Chef Tamba (left) with Chef Nobu Matsuhisa preparing food on a Crystal Cruises’ ship. // c 2013 Crystal Cruises
I confess that I love Asian cuisines — good Asian cuisines. Just hand me a bowl of noodles and vegetables with an amazing sauce or a dish of silky dumplings or a curry that leaves heat and delicious memories after the meal. From classic Peking duck to a dish of edamame, a well-rolled sushi or a Mongolian hot pot, I’m there. So I make a beeline for Asian restaurants at sea, and I have a lot of company. Some of these restaurants are included in the cruise fare; some carry a separate fee and some are a la carte, but all of these offer an exceptional dining experience.
Shanghai Restaurant on MSC Orchestra
For me, this is the best restaurant on the Orchestra and, although passengers may be able to stroll in on the first night, they should definitely reserve ahead; by the end of the cruise it will be jammed. Traditional Chinese cuisine from four regions is served at lunch and dinner and the music, servers’ dress and feel of the room all add to the dining experience. For Dim Sum, order the dumplings, and at other times try the superb lemon chicken, Mongolian lamb with scallions and Asian beers. Pricing is a la carte.
Silk Road and The Sushi Bar on Crystal Symphony
Matsuhisa Nobu is known as a perfectionist and he makes periodic appearances to check both the cuisine and the ingredients in his namesake restaurants aboard Crystal Cruises’ ships. Chefs are Nobu-trained and Nobu specialties combining the cuisines of Japan, Peru and Europe are served, from yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno to saikyo miso black cod and beef with three distinctive sauces. In a setting of rich glass tiles and stone walls, the presentation is as elegant as the food. Serving 68 guests, the restaurant carries no fee, but reservations are a must.
Red Ginger on Oceania Marina
If you don’t like it best, I’ll pay for your dinner,” another guest quipped to me on Oceania’s Cruises’ Marina. It was an empty promise since the alternative dining is complimentary, even in Red Ginger, where I was headed. What he didn’t know was that he was preaching to the choir, since I was addicted to Red Ginger and ready to take my place among the guests who put themselves on the waitlist every night. The presentation is beautiful, with sets of chopsticks and teapots that are works of art themselves. But all this is overshadowed by the food, with transformed Asian classics including nutty braised beef Malay curry with coconut followed by green tea banana cake with toffee and hazelnut sauce served with coconut ice cream.
JiJi’s Asian Kitchen on Carnival Sunshine
A startlingly good Asian restaurant, Jiji, was just introduced on Carnival Cruise Lines’ Sunshine, and the ship was filled with the regrets of passengers who discovered it midway during the cruise and wanted to eat there every night. A phenomenal bargain at $12 ($5 for children), the pan-Asian menu is presented beautifully with selections from China, Mongolia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam. Choices range from vegetarian dishes to Nanjing duck and at each table a chosen leader creates the order for shared dishes. The food is cooked fresh and the quality draws astonished compliments.