Friday 30 September 2011

Golden Fleece: Signature dining aboard the Carnival Legend

I can't breathe. I'm choking on my champagne and the burning in my lungs won't stop. I had a split second decision to make: spray my champagne all over the table or breathe in and now it's in my lungs.

What caused this predicament? The waitress at the Golden Fleece, the signature restaurant aboard the Carnival Legend, repeating our dinner order back to us:

"OK, so you would like two escargots, one beef carpaccio, two ahi tuna tartares, one New England crabcake, two lobster bisques, one portobello mushroom, one caesar salad, two surf and turfs, one chicken, one lobster ravioli, one side of wasabi mashed potatoes and two sides of truffle macaroni and cheese".

The sheer greed of the moment dawned on me when the list of food for four adults seemed sufficient to feed a football team and with a mouthful of champagne, I wasn't able to laugh without inhaling it first. I can't believe this is how I'm going to meet my end, drowning in champagne. My face is going red and I'm punching myself in the back begging, pleading one of my dinner companions to help me out.

It was our fourth night at sea and we had already decided that the main dining room aboard the ship was not worth visiting anymore. Actually, we made that decision after the first night and had been preferring to eat at the food court on the Lido deck ever since.

There was another option: The Golden Fleece. A signature restaurant that costs an additional $30 per person. Fellow cruisers who had eaten there previously were all raving about the food, so Laina, Jared, Michael and I decided to lash out. In summary, the food was so good that we rebooked to eat there again two days later.

Thrilled by the revelation that we were able to order as many appetizers as we desired, we decided to try them all. The meal was perfect. It was hard to believe that we were on the same boat as the quality of the food was far superior to the main dining room. The escargot were delicious, the tuna tasty and firm (far exceeding my expectations based on Bourdain's "don't eat the sushi on a cruise ship" advice), the bisque rich and creamy and the steak was fork tender.

At the end of the meal, we were beyond full but that didn't stop us from ordering all the desserts on the menu that we could. We ended up having to take the cheese platter and gigantic slice of cheesecake back to the room to eat another day but between the four of us, we covered off most of the restaurant's menu.

For the cost of a few drinks per person, a meal at the Golden Fleece was well worth the expense and a wonderful evening with new friends.

Four very full diners after dinner

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Roatan, Honduras

The third port of call was Roatan, Honduras. Today, we behaved exactly like the stereotype of tourists that I hate.

We walked off the boat and headed to the port (owned by Carnival), spent the day at the beach (owned by Carnival) and drank frozen cocktails at Fat Tuesdays. There was nothing adventurous, nothing insightful and we saw nothing of the real Honduras. As much as I'm ashamed, it was a wonderful day and exactly what we needed.

Laina and I were both exhausted. We had been tearing up the karaoke bar and dance club on the boat four nights in a row and a lazy day was just what was needed. It seemed that our new boat-friends had the same idea so the six of us spent the day together.

The Carnival-owned chairlift

The Gang: Gabe, Breanne, Tristen, Mike, myself and Laina

After some nachos and too many frozen cocktails, we headed back to the port and hit the duty-free shop ($15 of a bottle of Kalhua) before heading onto the boat.

Laina and I at the Carnival-owned port heading back to the boat

Monday 26 September 2011


The next port of call on our cruise was Belize City. Determined to see some authentic part of Central America, rather than just beaches and US-owned themed restaurants, we elected to take a cruise on the River Wallace and a tour of the Mayan ruins at Altun Ha.

After being warned that the bus and river rides in Belize are very rocky, Laina and I both took Dramamine to ensure we wouldn't get sick. The unfortunate side effect, however, is overwhelming drowsiness.

After boarding our long boat for the trip up river, waves of sleep began to overtake me. Thankfully, our new friend, Jared, took plenty of photos for us.

Throughout the boat ride, we saw plenty of wildlife including dolphins, crocodiles, monkeys and various birds. Actually, more accurately, I should say everyone else on the boat saw the wildlife as I was asleep for most of the trip.

One of the many birds along the river

Asleep due to the dramamine

A Belizian crocodile staring at a boatload full of tourists for lunch

Still asleep

After about 2 hours heading upstream, we stopped for a traditional lunch of chicken, rice and beans before heading to the ruins at Altun Ha. Again, I slept on the bus. Snapping out of my daze upon arrival, we spent about an hour at the site, climbing the ruins and learning about the Mayan people.

Michael, Laina, myself and Jared atop the main building

Side view of the main building

After the ruins, it was time to return to the port by bus in order to make the last tender back to the cruise ship. Thankfully, because we had booked through Carnival, they held the tender for us even though we were running very late and were some of the last ones to reboard the cruise ship.

Time to wake up

Sunday 25 September 2011

Swimming with Dolphins: Cozumel, Mexico

For a change of pace on this trip, I decided to take a Caribbean cruise. The cost was the same whether your cabin had one or two adults, so I dragged my cousin Laina along with me. After a day at sea aboard the Carnival Legend, we landed in Cozumel Mexico.

Docked at Cozumel: Our boat is the one on the left

We elected to spend the day at the Chankanaab Park and had organised a Royal Dolphin Swim. When booked directly with Chankanaab Park, the experience is $100 per person less than when booked through the cruise ship so we went independently.

We arrived at the park about three hours prior to our dolphin appointment so we decided to also swim with the manatees. We swam with three boys, two adults and a baby who was very affectionate.

After the manatees, we also went to the Sea Lion show. I have been to numerous aquariums and zoos but have never seen a better run, more amazing show. The sea lions were very talented and we were in stitches of laughter for most of the show. At the end, I even got a kiss....

Finally, it was time for our dolphin swim. We had booked the "Royal Dolphin Swim" which meant that we were able to hug, kiss, hold and dance with the dolphins as well as be towed by the dorsal fins, and my favourite, a foot push where two dolphins lift you up out of the water by their snouts.

If we had booked through the cruise company, we would have been in a group with 10 others, but because we had booked independently, we had the experience to ourselves and were able to spend more time with the dolphins and do numerous foot pushes!

We made it back to the port with some spare time to shop before reboarding our boat. Next stop: Belize.

Laina and I at the port with the bluest water I'd ever seen

Thursday 22 September 2011

B&G Oysters, Boston

After an enjoyable stay with my relatives in Connecticut, I took a bus up to Boston. I had never visited before and was keen to see the city centre, but my prime objective was to locate a really good lobster roll.

Armed with an article from Gourmet magazine detailing the best lobster rolls in Boston, I selected my preferred location and headed off to satisfy my craving.

I selected B & G Oysters in the South End and had a fantastic meal. The lobster chunks were fresh, large and plentiful. Lightly seasoned with just a touch of mayo, enough to moisten but not overwhelm the delicate meat. The outside of the bun was pan fried in a little butter and then warmed in the grill providing the perfect crunchy texture on the outside, but maintaining fluffiness in the middle.

The fries were, without doubt, the great fries I have ever had in my life. Hands down winner. I asked the chef and they were seasoned with basil, chervil, tarragon, chives and a hint of salt. They were perfectly crisp and crunchy with no soggy limp fries in sight.

As a city, I enjoyed Boston. I was only there for two nights as I was leaving for my Caribbean cruise on Sunday but it is a beautiful, historic city.

Align Centre

Monday 19 September 2011

Per Se, New York

My final meal in New York City was at Per Se, Thomas Keller’s east coast signature restaurant. It has been awarded three Michelin stars, four stars by the New York Times and listed at spot number 10 on this year’s Best Restaurant List.

A table reservation is quite hard to come by but after persistent effort, I managed to secure one. An alterative option is to eat in the salon part of the restaurant on a walk-in basis. During my visit, only one table was occupied so I would imagine that this is easy to come by. The menu in the salon, however, is a-la-carte and the tasting menus are not available if seated there.

Before I arrived, I promised myself that I was going to order the smaller 5 course tasting menu for lunch as my appetite for multi-course extravaganzas is waning, however the one signature dish that I wanted to try (Oysters and Pearls) was only available on the nine-course menu so I braced myself for the onslaught.

The restaurant’s décor is sleek and modern with grand views over Columbus Circle. Located in the Time Warner building, opposite Masa, its interior does not match the assumption one would make when you learn it’s located in a shopping mall.

The meal started with a complimentary champagne aperitif accompanied with warm Gruyère Gougères and another signature Keller dish, the Tartare of Scottish salmon, red onion crème fraîche, and black sesame tuille. The gougères were light and the cheese was subtle but the star was by far the salmon. The combination of flavours was faultless and it was one of the most delicious small bites I’ve had in recent times.

The next amuse bouche was a “cranberry bean velouté: peekytoe crab beignets, cumin crème fraîche and jamón ibérico”. The velouté was added tableside so the presentation was a lot prettier than the photo implies.

First course was “Oysters and Pearls: Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar” a dish that was first served at the French Laundry and is now featured on Per Se’s menu. Having read so much about this dish in various food literature for years, I was excited to try it but also a little nervous as I’ve never really loved oysters. In short, it was wonderful; creamy, with explosions of tapioca and caviar in each mouthful.

The next course was another amuse bouche not listed on the menu: truffle custard served with a chive chip. At this point, I knew that this meal was going to be something truly magical. Again, faultless technique and flavours.

Next up was the bread service with fluffy parker house rolls and two types of butter, goats and cows. Delicious, but with eight courses to come plus mignardises, I had to restrain myself.

The second course “Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm: Navel orange, cherry belle radishes, mâche and black winter truffle puree”. The presentation of this course was dainty and striking however I didn’t think the truffle puree matched the other flavours and I felt it was out of place.

The third course was “Atlantic Striped Bass Confit A L’Huile d’olive: ruby beets , garden dill puree and horseradish crème fraîche”. Dill is one of my favourite flavours and the puree delighted the palate with the perfectly cooked fish.

The fourth course was “Butter poached nova scotia lobster: wilted arrowleaf spinach, glazed turnips, tomato confit and chicken jus”. The lobster was succulent but I think the jus was the star of the dish. Truly wonderful.

The fifth course was “Thomas Farm’s Pigeon “Pastrami”: Rye seed pancake, red wine braised cabbage and “thousand island vinaigrette”” which was one of my favourite dishes of my trip thus far. I loved how the kitchen took traditional flavours but mixed it up with the ingredients and presentation to recreate the classic Reuben sandwich.

The sixth course was “Snake River Farms: “Calotte de Boeuf” picked garlic, poached seckel pears, broccolini and matsutake mushroom cream”. The beef was “fork tender” and just the right portion size, nice and dainty. Unfortunately for me, at this point, my dress is becoming uncomfortably tight and I needed to start leaving food on my plate.

The seventh course was ““Caerphilly” sweet peppers, nicoise olives and arugula”. High marks for presentation but the cheese itself (from south Wales) was a little underwhelming.

The eight course was “Honeyed Plums: Plum compote, honeycomb, whipped plums and burnt honey ice cream”. I didn’t expect to like this course but I was pleasantly surprised. However, I only ate half to try to save room. At this point, even the servers were asking me if I was OK or needed to stop. The couple on the table across for me had requested a 15minute break from the kitchen so they could go for a walk.

The ninth course was “Strawberry Yoghurt: sable breton, tri-star strawberries, crystallized lemon verbena and greek yoghurt sherbet which was one of the best desserts I’ve had on this trip. It was light and refreshing and the perfect way to finish the meal.

Of course, however, the meal was not over. It was time for the mignardises. Usually, just a bite or two, the mignardises at Per Se consisted of six different servings.

First up was an entire platter of chocolates (27 different types in total) for which I was able to choose which I would like. I settled one three, a marzipan, a pina colada and a raspberry chocolate.

Following on was white chocolate coated popcorn which were simple yet satisfying.

Another signature dish was next, “Coffee and Doughnuts”. The donuts were small warm bite-sized mouthfuls and the coffee portion was a cappuccino semifreddo which was refreshing and light.

Next up was a huge selection of truffles and macaroons, then candy, cocoa coated hazelnuts and cookies with chocolate ganache. I officially surrendered at this point and asked for the remaining items to take home as I was beyond full.

After the meal, I was given a tour of the kitchen and was able to meet the Chef which was lovely. I was amazed by how large the kitchen was, especially in a local where the rent would be astronomically expensive.

All in all, did it live up to my expectations? Without a doubt! I enjoyed the style of the food at Per Se more than some of my European meals and the technique, flavours and service were world-class. But what else could you expect from one of the world’s best restaurants?

Wednesday 14 September 2011


Veering off food for a while, during my time in New York, I also hit the theatre scene and saw four shows (would have been five if Book of Mormon wasn't so hard to get tickets for).

The first show was Wicked. I saw it for the first time in Australia this January and loved it. It was right around the time I was deciding whether or not to quit my job to take this trip and Elphaba's Defying Gravity "it's time to trust my instincts, close my eyes and leap" resonated.

I was in New York in December 2003 and decided not to see Wicked because, at that time, I'd never heard of it. It was getting rave reviews in all of the theatre publications but I chose to see more established musicals. To this day I regret not seeing the original cast as I am a huge Idina Menzel fan. Although I missed my chance to see the original cast, it is still my favourite musical and I wanted to see it again on Broadway. My seat was front row but on the side and I thought it would be pretty awful but it was fine.

On Wednesday, John-Paul and I decided to try for the Book of Mormon ticket lottery. Two hours prior to each show, a set number of tickets are drawn lotto style. You must be present to win and you can only enter once. By our estimation, about 200 people were vying for 22 tickets. Unfortunately, we were not among of the lucky few.

This is just a fraction of the crowd who entered the lotto

Wednesday night's show was How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying starring Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette. I had not previously seen any prior versions of this musical (it first opened in 1961), so the two leads were the main drawcard for me.

In short, I loved it. I have never laughed so much. Instead of clapping and cheering at the end of each musical, the entire audience would start whooping mid-song and standing ovations were a common occurrence. Both men were absolutely brilliant.

Thursday night's show was Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. I was sceptical about this one as I wasn't sure how a comic book would translate into theatre but everyone thought that the Lion King wouldn't work either...

I had been following a lot of the press for this musical. It is the most expensive musical ever made ($75m), had the longest previews ever (due to scathing reviews and disastrous accidents to cast members). Since it had finally gotten off the ground, and the music was by U2, I thought it might be worth seeing.

In short, I hated it. The aerial sequences were visually stunning, but I felt as though I was watching a live-action stunt show at a theme park rather than a Broadway musical, especially since the show's villains were wearing costumes akin to themepark mascots.

My final show was Mary Poppins on Friday night. The movie was a childhood favourite and continues to be one of my all-time favourite movies (along with Terminator 2). Whilst the musical differs on many points from the movie, it is wonderful in it's own right. Compared to the movie, Jolly Holiday is painfully short but Step in Time and Supercalifragilistic...... are wonderful and Feed the Birds is, of course, very moving.

And that wraps up my Broadway experience for this trip. Hopefully, it is not another eight years between my next visit and Book of Mormon starts touring Australia in a couple of years.