Monday, July 20, 2015

Disney Cruise Eats (Nassau and Remy)

I recently embarked on a Disney cruise with the family. This was our second time cruising with the Great Mouse, and like our previous excursion, my in-laws were part of the traveling party (the occasion being their 50th wedding anniversary). We followed the same itinerary as before, leaving Port Canaveral, Florida and making stops in Nassau, Bahamas and Castaway Cay (Disney's private island). On the first trip, I did some exploring on my own while we were in Nassau and managed to find Arawak Cay, an enclave of dive bars and casual seafood restaurants about a 15-minute walk from the port, where I had a very tasty meal of snapper, conch fritters, and local Kalik beer at a place called Goldie's. Sadly, this pre-dates my blog, so no further record of this visit exists; however, my hope was to repeat more or less the same experience on the latest cruise, this time with my brother-in-law Dan (who's usually up for any interesting diversion involving food/drink) in tow.

Once you leave the bazaar-like atmosphere of Nassau's main business district behind, the path to Arawak Cay grows pretty mellow. We passed mostly locals going about their daily routines, a couple of construction sites, and a few intrepid tourists like ourselves hanging out on a quiet public beach. Before long, we reached a number of beach shacks, all of which offered fresh seafood plates for sale and all of which (save one or two) were closed. A bit further up the road lies Arawak Cay, with more bars/restaurants than I recall seeing in 2008 (many of them looking like they hadn't had a visit from the health department anytime recently) and Goldie's (no longer advertising themselves as "the King of Conchs") still at the end of the street.

Inside Goldie's, the only thing that seemed to be different is that now they appear to host groups of cruisers on shore excursions for lunch (probably paying a mint to be driven over here from the port) - I wasn't immediately sure if this was a welcome development or not. Luckily, the conch fritters were just as good as the first time I had them. Conch meat can be pretty chewy if it's not tenderized properly, but the bits in these fritters were fine by me. Served with a thousand island-like dipping sauce, I reached my limit before I'd eaten my share (Dan was happy to take the remainder off my hands).

All the gringos around us were ordering the fried snapper, so I had to be different and tried the grilled snapper. What appeared in front of me about 20 minutes later was a foil pouch (not unlike those I plop on campfires with the Cub Scouts) containing a whole snapper topped with some sort of vegetable combo (broccoli, cauliflower, onions, and carrots) in a spicy Bahamanian sauce, plus a scoop of white rice to sop up all the juices.

Although the bones proved to be a bit of a hindrance, it was well worth the trouble. I daresay this fish (which I assume had been swimming in the Atlantic earlier that morning) simply prepared was the single best thing I ate on our trip (including all of the gourmet fare being whipped up on board the ship). The sauce was piquant, but not overpowering (no doubt dialed down for the tourists), and I didn't even much mind later that afternoon when I had to spend a little extra quality time in our cabin's lavatory (beer, fried foods, and spice are usually a recipe for disaster in my colon).

On the way back to the boat (and before the tummy troubles), an extended cloudburst flooded the narrow avenues of Nassau and forced us into a trinket shop to dry off. Upstairs was an ice cream parlor and we took it upon ourselves to grab some dessert. I asked the proprietors to suggest a flavor that I wasn't likely to find back in the States and I was directed to soursop, a tropical fruit found throughout Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa. Soursop is purported to have cancer-curing qualities - I can't attest to that, but the pulp reminds me a little of kiwi fruit when featured in ice cream, slightly tart and mellow and a tad refreshing when you're dripping wet.

Back on water, the missus and I separated from our party group the following night to dine at the adults-only upscale restaurant Remy way up on Deck 12 of the behemoth Disney Dream. On our first Disney cruise, we had eaten a terrific meal at Palo, a similar Italian-themed restaurant, so our expectations were pretty high this time. You certainly can't beat the view up here.

Remy (named after the star chef rodent from the movie "Ratatouille") offers a pair of tasting menus, one primarily featuring French-inspired dishes developed by Chef Arnaud Lallement (who helms the 3-Michelin Star l'Assiette Champenoise in Reims, France) and another, more American-influenced menu by Victoria & Albert Head Chef Scott Hunnel (who we briefly met at the Norman's Gala in Orlando a few years ago). Add in desserts and bakery goods conceived by the crack pastry staff at both restaurants and you have the makings of a formidable culinary team. Once we were seated, the slightly tense (but friendly) servers asked us if we wanted to add the sommelier's wine pairings for each course, which we did. Unfortunately, the upselling continued throughout the meal (caviar, ultra-premium beef, extra wines, etc.) and eventually reached the point where it started to detract from the experience. Still, I can put up with a lot if I'm pleased with what's on my plate, and we were very pleased with the first two courses, an amuse-bouche of whipped potato/cheese croquette and a tasty and foamy concoction featuring caramel and foie gras in a martini glass, the likes of which I'd never before encountered.

At this point, my menu started to diverge from Mrs. H's - I'm always a sucker for French cuisine and she chose the American menu so that we could try both sets of dishes.  My first course was an elegantly plated langoustine (lobster) and hers was a single large prawn with the meat sectioned up and enrobed in ham.

Next up for me was a single seared scallop paired with celery in a yuzu citrus sauce, while the #2 America course was a wonderful salmon-crab-asparagus combination.

Staying with the seafood theme, I continued with a piece of halibut served with navet confit (turnip cooked in some kind of animal fat - I'm guessing duck) and a sauce of Noilly Prat Vermouth.  Mrs. H. fawned over her medium-rare lamb loin and carrot sauce dish.

Slowed, but not defeated, I fought my way through a tremendous Wagyu Beef filet with artfully-prepared fennel, while my wife did battle with a similarly-rich veal loin and braised onion dish.

Desserts were world class.  I received a poached pear served two ways - one featuring the fruit's outer core dressed in a fruit syrup, the other "middle" piece in a cylinder and geleed (the only adjective I can think to describe it).  Mrs. H. liked her airy chocolate square and custard (served in an eggshell), but was more taken with my pears, so I was happy to swap with her.

No French meal is complete without a selection of cheeses, of course, and a bit of Sauternes to wash it down (yes, that was totally an upcharge worth indulging).

The kitchen staff was kind enough to bring out a couple of tarts for us to conclude the meal (not that we needed them), plus they bid us Bonne Nuit with a baggie of housemade lollipops and traditional Bordeaux sweets called canneles (basically burnt butter cakes).  We ended up not finding the baggie in our luggage until we got home a few days later, so we busted out the sweets for all to enjoy.  The canneles were a bit of an acquired taste (were they maybe a bit stale by then?); however, the lollipops were great (and this coming from someone who's not a fan of hard candy).

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