150 Central Park is a gourmet dining venue. You go there not to have a good steak or a nice version of your favorite Italian dish but rather to sample culinary artistry.
When 150 Park first opened, the idea was to showcase the talent of young chefs who would be the celebrity chefs of tomorrow. Graduates of the Culinary Institute of America competed to be the chef in charge of 150 Park for a season or so on Oasis of the Seas (and subsequently on sister ship Allure of the Seas). The winner of the competition would then design and prepare six course dinners for 150 Park. (See separate article).
The menu for each night would be set by the chef. In other words, the guests were not given a list of appetizers and main courses and asked to make selections. The menu would present one item as the appetizer, one item as the main course, etc. and the guests had to trust in the chef's culinary skills.
Because each menu was a signature tasting menu, there was a great deal of artistry here. You could taste the passion the chef put into each dish. There was also the excitement of being there at the start of a promising career.
While the restaurant received a good response from those guests who tried it, Royal Caribbean's vision proved too adventuresome for the general public. People were reluctant to trust an evening to an unknown chef, especially when the cover charge was more than the cover charge at other better known Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants. In addition, many guests did not want to take the time needed to consume six course meals.
Therefore, the 150 Park concept was modified. Royal Caribbean entered into an arrangement with Miami-based celebrity chef Michael Schwartz to design the menus for the restaurant. Thus, the restaurant is now connected with a well-known name. In addition, the number of courses was reduced from six to four. As a result, dinner at 150 Park no longer requires devoting an entire evening to the meal.
Of course, Chef Schwartz does not live aboard Oasis of the Seas and does not prepare the meals. Rather, a chef trained by and who has worked with Chef Schwartz is in charge. The onboard chef prepares the dinners according to Chef Schwartz's style.
This style does not rely on heavy sauces or extensive use of spices. Rather, it relies on fresh ingredients sourced locally from small South Florida farms.
The menu at 150 Park remains a tasting menu. Guests only make a choice with regard to the main course and that choice is between a fish alternative or a meat alternative.
On each seven-day cruise, the menu is changed mid-cruise. Thus, guests who like the 150 Park experience early in the cruise can return later in the cruise and have a different meal.
For an additional fee, guests can have wine parings with each course. Since the pairings are made with a particular item in mind, the wines presented in the pairings change along with the menu.
The portions offered in each course are not large. Quality not quantity is the watchword. Again, the idea here is to sample Chef Schwartz's artistry, not to over-indulge.
The meal begins with a selection of San Francisco sourdough breads. Half of these are whole wheat. They are served along with a small jar of unsalted butter. A much larger ceramic jar contains a variety of sea salts from such diverse regions as France, Hawaii, Australia and India. Each variety has a very definite personality.
In addition to using the salt to enhance the bread and butter, it can be used to enhance the first three courses of the meal. Since the style here relies heavily on natural freshness, the flavor of these courses is not generally loud. The salt can be used to turn up the volume a bit.
The appetizer on the evening that we visited 150 Central Park was called Stracciatella. The server explained that the name referred to the stretched mozzarella cheese that served as a bed for an array of vegetables including heirloom tomatoes, baby beets, pickled pearl onions, shaved carrots and pea shoots. The sweetness of the beets contrasted nicely with the more earthy flavors of the other vegetables.
For the main course, we choose the beef tenderloin. This was two small pieces of beef cooked in their natural juices. Very tender.
Service throughout the meal was very polished and professional. We also liked the fact that the chef came out of the kitchen and spoke with the guests about their meals.
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