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Goldring Travel Tries Out The “New” Silversea: The Silver Muse in Alaska (September 2021)- Part IV (The Dining Experiences – Hamburgers Matter!)

When “cruising” versus “traveling” the onboard culinary experience takes on heightened importance, not that it isn’t an important element at all times.  I know I have a reputation for expecting and appreciating the highest levels of cuisine of whatever style when experiencing a luxury cruise.  But I try to temper that with “What is the guest expectation on this particular cruise line” for what I expect many times is different than the line’s target market.  And that is where perception, marketing, and reality either converge or conflict.  

Before I get into more of the specifics there are a few factors here that may to some make some of my comments seem a bit harsh.  But “I have to call ’em like I see ’em” even in spite of those factors. 

  • Silversea does not normally sail out of Seattle so it does not have a normal provisioner which can result in not receiving certain items or lower quality ones; especially those items in higher demand by its regular land and sea-based customers.
  • A number of items such as unpasteurized French and Spanish cheeses cannot be purchased in the United States and since the Silver Muse was laid up for months there was no way for a stock to be kept onboard for this U.S. sailing.
  • Sadly, this is the last of but a few cruises after the first lay-up before the Silver Muse goes back into lay-up for another extended period.  I can fully understand Silversea not being able to go to the expense of sourcing more creatively and then having so much wasted.  

But, while Silversea is marketing its culinary prowess, especially with its new S.A.L.T. (Sea And Land Taste) program to bring local flavors and cuisines to The Silver Muse’s two new sisters (Silver Moon and Silver Dawn) there was none of it on this ship.  I mean there should have been some Alaskan cuisine and events onboard.  These are low-cost things with an easy local supply.  Heck, even the seafood buffet lunch in La Terrazza had the standard fare of cold seafood and no fresh Alaskan fare…other than possibly halibut; with even the salmon was farmed, not fresh.

So with that…

Silversea Silver Muse has multiple dining venues with a variety of culinary experiences. This is a real strength; with Italian, Japanese, Asian, French and American offerings every evening along with a nightclub dinner venue. However, there is a confusing array of needing reservations at some venues, but not others coupled with extra charges at some but not others.

I understand that while the Silver Muse must have a reservation system for some of the smaller venues such as Silver Note, Kaiseki, and La Dame I cannot fathom the rationale for having $60 per person extra charges for the latter two. Silversea is a luxury product that should not be nickel and diming, and if you are paying $15,000+ for your cruise such costs aren’t going to be the deciding factor in determining your dining experience; unless you find it offensive avoid a venue in protest of paying the extra. (And I really don’t think that is Silversea’s intention.)  On the marketing side of things, if the idea is to elevate these restaurants’ cache, they better deliver. Unfortunately, especially for La Dame, they don’t…at least on a luxury culinary level.  

Silversea’s Silver Muse has an excellent premium wine list

As many of you know, I am a firm believer in “The Hamburger Test“.  If the cruise line can deliver an excellent hamburger I am confident the rest of the ship’s cuisine will also be. If there are hamburger shortcomings, I consistently find other culinary issues. Overall my Hamburger Test, discussed below, was correct in giving me pause.  There are a few reasons for this and most of them are easy fixes.  The most important ones: ingredient quality and too many items being, in whole or in part, being prepared in advance rather than ala minute.

To keep my comments in perspective (“Isn’t life tough?” LOL), normally on a luxury cruise ship or an upscale land-based restaurant, I have my wine selection compliment my culinary experience. However, on the Silver Muse, I found my wines tending to be the focus with the food supplementing (or undercutting) the wine. Fortunately, I took great advantage of the excellent selection and pricing of wines on the Silver Muse (up to 30% below US retail prices). Some of my selections were:

  • Vincent Girardin Corton Charlemagne
  • Chateau Lynch Bages Bordeaux
  • Joseph Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet
  • Beaucastel Chateauneuf du pape
  • Guado al Tasso Bolgheri Superiore
  • Mastro Janni Brunello di Montalcino

and more!

So let me start my review of the Silversea Silver Muse’s two casual poolside dining venues.  

On Deck 10 is The Grill, which becomes Hot Rocks (where you cook your food on a hot lava rock…something I have no interest in, but many find it fun) and right above it on Deck 11, Spaccanapoli (the pizza venue with a name I, like many, will never be able to pronounce).  Silversea really has to change the look of these two venues. There is no style and no show. Each has a very utilitarian and, frankly, ugly cooking area behind high glass walls (so either make them inviting and interactive, or obscure them from view). Couple that with simply white laminate tables and, well: Boring and Uninviting. One other quirky thing about The Grill: The three-piece band is located right behind the tables playing their old-school music. Too loud and too weird for me.  The true saving grace is the enthusiastic and charming crew serving The Grill. (Unfortunately, not so much at Spaccanopoli.)

Goldring Travel Hamburger Test

At The Grill, I did my usual Hamburger Test and decided to throw in a hot dog as well. The hot dog nailed it. Perfect toasted bun with a great-tasting hot dog with onions along with all the proper accouterment.  However, the hamburger was not so good. The bun was greasy (even on the top), there was one tiny piece of a leaf of lettuce, the burger was thick, but pretty much flavorless and not juicy at all. I tried it a second time and, alas, my hamburger was pretty much the same.  French fries and onion rings were good. Overall:  Hamburger B-.  Hot Dog A+.

Moving up to Deck 11, Spaccanapoli, I admit I have an unashamedly New York/New Jersey prejudice when it comes to pizza; something that has been well-confirmed and validated as correct during my visits to Naples, Italy. The Silversea pizzas are, unfortunately, not that.  (I will say that I heard a number of people really liked the pizza…and they clearly aren’t from where I am. Maybe they think a cheese bagel is a thing? LOL)

While waiting for your individual-sized pizza to be prepared you are presented with a selection of parmesan cheese bites, fresh olives, and sun-dried tomatoes to occupy your time. 

While the ingredients are very good, my first pizza violated the No. 1 Rule of Pizza: When I picked up a slice, the crust slouched under and all the ingredients slide off the pizza. On my second visit, I asked for a more well-done crust. Oh, I could pick it up, but when I went to fold it, it literally cracked. Ugh.  I then said, “Let me try a Calzone” and while the crust was crispy when I cut into it a flood of liquid poured out. I’m not exaggerating, as it overwhelmed the serving platter and I had to grab napkins to keep it from overflowing the table.  

I also noticed that the pizza dough is never “worked” by the chef before baking, but just spread out and then a large amount of cornmeal is used to keep it from sticking.  More working and less cornmeal = problem solved!

My conclusion:  Ya gotta know how to make a friggin’ pizza. Fuggedaboudit!  

Silver Muse’s Silver Note

I mentioned Silver Note, which was my favorite venue; not only for dinner but for cocktails with some very good jazzy guitarist, pianist, and singer entertainment with a wonderful bartender. The first time I dined there they put together a platter for me of lobster, octopus, and duck. A tasty and wonderful presentation.

Silver Notes’ Lobster, Octopus & Duck

The second time I ordered the Beehive starter which is really a gimmicky presentation of small seafood bites that, at least for me, didn’t work. I could get over the weird presentation, but the quality of the seafood just wasn’t there.  However, my duck was – again  – wonderfully prepared and presented.  So I ordered it on my last visit as well! (Just to jump ahead, “Why can’t La Dame do it?”)

Silver Muse’s Indochine

Another solid venue is Indochine, which has a more Asian flair to it. I am not thrilled with the décor, which seems (again) very cruiseshippy and would be improved easily by adding tablecloths. I am, however, a huge fan of Hot & Sour Soup, which I asked to be kicked up a notch. Nailed it! Velvety with not a hint of too much corn starch (a very common flaw). Glad I ordered a big bowl of it!

The Lobster Pad Thai was also quite good, though glass noodles and the overall presentation aren’t what one expects.  I like creativity and play off the norm!  Beef Char Sui had great flavor and a nice presentation. The Thai Green Chicken Curry was also quite good!

And then there was the Caramelized Banana & Coconut Sorbet.  The sorbet was good, but the soggy fried banana was sitting on top of a pre-prepared and days’ old meringue. (Definitely not photo-worthy!)

Silver Muses Kaiseki

Kaiseki is open-seating for lunch (sashimi and sushi rolls) and reservations and $60 extra charge for dinner (teppanyaki-esque). It is a small venue with black walls, tables, and counters with two back-to-back teppanyaki grills.  First and foremost, the staff from maître de to servers to chefs are incredibly friendly and accommodating. They most certainly brighten up the dark space!

For lunch, there is a fairly standard, but diverse, sashimi and sushi roll menu. The chef definitely works with what he has, but the quality of the fish just isn’t what I expect on Silversea. It is good, but not great. I also found it disappointing that while there were a number of rolls available, they were pre-prepared and you are offered two pieces rather than a whole roll.  I had lunch there a few times, so keep my comments in perspective.

Dinner starts with a Fish, Meat, or Vegetarian Bowl of sorts. It comes in three sections with a variety of salad and selected meat or fish.  The rest is kinda-sorta served Teppanyaki style. Lobster, Wagu Beef, and Miso Black Cod is served course by course. On one grill a chef cooks the beef and fried rice while the other works other ingredients…while others are prepared in the galley. The lobster and Wagu beef are very good, but both times the cod was mushy and missing that wonderful flavor.

Of note, there is no sake menu. You have a choice of cold or warm sake. This really needs to be upgraded; especially as this is an extra cost dining venue.

Silver Muse’s La Terrazza

La Terrazza is the daily casual dining buffet venue for breakfast and lunch but is converted into an Italian restaurant for dinner.  The breakfast buffet, especially for hot (warmish if you are lucky) food, is bad; not OK, but bad. Sorry looking cold potatoes, greasy sausages, runny eggs, etc. served in utilitarian vessels behind a commercial-looking glass wall is really unappetizing.

There are also buffet islands with smoked fish, fruits, meat and cheeses, cereals, and breads; all served by the staff. The breads are different colors, but essentially all white bread in flavor and texture. The croissants were, for the first week of the cruise, small airline-sized and quality, but I guess they found the better ones later in the cruise (provisioning issues?).  There is no toasting of breads available at the buffet. (I am not sure if this is a Covid thing or just how it normally is.)

Oh, what to do? With the service being excellent: Order from your table! Problem solved! You may order omelets, waffles, pancakes, etc., toasted breads and bagels (curiously bagels are not set out in the buffet), and basically anything on the buffet.  Lunch is a similar affair but with a very nice pasta entrée offered (though some guests noted inconsistency in preparation). Again, use the waiters!

Dinner, however, is a nice transformation with white tablecloths and dim lighting setting a nice stage for an enjoyable multicourse dining experience. My first time I started with an OK small Seafood Medley followed by a Peppered Goat Cheese Fritter Salad, which was tasty but I wish the fritters were warm, not ice cold.  It was then a very good Spaghetti with Clams and Mussels, but there were no clams. (I attribute this to a provisioning issue, so no points off!).  Having properly prepared pasta is so rare these days, so having it al dente was wonderful.  Then it was a very nicely prepared Arctic Char with a wonderfully crispy skin, presented skin side up, as it really should be. 

Atlantide is the closest thing to a typical cruise ship dining venue serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Silver Muse’s Atlantide

Breakfast is pretty much exactly what you get in La Terrazza, but with slooow and uninspired service. You wouldn’t think you were on the same ship.  And, when I ordered the French Toast it came with a watery mess, courtesy of the undrained fruit placed on the plate as garnish.

I tried again for lunch and, while it service and cuisine were better, the venue was just a bit depressing; not because of the décor but the overall lack of energy.  I never did try it for dinner, but I heard from a few folks that they thought it was the best venue on the ship for dinner.

So now let me address my continued disappointment with the most hyped restaurant on Silversea: La Dame.  I wasn’t impressed when I dined there on the Silver Shadow and I remain unimpressed.  If Silversea is going to hype a venue it better deliver and that just hasn’t happened, other than the service being quite good.

One huge improvement, however, is the space and decor. It is a small, elegant, space with a beautiful central wine cellar, dark woods, and dim lighting.  However, the tables are closer than one would expect considering the décor…and hype. Not a dealbreaker at all, but only of note.

Service begins with the presentation of a never-changing menu and Silversea’s excellent (including pricing) wine list. You have a choice of a Degustation Menu with paired extra cost wines (or not) or ala carte with the same items offered.  And then the dining experience begins…and, for me, the disappointment; noting I dined there twice on this cruise to give it a fair review.

You are offered a variety of very small bread rolls, but nothing you can’t have elsewhere on the ship. Breads overall haven’t been great, but I have to both mention it, but also give it a pass as this is the last cruise and I don’t know if they are baked onboard or are frozen (the latter being my guess).  My starter each time was the Foie Gras en Robe (terrine) with a gelee which was curiously very thinly sliced and served ice cold.  Combining the thinness of the foie gras with the cold prevented the sumptuousness of the fatty deliciousness from being, well, that. (My first order the gelee was actually hard.)

I also ordered (heck, it’s me, right?) the Escargot and enjoyed them being served beautifully and not in a pool of garlic butter.My soup courses were also fine. Bouillabaisse was acceptable, but not amazing. However, the Mushroom Veloute was excellent.  After a lemon sorbet palate cleanser, it was time for the main course which, each time, disappointed me.  The first time it was allegedly fresh halibut, substituted from Chilean seabass (which I do not believe should ever be served as this toothfish – yup it is what it really is, but it sounds not quite so appetizing – is under severe pressure from overfishing); presented as one of the only acknowledgments we were in Alaska. It clearly has been pre-cooked and was sitting waiting for me. Ugh.

The second time I ordered the Duck in a Tarte Tatin. While the duck was perfectly cooked it was over-sauced (by a lot) and presented with a mound of salad on top so you had to dig through the salad to even confirm you were served duck. (I mentioned that a really enjoyed my duck at Silver Note, presented wonderfully and with exceptional flavor.)  I know style is personal, but who came up with this dish to be served at the finest restaurant on the ship?

Duck Tarte Tatin (Duck, Duck, Where the Heck is the Duck?

I then twice made the mistake of order the Cheese Platter. It was pathetic. As I noted above, there were no amazing French cheeses, but I would have preferred just eliminating the course from the menu with an apology that appropriate cheeses were not available. When I inquired I was told that not everyone really appreciates fine cheeses and it would be more of a disappointment not having any cheese. I guess it is a fair comment, but I wonder if Silversea should be kowtowing to that market. What also astounded me was the open-seating Atlantide had a better cheese selection and it was offered to me during my second experience. Huh?

The “signature” dessert is a Grand Marnier Souffle. It was small but good.  One stylistic disappointment. The server poked a hole in it to pour the sauce in, but on Seabourn it is a bit more elegant as they cut a flap, pour, and then return the flap so the presentation is of a whole souffle top.

Overall the Silversea dining experience has vastly improved over my last two Silversea cruises both as to quality and number of venues. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I am a tough critic when it comes to cuisine; especially on a luxury line that hypes its position. And I also acknowledge that many guests may prefer simpler or are as pleased as can be with the cuisine, the buffets, etc. 

But I also wish to emphasize that while there are flaws most of them can be easily fixed with small changes and a bit of training in the galley.

Most importantly, whatever the culinary positives and negatives there may be, when summed up, I am enthusastically looking forward to another Silversea cruise.  

Part V: Reflections

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Waves We’ve Made

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