As the year comes to a close, I have decided to make my Top lists again. Today—the top five things I ate in 2022. Later this week, the top things to remember (good or bad) and finally, the top ten photos I took this year. Let’s get started.
Number 5—The french fries at The Grand Dutch Cafe onboard Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam
One January day on our “Sail with Seth” cruise, we returned after lunchtime from a very nice shore excursion tour of Grand Turk island. We really didn’t want to go up to the buffet because it was less than four hours until dinner, and let’s be honest, buffets are just too tempting. I know, I always say I will “just get a salad,” but then, “Oh, that pizza looks good—I’ll just have one piece,” or “I’ll need a roll with this salad.” You get the idea.
As we were getting back on the ship, we walked by the Grand Dutch Cafe, which is located directly across from the Guest Services desk on deck three. They do sandwiches, croquettes, soups and desserts. We decided that would work best because we could each get one thing, and that was it. Besides, they had a superb selection of Dutch and Belgian beers. So I ordered the veal croquette and Kathleen a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, and we sat down at a table (You order at the counter, but they bring the food to you at your table.)
A few minutes later, the server brought out my croquet and apologized to Kathleen that her sandwich wasn’t ready yet, but he wanted me to have my croquet while it was still hot. And to make up for it taking so long, he thought we should try their French fries, so he brought us a dinner plate full of nothing but fries. Well, we really didn’t want to eat that much, but we had to try them, so we each bit into one…gave each other looks of incredulity, and then ate another…and another…and another. In the meantime, Kathleen’s sandwich came, and we finished her sandwich and my croquette…and all the fries.
A few minutes later, our server came back over and asked if we would like something for dessert, and we looked at each other, smiled, and I told him, “YES! Could we have another order of those fries?” They were that good. I need to add that we had a week left on the cruise, and we had those fries (as a side dish and as a dessert) at least three more times.
Number 4—Lunch in Athens, Greece, with our guide George.
On our full day of touring Athens before we departed on our Viking cruise, we did a six-hour tour with the amazing George from Tours By Locals. George took us to a bunch of places, including the Acropolis, the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldiers and the original Olympic stadium. But the best place George took us was…lunch. Early in the day, he asked if we wanted to have lunch or tour all day. We all voted to finish up our tour with lunch; if he would recommend someplace wonderful to eat.
George (that’s him at left) said he knew just the place. He took us to a wonderful, family-run restaurant in a working-class section of Athens and said this is the place. We sat down at some tables pretty much across the street from the restaurant, and the owner came out and told us what was available for lunch. George recommended letting the owner bring us what he thought would be good. So that’s what we did, and that’s what he did—brought us some amazing Greek food. And he brought a TON of it. He kept bringing course after course after course. All of it amazing, all of it delicious. I wish I had photos of everything that he brought, but either we ate it too fast (at the start), or it was in another course that we forgot about. If you are ever in Athens and you want the ultimate Greek food experience, tour with George.
Number 3—Beer and pretzels at Valley House Brewing in Duvall, Washington.
This one happened by accident. My brother Steve and sister-in-law Jamie were here in June so Steve could help us do some stuff around our new home. One afternoon we decided to drive east to the little town of Duvall for lunch instead of into downtown Redmond. Duvall is a cute little town that is actually closer to our place (in the amount of time it takes to get there) than downtown Redmond is. We had looked online and found a winery that we thought would be great for lunch, but when we got to Duvall, we could not find the place, nor did we see anything else that looked interesting. One of the four of us found Valley House Brewing on their phones (not me, I was driving), so we went there.
Like the french fries I wrote about in Number 5 above, we found the world’s best pretzel. The beer itself was really great, but the pretzel was worth going back for. It came to the table HOT (burn your fingers hot 😜) and had just the right amount of salt. It tore apart perfectly and almost melts in your mouth. To top it off, it comes with two different sauces to dip it in; an outstanding honey mustard (my favorite) and a superb beer cheese. This is the kind of pretzel that you want to go back for again and again, and we have. But it’s been a while. Now I really want one. Guess I will just have to wait a couple of days/weeks/months.
Number 2—Pizza in Europe.
I was going to try and pick a specific place we got pizza, but two really stood out. First, I took a tour (Kathleen was too tired from COVID to go along) in Naples that was all about pizza and the pizza there was amazing. Of course, it should be; that’s the birthplace of pizza when we stopped at Solopizza, which has been in business making pizzas in Napoli since 1977. To be honest, I would have preferred we stopped someplace that had been there since 1797 but no such luck 😜. I did get to go into the kitchen and watch them make pizza which was eye-opening, and it changed the way I now make pizza. I also learned that in Naples, the rule is “one pizza, one person.” Everyone at the table for eight I was sitting with thought this was crazy, but when we finished the meal, we counted the pizza pans they had brought ours out on, and there were seven empties, so we got close.
After Naples, I thought that would be it for great pizza mostly because that’s where pizza was born but also because the pizza on our cruise ship was just OK. Nothing wrong with it but nothing great either. Was I ever wrong? About a week later, we docked in Monaco and were off on our longest tour of the cruise. We started in Eze and then went to Nice and finally wound up back in Monaco, where it was now almost 2:00 pm, and we still needed to eat since we left on tour at 8:30 am. Kathleen and I were famished, so when the guide stopped in front of the Monaco cathedral and just kept rambling on, we headed up the street to find food. There we found the simplest pizza you can buy and easily the best of the trip. We topped that off with our favorite beverage of the trip, an Aperol spritz, and we were in heaven. I can’t begin to describe how great this pizza was. It truly has changed the way I make pizza.
Before we get to my number one food of 2022, I want to honorably mention these dishes that didn’t quite make it into the top five: the incredible anchovies in Monterosso in Cinque Terre, Italy, the soft-shell crab, Norwegian waffles and seafood buffets on Viking Sky, the lemon-basil gelato in Vernazza, also in Cinque Terre, the lobster rolls at Tamarind restaurant on Nieuw Statendam, the pintxos open-faced sandwiches we had for lunch in Barcelona with our guide Olga and lastly, the ratatouille at Rudy’s Sel de Mer restaurant, also on Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam.
My sister-in-law Jamie read this, and since they travel with us most of the time, she nominated some additional honorable mentions: Soppressata sandwich from Molinari’s deli in San Francisco (this was from our SF food tour—which was on a day I had completely blocked from my mind because later in the day, Kathleen tripped and fell on a bad sidewalk and we spent six hours in the emergency room), cannoli from the same SF food tour, the Peruvian chicken we had in the Club Orange Dining Room on Nieuw Statendam and the spicy arancini from Victoria, BC food tour. My brother was nice enough to include my Grilled Antipasto Vegetable platter (one of my summer specialties, pictured above).
Number 1 has to be the Dark Chocolate Amarone Cremoso onboard Viking Sky.
Let me first state here that I have never been that much of a dessert guy. I prefer carbs to dessert any day of the week. And when it comes to dessert, I (unlike my daughter) prefer fruit in my desserts. I love pies and crisps and cobblers. And I have never been that big a chocolate person—until now.
On our second night onboard Viking Sky, we went to their Italian specialty restaurant Manfredi’s. The food was fine. I was not too fond of the calamari appetizer, I thought the steak was poorly cooked and much too thin to be a true Florentine bistecca, but I did like the risotto with escargot. But then we got to dessert. My normal choice would have been the lemon cake they had on the menu as I love almost any lemon dessert but the name of the one chocolate dessert caught my eye.
One of our favorite types of wine is a deep, rich red from the Veneto region of Italy—Amarone. When I saw that word in the name of this dessert, I thought it must be an ingredient, and I had to try it. This turned out to be both a great and a bad thing for me to do. Great, because it was the best thing I have eaten this year and bad because I fell in love with this chocolate dessert and soon discovered that pretty much anything the pastry chef on Viking Sky did with chocolate was amazing, so I had to try it all. A few nights later, I found it on the buffet, and that’s where the photo came from. Suffice it to say; I had to have it again.
How much did I love it? So much so that when we got home, I did Google search after Google search until I found the recipe on another cruiser’s blog. She had begged the pastry chef on another Viking ship for the recipe (as I should have done) and was nice enough to share it. Since we got back, I have made it three times and still have two pieces of it in our refrigerator. It is incredibly thick and rich. Almost like a fudge (but definitely not!), it is very expensive to make. To do it right, you have to invest in some fairly pricey 70% cacao chocolate and a few other wonderful ingredients. But if anyone reading this wants to try it, I will happily send you the recipe. It’s going to become my go-to chocolate dessert for the rest of my days.
That’s it! My culinary adventures in 2022. Watch out later this week for more Top of 2022 lists. I hope to have the other two done by New Year’s.
All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt. —Charles Schultz