Although we had a few misses, most of our meals here were satisfying.
Veendam’s main dining room is a two-story affair occupying decks 7 and 8 aft. Breakfast and dinner were served daily, and lunch on sea days. At dinnertime the upper deck was reserved for those on the traditional dining plan, with two seatings nightly, while downstairs was for open seating, which we had selected when we booked our cruise.
The open dining option was in high demand at prime time—around 8 p.m.—and pagers were handed out with glasses of Pol Roget bubbly. One evening we used this time to explore and got as far as midship when the pager starting beeping like a ticking bomb. A stern woman scolded us from inside the device: “You are out of range and cannot receive the page!” As we high-tailed it back toward the restaurant, the voice then ordered us back to the podium: “Your table is ready—please return to the attendant!” The total time from receiving the pager to getting our table was 16 minutes, which didn’t seem too bad. But the following night we waited 26 minutes for our table, which we felt was an unreasonable delay.
The dining room offers sea views from a majority of seats, and tables were stocked with white linens and quality china, and primped with small bouquets of flowers. Holland America’s “culinary council” includes David Burke, Jonnie Boer, Marcus Samuelsson, Jacques Torres and Charlie Trotter joining the line’s Master Chef Rudi Sodamin—each has an appetizer and entrée featured on one night of the cruise.
We particularly enjoyed the International Dinner held on the final night of the cruise. The menu was segmented into four sections—one devoted to the Americas, one for Asia and Australia, another for Europe and Africa while the fourth corner was Chef Rudi’s selections. Our meal started with a wonderful Scandinavian-style seafood and potato chowder that reminded us our dad’s holiday soup, but this one laced with a spicy kick and a lovely fragrance of Aquavit. The Vietnamese spring roll with chicken was light and refreshing, while the Lebanese lamb shank was hearty, served atop couscous and flageolets. Another entrée we loved was David Burke’s pan seared trout, served skin-on over al dente spaghetti, spiked with capers, squash and julienned zucchini—it was an excellent light dish. Jonnie Boer’s salmon tartare was tasty, in a beautiful presentation with an odd, vinegary aspic.
Although a couple vegetarian appetizers and entrées were available nightly, Holland America has expanded its vegetarian options to encompass a full menu—the only hitch is that the meals must be ordered in advance. The policy seemed in a state of evolution: First we were told to order when we came for lunch; then it was order it by noon; then we were told to order in the morning. For our vegetarian evening we started with the lentil and garbanzo salad served over bib lettuce; it was notably absent of lentils but otherwise delicious. We ordered a portobello mushroom and chipotle quesadilla, which was decent, but the accompanying guacamole tasted old while the salsa was salty. We also ordered vegetable lasagna (which arrived ahead of the quesadilla); the marinara sauce was chockfull of tomato and whole leaves of basil and lightly cooked, rendering it especially zesty and with a healthy serving of mozzarella. Other offerings on the veggie menu included a mezze plate, empanadas, pasta fagioli, an asparagus, carrot and zucchini tart, and spinach palak curry.
The few misses we had included a chilled apricot soup appetizer—it was so sweet, topped with a sweetened dollop of meringue, that the dish belonged on the dessert menu. For main, the olive oil poached cod was good if slightly chewy, but the “chorizo yogurt cream” that accompanied was a strange jellied blob. Our tiramisu one evening had lots of cream but seemed unsophisticated, indelicate. This treat should burst with espresso and alcohol but ours was bland and gelatinous instead, arriving at our table jiggling like a hyperactive hula girl.
The breakfast menu offered a pleasing variety—the usual fare was supplemented by an egg white frittata Italiana, eggs Benedict (and Florentine, Royale), belgian waffles, French toast, and pancakes (with banana or blueberry). There was also a Japanese breakfast (miso soup, white rice, tamagoyaki and broiled salmon), the full English breakfast (scrambled eggs, English banger sausage, bacon, baked beans, hash browns, grilled half tomato), a Scandinavian breakfast (smoked salmon, pickled herring, hard boiled egg, dark rye bread) and a Dutch breakfast (Uitsmijter, an open-face sandwich with thick white bread, ham, aged Gouda, and two eggs sunny side up). The restaurant was never crowded at breakfast, and the atmosphere was subdued.
On sea days, the restaurant was open for lunch and the selection included soups and salads such as chicken and Swiss chard soup, Thai curried chicken salad and fried calamari. Entrées encompassed comfort foods like mac and cheese, burgers, and sandwiches, along with a vegetarian salade Niçoise and Swiss steak braised in red wine with mashed potatoes.
In addition to the standard bar menu an expanded wine list was available at the Rotterdam Dining Room. Prices on bottles ranged from $22 (Santa Carolina chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon) to $79 (Silverado cabernet sauvignon, Franciscan Magnificat), with several pricier options from the Pacific Northwest (Holland America’s home base) along with a reserve wine list. Champagnes included Domaine Chadon brut ($47), Tattinger Cuvée Prestige rosé ($99) and Cristal Louis Roderer ($244).
Afternoon tea was served here on sea days at 3 p.m. There was a Royal Dutch Tea service, a Cupcake Tea, and of particular note was the Indonesian tea service, with music of the islands and tropical desserts of banana and coconut. Details were provided in the Explorer newsletter for schedule.
There were two seatings for dinner, at 5:15 and 8:15 p.m. nightly, with the downstairs deck devoted to open seating, between 5 and 9 p.m. Breakfast was served for 90 minutes, starting at 7:30 or 8 a.m. daily, and lunch was available on sea days from 12 noon to 1 p.m.
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