with über-hot lava rocks heated in a special oven. The meat or fish is already sizzling on the rocks. All you do is turn it.

Servers advise on cooking times, so it's easy to get it right. It was surprisingly fun to cook with friends on deck. I thought it would be a snore, or feel very '80s, but it worked. It was like sharing a campfire meal. The smoke and sizzle. The mouthwatering aromas. (All I needed was a s'more.)

The menu is meat-driven and top-notch. Pork chops are from Berkshire pigs, prized for their juicy flavor and tenderness. The rib-eye is Colorado prime, aged two weeks. It was thick, richly marbled -- everything a great rib-eye should be.

Besides the rib-eye, my favorite entrée was grilled Madagascar prawns. I tried them in South Africa and never forgot their flavor. They can't taste as good when they travel, but these came close.

Starters are steakhouse-style salads. The Caesar has the assertive anchovy flavor of a fine restaurant ashore. And what fun; it came with anchovies, extra dressing and shaved Parmesan so I could personalize the salad to suit me.

Desserts are classic with sophisticated twists; apple pie, marinated fruit salad, and dark and white chocolate mousse. I didn't try the fruit salad because my fork sailed into warm apple pie (on its own free will -- really) and my spoon bee-lined to velvety mousse.

Table settings are like the food, simple but chic. Wine is served in cool tumblers. Complimentary offerings on my sail included a Santa Alicia 2008 merlot reserva from Chile that paired well with the rib-eye.

Bibs are provided so guest chefs (that would be you) don't accidently stain their clothes. And should the night air grows cool, you can still comfortably dine outdoors. Servers turn on heat lamps and bring soft blankets to cuddle in. After all, this is Silversea.

The Grill seats just 60 and has no cover charge. Book a day ahead to ensure a table at this popular venue.

Le Champagne Le Champagne is not a new concept, but deserves mention as it's the first Le Champagne designed in collaboration with Relais & Chateaux (rather than amended later). And, because its chef is spot-on.

Le Champagne Garnish at Seishin

The luxe room is octagonal-shaped, with sleek wine cabinets in the center. With high-style table appointments, the restaurant looks more like a chic Michelin-starred venue onshore than the typical staid, formal shipboard venue.

Watch out for Julie Le Gallic, the French chef who runs Le Champagne. She's worked in kitchens with such superstar chefs as Gordon Ramsey and Marco Pierre White, and her talent is evident at first bite. I've dined at Le Champagne on other Silversea ships, and this meal was by far my most memorable.

Le Champagne rotates 11 six-course menus. On my visit, it was Spanish-inspired. I was wowed by chorizo carpaccio with spring onions and seared bay scallops; lively Catalan fish and seafood stew; and honey and rare pepper-coated breast of duck on caramelized apples.

There is a well-deserved $30 cover charge per person, which leaps to $200 each with rare wine pairings.

New Healthful Poolside Breakfast When I wasn't eating, I was exercising. Or, thinking about it. After a morning workout, I tried the new Wellness Breakfast Menu, only available on the Silver Spirit. All calorie, carb and fat counts are listed.

Choose from smoothies (including refreshing mango and banana tango for only 56 calories); freshly blended fruit and vegetable juices; and entrees such as rye French toast with mango-strawberry mosaic and acacia honey. The latter has only 125 calories. One day, after devouring the French toast, I felt virtuous enough to polish off a 175-calorie multigrain muffin for dessert.

Random Notes Silversea Cruises is pushing its envelope by developing dining concepts in keeping with onshore culinary trends. It is impressive that 540 passengers can choose from six quality restaurants nightly. And all are so different. I asked Christian A. Sauleau, executive vice-president of Silversea fleet operations, his thoughts on Silver Spirit's new dining concepts.

"It's not enough to have six different dining venues," says Sauleau. "Each must have its own identity and character, in both design and cuisine."

Sauleau says that the staff is trained to understand that the service style is different in each venue, but different must still include five-star standards.

I asked him which restaurant was his favorite. "Stars," he says. "It has a really trendy vibe. It's a wonderful place to enjoy live music and savory tapas-style cuisine. It's all my passions, rolled into one."

I guess my passions lie in Japanese Zen. Seishin is my favorite. Or maybe Le Champagne, for the precise cooking of Julie Le Gallic. How nice to have so many choices on one small ship that I can debate myself.

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