Nieuw Amsterdam Dining
Like Eurodam, this ship has more dining options than the smaller ships in Holland America's fleet -- seven choices for dinner, plus a pizza stand that is open until after midnight.
The two-deck Manhattan Dining Room, done in a red color scheme, is the main restaurant. It's an elegant place for dinner, and service is top-notch.
Breakfast (usually 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.) is open-seating. The menu is huge. It includes not only the usual morning items, but also spa suggestions (muesli and a frittata) and a serious collection of international selections titled Dutch, Scandinavian, full English and Japanese. I recommend the cinnamon-sugar French toast, to which I added some unneeded maple syrup. Breakfast in Manhattan is a gentle and relaxing introduction to the day.
At lunch, at least one of the three primary sit-down restaurants -- Manhattan, the Pinnacle Grill or Tamarind -- is open, typically 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Manhattan's lunch menu features soups, salads, appetizers and entrees like grilled tuna melts and cordon bleu burgers. The peanut cilantro salad has a spicy bite, and I tasted my first toasted shrimp quesadilla (but not my last).
For dinner, under Holland America's As You Wish seating plan, passengers may choose a set early or late serving with the same seatmates each night, typically starting at 5:45 and 8 p.m. at tables on the upper level on Deck 3. Or, they may choose to sit at any open table on the lower level on Deck 2 between 5:15 and 9 p.m. I arrived two evenings at about 8 p.m., and no one was waiting for a table.
Evening menus in Holland America's main restaurants are among my favorites because of the varied nightly choices. The Manhattan Dining Room offers 10 entrees -- from pasta to spa cuisine with plenty of meats in between -- and daily recommendations from the line's Master Chef, Rudi Sodamin. Each night, there are four special appetizers, plus two salads and two soups, in addition to the items available every night (including onion soup and Caesar salad). As well as the daily steak, chicken and salmon, entrees ranged from the relatively simple (big and juicy prime rib that was served medium-rare as ordered) to the chef's favorites. I followed Sodamin's lead and dined on a tower of crab with avocado salsa; chicken stuffed with guava, cream cheese and spinach; and duck breast a l'orange.
The MDR 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 Lido is Nieuw Amsterdam's buffet restaurant on Deck 9, between the main Lido Pool, midship, and the Sea View pool at the aft end. A plethora of waiters is ready to help with table selection, beverages and other needs. Unfortunately, Holland America has placed small tables in what should be a table-free walking area; as a result, navigating the Lido can be slow, and the views for diners at these small tables are primarily the posteriors of other passengers filling their plates in buffet lines. Conversely, the design of the Lido's generous and well-staffed food stations makes for efficient serving, though, alas, some passengers still don't get the modern serving station approach and begin lining up for a buffet in an area where there is nothing they want to eat. Maybe vacationers need a prep course, especially first-time cruisers (who made up 50 percent of the passengers on my voyage), or perhaps the ship's staff needs to explain the system more clearly.
Continental breakfast begins in the Lido at 6:30 a.m. The full buffet is open 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. Separate stations include fruits, cereals, beverages, waffles, pancakes, creamy scrambled eggs and such side dishes as carved ham, made-to-order omelets, and cold meats and cheeses.
Lunch is 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 3 p.m., depending on the timing of the port of call. Stations are set up for soups and salads, hot dishes with a carving spot, desserts and a full sandwich bar that includes a panini-maker. My chicken Caesar salad wrap got a quick grilling, which nicely warmed the salad but stiffened the wrap so that it broke off in pieces. Lunch is followed by a small sandwich snack presentation until 5 p.m.
Dinner in the Lido is a casual buffet from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., featuring appetizers, soups, salads, six entrees, a pasta station with a selection of sauces and desserts that include a make-your-own sundae bar. Those who are hungry for a later meal will find the Lido open again at 11 p.m. with Mediterranean, Dutch, U.S. South, German, Indonesian, Spanish, Caribbean and other themed spreads.
On the same deck, toward the Lido pool, the Terrace Grill serves hamburgers, hot dogs, croques monsieur and fries from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Slice, outside and aft of the Lido restaurant, serves several flavors of pizza with a heavy crust from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.
The Pinnacle Grill is the signature restaurant on Holland America, and the 112-seat restaurant feels upscale, from its sophisticated decor to the place settings of Bvlgari china.
The Pinnacle Grill has evolved into a restaurant mostly for steaks, chops and seafood, with some additional items like spicy chicken coconut soup, lobster macaroni and cheese, and assorted skewers, including a mixture called vegetarian Zen. The lobster bisque and the Dungeness crab cakes with cucumber and sweet chili sauce are terrific. Steaks come with any of the classic sauces, including green peppercorn, bearnaise, horseradish mustard, sundried tomato, Hollandaise and garlic butter. One evening of dining there was not enough, as I was forced to eschew the lobster, cod and scampi combo and veal chop for a steak Diane, flamed tableside. I also succumbed to the satisfying chocolate and raisin bread pudding with whiskey sauce, while a tablemate raved about the not-so-classic baked Alaska with Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream.
The fee to dine at the Pinnacle Grill in the evening is $20. Hours are 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Reservations are required.
On days when the Pinnacle Grill is open for lunch, the menu is enticing, with six starters, including a chilled carrot and ginger soup and seven entrees that suggest a special luncheon. The fish sandwich is Alaskan halibut on sourdough with cilantro relish and cucumber potato salad. The pasta is penne with grilled chicken breast, lemon basil sauce, sundried tomatoes and arugula. The vegetarian couscous comes with grilled vegetables, fried mint leaves and harissa, a hot red pepper paste from North Africa. Reservations are recommended. There is a charge of $10.
Each Wednesday night, the Pinnacle Grill switches its menu, wine selections, table decorations and place settings to present An Evening at Le Cirque, in partnership with the famed New York French restaurant.
Enjoying the work of Le Cirque's skilled chefs, even on a cruise ship, is a great treat -- especially as most of us never will dine at Le Cirque in New York. It's also a bargain at a fee of $39 ($59 with three glasses of wine), which is less than the cost of some appetizers at the restaurant in Manhattan. Reservations are a must.
The Le Cirque menu is limited to an appetizer, soup, three main courses -- halibut, rack of lamb and cote de boeuf -- and a selection of three desserts. The appetizer alone is worth the reservation. It's poached lobster on a bed of green beans, avocado, potato and grapefruit slices, drizzled with a vinaigrette. Le Cirque's sweet corn soup is poured from a kettle into a bowl with mushrooms, basil and a small corn fritter. The lamb, with goat cheese and artichokes, was cooked perfectly. Be careful how you order your beef; rare is nearly mooing, and medium is, as it should be, red on the inside, which disturbed a tablemate, who returned the dish to the kitchen and was underwhelmed by the well-done beef that followed. Dessert was a difficult choice between the chocolate souffle with vanilla gelato and a smooth, creamy creme brulee, both of which deserved the high applause at my table.
The Master Chef's Table, held on select nights, is Holland America's way of showing off the culinary expertise of Master Chef Rudi Sodamin. On Nieuw Amsterdam, the Table gets its own room, off the Pinnacle Grill, able to seat about a dozen. Seven courses are served on Versace china and paired with four premium wines. I found most of the courses were great tastes, items I might not have ordered from a menu, especially the goose liver with avocado and an amazing frappe of lobster and mushrooms. My veal with black truffle was a bit dry. We all were seduced by the "chocolate seduction," an assortment of chocolate treats. The fee is $89, which includes the tastings and wine pairings. You need to make reservations in advance.
Tamarind, the popular Asian specialty restaurant that debuted on Eurodam, is a triumph on this ship, as well. The menu is fun and instructive, separated into four categories: fire (spicy, such as red curry coconut chicken), water (seafood, the hotpot was terrific), wood (beef and duck) and earth (vegetarian). I loved the potstickers appetizer. Most of the diners at my table started with sushi and sashimi. The dinner fee is $15. There is no fee for Dim Sum when Tamarind is open at lunch; reservations are recommended.
Canaletto, introduced on Eurodam, is a casual Italian restaurant, tucked into a corner of the Lido and transformed each evening with white tablecloths for a filling, three-course meal. Start with antipasti, served tableside. Entrees include pastas, veal, chicken and a cod puttanesca, followed by dessert: a trio of tiramisu that's flavored with espresso, lemon and Amaretto. My chicken marsala scaloppini with linguini, tossed with garlic and pesto, proved that the cooks in the Lido kitchen knew how to make pasta. The wine list from Italy is well-priced at $22 a bottle, $5 a glass. There is no charge for eating at Canaletto, open 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., but reservations are essential. I could not get a reservation before 9 p.m. but was told to show up earlier. At 7:30 p.m., there was space.
Tip: Consider booking a night at the specialty restaurants online before leaving for your cruise. Both Le Cirque night at the Pinnacle and the Master Chef's Table are sold out on each cruise, and other specialty restaurants tend to book up by the second day of each sailing.
Room service is available at no charge, 24 hours a day, for such items as salads, sandwiches, omelets and plates of chocolate-chip cookies. From noon to 10 p.m., you can order a full four-course meal, and during dinner hours in the Manhattan restaurant, passengers may order from the dining room menu. Room service does well with breakfasts, as my scrambled eggs, sliced ham and English muffin arrived on time, and hot.
There are three afternoon teas, presented on alternating days: Traditional Dutch High Tea (desserts and cakes with tea and coffee), an Indonesian Tea Ceremony (featuring local tea varieties and sweets from the Indonesian Archipelago) and a Cupcake Tea (a dozen different flavors are served).