While I thought my scaloppini, risotto and limoncello cake turned out pretty darn well, thank you, it was the meals I enjoyed courtesy of this talented culinary team that set the bar so high an NBA center could easily limbo under it.
In addition to the usual formal dining room (the Grand Dining Room on the Marina) and the more casual offerings (Terrace Cafe and Waves Grill), there are four specialty restaurants — Polo Grill, Toscana, Jacques and Red Ginger (all require a reservation, so it’s best to do it when you book or immediately once you get on board).
My dining odyssey began the first night in the Polo Grill. With its dark wood furnishings and burgundy leather high-backed chairs, it is the embodiment of a traditional steakhouse. My filet mignon proved to be one of the tenderest cuts of beef I’ve ever had, and I also loved the beet root and goat cheese terrine starter.
Along with prime cuts of beef, the Polo Grill has an impressive list of Scotch whiskies, although I wished their bourbon list had been equally impressive.
Toscana, my dining destination the second night, takes one on a culinary tour of Tuscany and regions in the north of Italy. My entree, Fra Diavolo, a lobster tail broiled with herbs and spices and served over fresh Tagliolini pasta, was perfection, and the Italian wine steward chose just the right vintages to go with it. I was equally impressed with their olive oil menu, offering 13 selections, and with the custom-designed Versace china that the meal was served on.
After Italy came France — in the form of Pepin’s namesake restaurant, Jacques. While the decor is enhanced by antiques and art from the chef’s personal collection, the greatest artistry comes from the Gallic menu. I started with a pea vichysoisse; moved on to a Dover sole, lightly laced with lemon and caper butter, and ended with a lavender creme brulee.
As difficult as it was to decide, I think my favorite meal was at the Asian restaurant Red Ginger, where I had lunch and dinner. The decor is an exercise in feng shui with its tranquil waterfall wall and striking modern Asian art.
The menu choices are equally harmonious. For starters, I chose the avocado lobster salad, although one of my tablemate’s spicy duck and watermelon salad with cashews, mint and basil had me wishing that I ate duck.
A main course of red snapper wrapped in a banana leaf and basted with lime, chili paste and green olive salt, literally melted in my mouth.
The French restaurant Jacques is named for famed chef Jacques Pepin who oversees restaurants on the line's six ships. (Oceania)
Culinary Excursions Complement the Cuisine
The food itself is only part of the equation on an Oceania cruise. Kelly has developed 50 culinary discovery tours designed to give passengers a deeper appreciation of the food they will be eating. Her tours range from visiting markets in Spain and Italy and a Branzino farm in Slovenia to enjoying candlelit dinners in Eze on the French Riviera.
While my itinerary, which included Key West, Belize, Roatan, Honduras and Costa Maya, Mexico, didn’t have quite as rich a culinary tradition as Europe or Asia, one tour I thoroughly enjoyed was the Honduran Farm and Ocean to Table Experience on the island of Roatan.
We began with a visit to the island’s botanical gardens, the 164-acre Blue Harbor Arboretum, which is home to a hydroponic farm supplying a variety of lettuces and herbs to the locals.
Next, we took a boat to Big French Cay (in case you’re wondering, there’s also a Little French Cay) for an al fresco cooking demonstration and lunch courtesy of Chef Samuel, whose megawatt smile and coconut shrimp were the highlight of the day.
Back on the ship, a final culinary experience was the daily afternoon tea, an extravaganza that would have done justice to the crowned heads of Europe. To the backdrop of a string quartet, we delicately sipped tea and selected from an assortment of finger sandwiches, scones, cookies and cakes.
Of course, the Marina and her sister ships of the Oceania line have all the necessary features of modern cruise ships: casino, entertainment, spa, bars, shops, and a variety of activities ranging from hotly contested daily trivia games and enrichment lectures to mah jong and ping pong, but it’s the culinary experience that sets the line apart from its competitors.
On Oceania, they espouse the philosophy put forth by renowned American food writer M.F.K. Fisher: “First we eat and then we do everything else.”
(Patti Nickell is a Lexington, Ky.-based travel and food writer. Reach her at email@example.com.)