Once sporting a cuisine that could be charitably dubbed an ode to bland, Holland America now features a variety and quality of menu offerings that improve with every year. Under the culinary design and supervision of master chef Rudi Sodamin, Oosterdam's cuisine includes spicier, more palate-challenging choices (New York strip steak with spicy pear salsa); entrees and appetizers keyed to the local cuisine of the itinerary's port calls -- in our case, Mexico (Chicken Mole, Duck and black bean quesadilla); and the fusion of that local cuisine with others (Southwestern-style manicotti, tuna carpaccio with jicama chips and papaya-ginger relish).
Oosterdam continues Holland America's innovative "As You Wish" dining plan. Recognizing that open and set seating formats have relatively equal number of proponents, HAL offers both. Oosterdam's Vista dining room is a two-deck affair at the aft end of the ship. One deck is allocated for those choosing conventional fixed-seating dining (5:45 p.m. and 8 p.m.) and the other for open seating nightly between 5:15 p.m. and 9 p.m. Open-seating passengers can either make reservations or simply walk into the Vista. For those who wish to be seated at particularly small (two-top) or large (more than six) tables should avail themselves of the reservation system. Those who are happy either dining alone or joining a table of strangers, depending on availability, need not. The Vista also serves breakfast and lunch on a daily basis, even on port days.
The room, though large and lavish, is, at the same time, warm and welcoming, thanks in part to the ample use of reds and golds, and to the predominance of curved rather than geometric angles. The sculpted ceiling cuts down the noise level, even when the room is full, so acoustics are excellent. Rosenthal china reinforces the restaurant's stylish, upscale ambience.
Typical dinner menus include four items each in the Appetizer and Soups and Salad categories, and seven entrees. One item in each of the menu categories is identified as "Greenhouse Spa Cuisine" (Greenhouse Spa is the Steiner-operated spa and fitness facility). The spa items are all vegetarian, and there was a second vegetarian entrée most evenings. The menu also includes an unchanging list of plainer standbys: onion soup, Caesar salad, salmon, chicken or steak. A separate dessert menu offers four dessert choices (of which one always included chocolate and one was sugar-free) as well as sliced fruit and assorted cheese plates. One drawback, to our thinking, was that the wine list was a bit thinly populated. The Vista also serves afternoon tea daily, a Holland America tradition.
Vista also offers a 22-dish, vegetarian-only menu for lunch and dinner; it consists of appetizers, salads, soups and entrees. Options include dishes like portobello mushroom and chipotle quesadillas, Vietnamese vegetable spring rolls or spicy lentil and garbanzo salad.
The Pinnacle Grill, a Holland America standard, is a popular alternative. But with only 144 seats for a passenger complement of 1,916, getting reservations early -- like right after embarkation -- is a must, especially since most passengers we talked to felt there were enough desirable items on the menu to warrant a second visit. Formal nights are the most popular. (Hint: the reservationists establish a station outside the Lido Restaurant, which is usually everyone's first stop once getting aboard, and is a lot less jammed than going to the maitre d's podium at the restaurant, itself.)
Fleetwide, the Pinnacle has created an image -- Pacific Northwest Cuisine -- that translates essentially to a steak and chop house with seafood options (think Morton's). The seafood, in this case, has the Northeastern Pacific Ocean as its provenance: rock lobster, king salmon and black cod. New to the menu are skewers, including red meat, poultry, seafood and veggies-only. There is a $20 cover charge to dine in the Pinnacle. On sea days, the Pinnacle is also open for a reservations-only lunch, featuring lighter fare -- more seafood, soups and salads. I particularly enjoyed a Pacific Rim beef salad featuring Thai-spiced sliced flank steak over a melange of mixed greens. Cover charge for lunch is $10.
The Lido Restaurant is, to our thinking, the weakest link in the ship's food chain. A buffet venue on a ship of nearly 2,000 passengers should be able to sport a hefty variety of choices, especially for breakfast. There is ample room and enough stations set up to support such a variety, but by and large the choices were conventional. There were no international choices (no British, Asian, etc.) unless you include Belgian waffles and French toast as international. The one unique effort was a made-to-order Eggs Benedict station whose chefs would prepare a dozen or so variations on the poached egg on English muffin theme.
Lunch choices were marginally better with Asian/sushi, sandwich and pizza stations, though we found salad choices limited and uninspired. There are plenty of seating options in terms of table size, seating type -- chairs or banquettes -- and interior versus window placement. Stewards can usually be found to help a passenger transport their dishes to the table. The Lido also serves a casual alternative dinner and late-night snacks nightly.
Canaletto, a tiny (54-seat) Italian eatery, has been carved out of a corner of the Lido Restaurant and is open for dinner only. There is no charge for eating at Canaletto, but reservations are required. There are the expected primi choices (antipasti and pastas) but we felt the secondi entree choices really shined. I especially enjoyed a cod putanesca.
As an adjunct to the Lido Restaurant, there is an outdoor grill that makes excellent burgers and fries -- among other choices -- as well as a do-it-yourself taco bar.
Twenty-four hour room service is available gratis, and the menu is fairly extensive, which is a blessing, since room service does not include the night's dinner menu from the Vista Dining Room.