Oceania Sirena Cruise: Specialty ship restaurant Red Ginger is superb

ABOARD THE OCEANIA SIRENA – I don’t want to spoil the surprise but I’ve never seen this happen. Maybe I just haven’t eaten in the right restaurants.

My finger towel is starting to expand when hot water is poured on it.

Oceania Sirena has two specialty restaurants where reservations must be made. There is no extra charge – in fact, there are few extra charges at all on this cruise ship. Most passengers can expect to dine at least once in Red Ginger and once in Tuscan Steak. If the restaurants are not booked up, passengers may be able to reserve another dining adventure.

Dinner is served from 6:30 to 9 p.m. in both specialty restaurants so I booked my Red Ginger reservation for the early one. I like to eat early. I’ll write more about Tuscan Steak later. This is about Red Ginger.

As one of the first few in line when Red Ginger opened, I was treated to a song by the waiters. I don’t know what they were singing as they stood in line but it was entertaining. Then they bowed and welcomed us.

Edamame in sea salt is a starter.

The décor of Red Ginger is red and ebony, very sleek and Asian with plenty of window views and a glistening red crystal chandelier overhead. The atmosphere is tranquil. Waiters are dressed in black with mandarin-collar jackets. Diners are expected to enjoy leisurely meals.

My favorite maître d’ Susan Lingao was working in Red Ginger and led me to a wonderful table for one by a window where I could watch the ocean roll. I’ve said it before but I appreciate Sirena’s courtesy to solo travelers. That does not happen on all cruise lines or in all restaurants.

My favorite waiter Yasa also was working in Red Ginger and brought me a menu. Then waitress Myat placed an “amuse bouche” in front of me – a miniature tureen of edamame beans with sea salt.

The “leaf” of my tea bag peeks out of a heavy cast iron teapot.

Next was that little surprise I mentioned. Myat plopped what looked like a small mint in a shallow white porcelain bowl. When she poured hot water on the tablet, it rolled over and expanded in all directions and smelled like lemons. That was my finger towel to use before and after eating the edamame with my fingers, Myat said.

Myat also brought a tea menu. I’m not much of a tea drinker but this was special. I appreciated that the menu had a short description of the teas, how long each tea should be infused and whether it had caffeine. Selections included green tea, white tea, black tea and herbal tea. I chose caffeine-free ginger lemongrass.

The tea was served in a heavy carved cast iron teapot. I took a photo of it so you could see the little “leaf” poking out of the pot. That is the tea bag. The tea was refreshing and delicious. Red Ginger also offers wine and sake. Myat then appeared with a wooden box filled with an assortment of colorful chopsticks made of everything from silver to porcelain.

This is an appetizer – for one.

Next was choosing soup, salad, appetizer, entrée and dessert from a huge and mouthwatering menu. Oceania master chef Jacque Pepin described Red Ginger cuisine this way:

“Although the food is pan-Asian, this is not a ‘fusion’ restaurant. Rather, the culinary team did hands-on research throughout Asia and worked with chefs all over the world to find recipes and techniques that represent the best of Vietnamese, Thai, and Japanese cooking – and spent months mastering their preparation. The presentation is refined in a way that is exciting and modern, but the dishes themselves, like all of our food, is firmly grounded in authentic recipes, traditions, and ingredients.”

Soup is spiced just right.

It would take too much room to share the whole menu but I can tell you what I chose to give you an idea. Yasa told me that I could make my dishes as Asian spicy as I wanted, just to let him know. And if something was too mild or too spicy, Yasa would take it back and the chef would adapt a new dish to my taste.

I started with Tom Kha Gai soup with chicken, lemongrass and coconut milk. Salad was avocado lobster with crispy lotus, lobster, avocado, tuna, hamachi, den miso and shiso vinegar. Both were great.

Couldn’t pass up the sushi chef’s selection for appetizer – eight pieces of assorted sashimi and sushi rolls, plus ginger slices and wasabi. Some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Took a photo of it to give you a hint of the lovely presentation. Fresh, wonderful and big. It could have been my meal.

Steamed ginger cake with apple cardamom ice cream is dessert.

Entrees were divided into seafood, meat and vegetarian categories. Meat courses included ribeye steak, rack of lamb, pork luc lac, all prepared in an Asian way. Seafood choices were miso glazed sea bass (said to be the most popular), sole tempura, lobster pad thai, bay scallops or red snapper. I chose the sea bass and could easily see why it is the most popular.

Dessert choices were crème brulee, Japanese fruit salad, steamed ginger cake with apple cardamom ice cream, Bounty Cake with coconut, chocolate chips and vanilla beans or caramel tapioca with ginger cookies.

I chose the ginger cake and am glad I did. After such a big and flavorful dinner, you might think I wouldn’t be able to eat dessert. I ate all the ginger cake and ice cream.

On the way out of Red Ginger, I received another surprise. Some good news from maître d’ Susan. Since I like to dine early, Susan said it looked like Red Ginger would have another reservation open in two nights. Would I like it, she asked? You bet I would!

Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch

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