DesertSkies120 Posted October 18, 2013 #1 Share Posted October 18, 2013 DINING AND FOOD ON THE M/S PAUL GAUGUIN I am double-posting this topic in a thread separate from this more-general review, in part because I am a bit of a “foodie”, and in part because food was one of my main concerns as I approached the planning of a cruise with PG. Food on cruise ships can run the gamut from very good to very, very bad, and once on board there are not a lot of alternatives if the food is bad. My own previous cruise experience has been with Cunard, mostly transatlantic (more than a dozen times), and the food has usually been very, very good. But we all know that excellent food starts with excellent ingredients, and Cunard has ready access to the best provisioning resources at its New York and Southampton ports. Paul Gauguin, on the other hand, has some serious logistical challenges for provisioning, since their home port is Papeete, Tahiti, well removed from any major landmass. For example: There is no fresh milk available in French Polynesia. My tour through the local grocery store confirmed that you simply cannot buy a bottle of cold, fresh milk. That may sound like “no biggie”, since many adults do not drink milk by the glass. But what about milk for your morning bowl of cereal? For cooking? Cream for your coffee? Whipped cream for desserts? The only liquid dairy products (milk, cream) available in French Polynesia are all “Ultra Heat Treated”, or “UHT”. The treatment process destroys all of the micro-organisms normally found in fresh milk, so that the product can be packaged in flat-sided boxes (like juice and wine boxes) and stored at room temperature for up to 18 months. This allows for time-consuming shipment by ocean-going vessels from the nearest land mass (US, New Zealand, Australia) to FP. The drawback is that UHT milk is utterly unpalatable as a straight drinking beverage. It even tastes bad over cereal. Whipped cream made with UHT cream is likewise ... well, just plain nasty. Similarly, there is no commercial-scale meat production in French Polynesia. So how do they get fresh red meat (beef, lamb)? They do not. Instead, meat is shipped in by sea, frozen solid and vacuum packed, with the beef coming from the US and the lamb from New Zealand. So the steak or lamb chop you have on board may have been heavily processed and frozen solid for 2 or 3 weeks, minimum, before it reaches the table in L’Etoile or La Verandah. And that is perhaps the reason way I heard a number of complaints about the non-fish main dishes in the evenings ... the meat is not of the freshest and best quality owing to restrictions imposed by the logistics of provisioning. On the “plus side”, PG has ready access to some of the tastiest tropical fruits imaginable, all grown locally and most of it truly “vine ripened”. You have not tasted a banana until you have tasted one that went yellow while still on the tree! Likewise, the fish is all locally sourced and is about as fresh as you can get, short of cooking it while still on the boat that caught it! There are three evening dining options on board. The main dining room, L’Etoile, is “open seating” and does not require reservations for dinner. The menu in L’Etoile changes daily, though there are two main course options that remain constant. More below on the individual dishes. La Verandah is intended to be more elegant, and the menu is unchanging for each of two halves of the cruise. The menu itself is divided into two halves, both consisting of French cuisine: one replicates dishes served in Chef Jean-Pierre Vigato’s very exclusive Michelin-starred Paris restaurant, Apicius; the other is adapted to French Polynesia (though it is still very French). The descriptive text on the menus stipulates that the two versions were carefully selected to create a total dining experience and absolutely no substitutions are allowed. This led to considerable confusion, since it implied that you had to choose one of the two menus and stick only to the dishes offered on that specific menu. In fact, you can pick and choose dishes from BOTH menus, having a starter from one, a salad from the other, etc. But this is not clear from the menu, and my waiters did not volunteer the information (those at neighboring tables sometimes did, however). Unfortunately, I was not feeling well on the one night I ate in La Verandah (see Incidents and Accidents in the main review), so I cannot fairly comment on the food, other than to say that the Vanilla Crème Brûlée was the best I’ve ever had ... and it was a huge portion. Le Grille is an open-air restaurant created each evening by re-decorating the buffet area on the pool deck. It too has a menu that does not change for half of the cruise. The fare is lighter and in some ways more adventurous, with lots of local dishes. I tried the seared scallops appetizer, but I am sorry to report that the scallops were grossly undercooked. In fact, I am a little suspicious that they were the source of my little stomach bug, since it began the following day. Despite that one flaw, the Caesar’s Salad was superb, if a bit tiny, and the duck was amazing. For dessert, a banana split, appropriately undersized and made with those incredible tree-ripened local bananas (and the nasty UHT whipped cream ... easy enough to remove). The service in Le Grille was simply outstanding, both at dinner and during the day. On the whole and beyond my two evening meals in the specialty restaurants, the food on the PG was very good. There were some real standouts and pleasant surprises, but also one or two real misses. Let’s tackle this topic in the order of breakfast, lunch, then dinner...... How can you not do well with breakfast? Short of the above-mentioned fresh milk issue, it’s almost foolproof. I did have breakfast via room service on three mornings, as noted elsewhere in the general review, and it was very good every time. When I ate breakfast in a dining area, I opted for Le Grille every time. No better way to start the day than out on deck looking at the blue waters and green mountains! The breakfast buffet in Le Grille is extensive, with a wide range of choices in juices (the orange juice is tastier than anything I’ve had in the US), cereals, fruits, cheeses, and cold-cut meats. There is an omelet station, but the one omelet I had tasted so bad that I had to ask the waiter if the eggs were real or powdered (they are real). Odd, since the fried eggs tasted great. And there are lots of fresh pastries that change daily. PG has an excellent bread and pastry maker! The chocolate croissants were amazing. Lunch was, for me, likewise always in Le Grille. I quickly came to look forward to lunch each day, since the menu is done to a theme. For our first day, the theme was English Pub Lunch. Odd as that may sound for a ship in French Polynesia, I must say I was very impressed. I’ve been eating pub lunches in the UK regularly for 25 years, and the PG pub lunch was as good as or better than many of those! The fish and chips were very authentic, and came complete with Heinz-brand dark malt vinegar for the chips. Mushie peas (a very “English” dish), Cornish pasties (best I’ve ever had!), and trifle for dessert. The only “miss” on this menu was the “vegetarian shepherd’s pie”. Just a bunch of sliced veggies in a heavy cream sauce with a very thin layer of mashed potatoes on top. Even with this one first-day miss, I was already hooked on Le Grille for lunch. Other lunch themes included Indian, Italian, Greek, Polynesian, Asian, and American-ish. I am a HUGE fan of Indian food, to the extent that I have a set round of restaurants that I have to visit on each trip to London in order to fulfill my quota for authentic Indian dishes. Still, the chicken tandoori and lamb curry on PG were the best examples of those two dishes that I have ever had! Many other passengers shared my assessment, and we were all marveling at the tandoori for the remainder of the day. I was thrilled when the lamb curry made a second appearance later in the cruise on Asian day. The Italian and Greek menus were good, though Greek food is usually too heavy for my taste. The moussaka was excellent, as were the lamb kabobs, the spanakopita, and chicken in yogurt. And you could build your own pita pocket sandwich! A made-to-order pasta station (available on many other days as well) turned out simple but very tasty pasta dishes, and the pasta was never overcooked. The bow-tie pasta with creamy gorgonzola sauce was “to die for”! The Italian pizza had a crust that was perhaps too bread-like for my taste. For American food, we had BBQ ribs that were outstanding, especially considering that we were on a small ship in the remote South Pacific! The guacamole and chips were also outstanding. Sadly, the onion rings were doughy and very undercooked. And for some very odd reason, the chef chose to serve New England Clam Chowder as the soup of the day that day! I think of chowder as a winter dish, for warming up by the fire after a day out in the snow. Yet there we were, in 85 degree heat, melting in 75% humidity, and baking under an equatorial sun! I asked the Executive Sous Chef why they did not serve a cold soup, perhaps a refreshing gazpacho. He simply looked puzzled. But to PG’s credit, many of the subsequent soups of the day turned out to be cold fruit soups ... ever had banana soup? It’s delicious! And don’t miss the Tahitian Chicken with Pineapple and Peppercorns over rice on the Asian day! Another simple but amazing dish! Dinner in L’Etoile – No reservations required, but the earlier you go, the less likely you are to have to wait for a table. It *does* fill up on some nights, and people had to wait in the Piano Bar until a table became available. There were some real standouts in L’Etoile. As noted above under breakfast, PG has an excellent bread and pastry chef, and all of the dinner breads are made fresh on-board daily. The bread basket had at least 5 choices each evening, ranging from the standard baguette slice to fancy cheese rolls (amazing!), rye breads, barley breads, croissants, and others too numerous to remember. And thankfully, the butter is *not* UHT, since it can survive shipping without pre-treatment. There are two pasta choices on the menu in L’Etoile each evening, and they can be ordered as either an appetizer portion or a main. There is also always one chicken breast and one New Zealand salmon main option, either of which can be served grilled, sauteed, or poached using any of the several sauces available elsewhere on that night’s menu. So if none of the mains appeal, you can create your own made-to-order chicken or fish! The menu also has excellent vegetarian options, something that is often difficult to find in land-based restaurants in the US. And for the health-conscious, there is a suggested “Light and Healthy” meal adapted from the rest of the menu, as well as a “No Salt Added” meal option. Outstanding dishes: · Spanakopita appetizer – one of the best spanakopitas I’ve ever had · Cream of cauliflower soup – in general, the soups are all outstanding · Cold banana soup – sounds bizarre, but very tasty · Vegetable spring rolls – served with a tiny watermelon salad, a nice contrast · Shrimp escabeche with onion and coriander – amazing! · Caramelized onion and gruyere cheese tart garnished with leek fondue – OMG, as the kids say! Though served by the small triangular slice, I could easily have eaten the entire tart! Superb! · Indian tomato rasam broth – another simply stellar dish that was both an excellent soup and an Indian dish! · Roast rack of lamb (really two lamb chops) with herb crust, ratatouille, green beans poached in a bacon sleeve, and gratinated potatoes. The lamb was perfectly cooked. I could have eaten three servings of the ratatouille. · Moon fish filet with rosemary-onion sauce – no idea what a moon fish looks like, but it sure tasted good! · Grilled mahi mahi with citrus butter, button and portobello mushrooms, snow peas, and shallots In general, all of the fish dishes were superb. I have no idea what some of the fish actually *are*, such as wahoo/wahooi and moon fish, but they were all perfectly cooked and paired with sauces that complemented them very well indeed. And given the difficulties in sourcing beef, I found that it too was surprisingly good, despite the occasional complaints from others. There was the customary beef wellington and prime rib, as well as rib-eye steaks, roast beef, and veal osso buco. Pork was somewhat less evident, but did make appearances on a few nights as loin medallions with chanterelle and cappuccino sauce or honey dijon mustard cream sauce, and as Asian sweet and sour pork. Misses: · Cream of mushroom soup – almost black, tasted more like straight-up pureed portabellos, much too “earthy” · Calamari fritti – this one should be a no-brainer since we were in FP, but the calamari rings were HUGE and rubbery · Hush Puppies – the menu said “Corn Fritters(Hush Puppies)”. But those are two very different dishes. What was served was a corn fritter. Had the menu said simply “corn fritter”, this would have appeared on the “Outstanding” list. They were made mostly of flour with corn kernels added, varied in shape, and perfectly fried to a light golden brown. But true Southern Hush Puppies are not a fritter. Made from yellow corn meal and (ideally) buttermilk, they are properly egg-shaped and deep-fried to create a thick, crunchy, deep-brown exterior. No corn kernels are added, though Cajuns in southern Louisiana will sometimes add jalapeno bits. Hush puppies are traditionally served with fried catfish and accompanied by tartar sauce, while these corn fritters had an Asian sweet and sour cucumber dipping sauce. I later had a friendly discussion with Executive Chef and showed him how to make a proper Southern Hush Puppy! Desserts – If there was any one area in which the food on PG suffered a “global failure”, this would have to be it. I was severely disappointed with the desserts, not only from the standpoint of execution, but also variety and creativity. Fruit compositions (tarts, pies, cakes) pre-dominated, as one would expect. But the pie and tart pastries were thick and heavy, not light and flaky. The nasty-tasting whipped cream ruined a number of desserts that might have otherwise been very good, especially anything with a cream filling (e.g.: Napoleons, trifles, eclairs, even mousse). Additionally, the portions were quite small, at least by US standards. It took three PG scoops of ice cream to equal a single scoop from Baskin Robbins. And when served from the buffet in Le Grille, everything tended to wilt or melt very quickly in the heat and humidity. On a more positive note, the dinner menu in L’Etoile always included a clever ice cream dish, called a “coupe”. Though tiny in size (served in a half-sized martini glass), they included the “Amadeus Mozart” (vanilla ice cream with chocolate rum sauce and whipped cream), the “Bora Bora” (vanilla with pineapple compote, whipped cream, and toasted coconut), the “Denmark” (vanilla with chocolate sauce and almonds), the “Charlie Brown” (Rocky Road ice cream with caramel sauce and “lots of peanuts”), and the “Banana Boat” (vanilla ice cream with caramelized banana, pineapple compote, whipped cream, and toasted almonds), among others. And the visual presentation of the plated desserts was always outstanding, with lots of dribbles and swipes and dots of colorful fruit purees in artistic patterns. Wines – a few past reviewers have been critical of the wines served on PG. I am not myself a wine drinker (never developed a taste for it), but I have to marvel at complaints when the wine is “free” (no extra charge for the basic service). I have lived in California for a total of 20 years, so I am at least passingly familiar with the California labels. And I recognized many on the PG, all of which are (I thought) considered reasonably good wines, though perhaps not true premium wines. In L’Etoile, the wines seemed to be almost evenly divided between Californian and French, with a generous dollop of Australian tossed in as well. Labels that I can actually remember include Huntington, Jacob’s Creek, Grgich, Puligny Montrachet, plus a lot of “Chateau” this-that-and-the-other. I tasted a few, and they were all good, at least to my uneducated and inexperienced palette. And the wine servers, though clearly (even to me) not true sommeliers, were at least able to offer an accurate basic description of the character of whatever they were serving. Maybe a true oenophile will offer a good review of the wines? One last food-related observation, this one neutral : There was absolutely no fresh ground pepper to be had in any dining room on PG. All that was available was the powdered pepper in the ceramic shakers, something akin to serving Parkay with a fresh-baked brioche! On most cruise ships, including both Cunard and Princess, the waiters make a nuisance of themselves waving the 18-inch peppermill around the table. I asked about this, and was told by the Maitre-d’ that all but one of the PG’s peppermills had been broken over time, and they were awaiting replacements (“They’re on back order”). Rather than try to make due with just one, they opted to withdraw fresh-ground pepper until the new mills arrive. But I never really missed it. A word about evening dining attire: I enjoy dressing up. We do not do that where I live (Palm Springs, CA) because the desert temperatures require keeping it light and simple. Suits on men and long dresses on women are just not comfortable when it is 105 degrees at midnight, as it often is during summer! So while some people “relax” on vacation and wear “comfortable” clothing, I do enjoy dressing up instead. Cunard transatlantic means tuxedos and evening gowns 3 or 4 nights out of 6, with suits and cocktail dresses on the other nights. PG is, quite rightly, considerably more relaxed in its dress code for evenings in the main dining rooms. No shorts allowed, though, and shirts with a collar are supposedly required for men. I was pleasantly surprised that 99% of the passengers on my cruise *did* put in the effort and dressed smartly every evening. True, I saw only one jacket and one tie on any man, but at least there were no flip-flops or Harley-Davidson t-shirts in the dining room (as on Princess cruises)! I did see one man turned away from the dining room for wearing shorts, and one man in a solid-colored collarless t-shirt inside L’Etoile, but they were rare exceptions. Of course, Hawaiian-style shirts were everywhere, almost like a quasi-official uniform for the cruise. But pair them with some nice trousers and a pair of good leather loafers and you look great. Women seem to do much better at dressing appropriately than most men, so I did not see any ladies who were under-dressed. Most looked quite elegant. So put forth a little effort, even if you are on vacation and do not want to dress up! One other non-food issue deserves attention here: noise in L’Etoile. Because L’Etoile is at the stern and relatively low in the ship, it can get quite noisy from the propulsion system if the ship is underway. This is especially true when in the open straits between the Society Islands and the Tuamotus Archipelago. The ship’s propellers seem to generate cavitation that makes the entire stern of the ship vibrate, so much so that glasses tinkle together at the waiter’s stations. A few passengers found it mildly disturbing, but it is really nothing to worry about. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.