CRUISE DINING REVIEW:
THE AMERICAN TABLE
Richard H. Wagner
Carnival Liberty is one of four ships in the Carnival fleet to trial a new dining concept in the main dining rooms. (The other ships are Carnival Glory, Carnival Imagination and Carnival Inspiration). This concept is reflected in a new series of menus. (See our menus page). However, the concept involves more than just a change in the items listed on the menus. Rather, it is a revitalization of the main dining room experience, intended to make it more vital and contemporary.
On casual nights, guests are presented with “American Table” menus. This is a series of menus that changes each night and which reflects the changes ship's location. Thus, if Liberty was in Cozumel during the day, the menu in the main dining rooms would feature a number of items linked to Cozumel are offered on the menu. If the ship was in Belize, the menu would have items from the local cuisine in Belize.
This is a particularly nice feature. First, it makes the main dining rooms relevant to what has been going on during the day. All too often on a cruise what happens in the main dining room has no connection to what the passengers have been doing ashore. Second, guests are often interested in sampling the local cuisine but are unable to do so in port because of time constraints or because of concerns about the restaurants ashore. This menu gives them the opportunity to try the local cuisine in a safe environment.
The menus do not just offer local dishes. There is a good variety of appetizers, main courses and side dishes. These included inventive dishes such as salmon cake and crispy shrimp with coconut curry. There are also familiar favorites such as chicken pot pie and beef lasagna, which we found particularly enjoyable.
In the past, the menus on the Carnival ships had a page of items that were available “everyday.” While not labeled as such on the American Table menus, there are a number of popular dishes that are available almost every night. To illustrate, chicken breast, flat iron steak, and pork chop appeared on each of the American Table menus under the heading “From the Grill.” Salmon filet appeared there every night except the night when the salmon cake was on the menu.
There also are a number of items that appeared each night under the heading “For the Table” including fried calamari, flatbread, and Caesar salad. The idea is that a large plate of these items can be brought out and shared “family style” by everyone at the table.
While this idea may have some appeal to families that are dining together, often in a main dining room the people sitting at a table, especially a large table, are not family. Indeed, they often include people who were strangers prior to the cruise. Furthermore, diseases such as the noro virus can be passed by touching utensils that have been touched by an infected person. Consequently, sharing is not attractive.
Realizing that some guests have reservations about sharing, our waiters volunteered that they could bring individual portions of the items listed under the “For The Table” heading. This turned out to be quite fortune as the flatbread was very good and it would have been a shame to miss it.
On formal nights, the guests are presented with “American Feast” menus. As the name indicates, these are intended to be grand meals in the cruise ship tradition. For example, on the first feast night, both Maine lobster tail and prime rib of beef were featured on the menu. Provision is also made for a pasta course between the appetizer and the main course.
The American Feast menus do not have the sharing section like the America Table menus. They also do not have the listing of items available most nights. However, a sentence under the main course listings informs the guest that those items are available on request.
On Carnival Liberty, dinners are still presented in the traditional Carnival style - - on crisp white table cloths in the grand and sumptuously decorated Gold or Silver Olympian main dining rooms. In contrast, as part of the implementation of this new dining concept on Carnival Glory, table cloths have been dispensed with on casual nights in favor of a place mats on bare simulated-wood tables.
We definitely prefer the Carnival Liberty approach. While the approach on Glory may be consistent with some trendy shoreside restaurants, it is hard to see how it fits with the elegant décor of the main dining rooms on Glory. In addition, many guests dine during the day off of bare tables in the the ship's buffet restaurant. Dinner in the main dining rooms should be, and always has been on Carnival ships, something special and different.
Overall, we enjoyed the American Table and American Feast menus. They offer a good variety of intriguing new dishes and familiar favorites. Whether due to the recipes or the skill of Liberty's chefs, we found the items to be tasty and interesting. They elevate dining in the main dining rooms to a new level.
Cruise ship dining review - - Carnival Cruise Lines - - Carnival Liberty - - American Table/American Feast