You can order a 'secret' steak at the vegetarian restaurant on the new Virgin Voyages ship — but don't
I leaned over to my waiter last night at Razzle Dazzle, one of the hot new restaurants on the new Virgin Voyages ship Scarlet Lady, and whispered in a conspiratorial tone.
"Is there, by any chance, a secret steak available here?"
His eyes went wide, and he flashed me a knowing look.
"Well, yes, there is," he said, before launching into an animated description of an off-menu, meat-lover's delight: a dish that not only would include a slab of beef but a liberal sprinkling of bacon bits on top for good measure, plus a cheesy sauce.
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He also started to mention some more-healthful elements of the dish, like a bed of kale that would sit underneath the steak, and root vegetables. But by that point, I wasn't even listening.
"I'll take it!" I exclaimed.
I could sense the couple at the table next to us listening in. It was like the waiter and I were performing a little microplay just for them. They knew something funny was going on.
That's because Razzle Dazzle is Scarlet Lady's restaurant for vegetarians and vegans. There's not a lick of beef anywhere to be found on its menu.
While not every dish at Razzle Dazzle is 100% vegetarian or vegan, most are, and Virgin Voyages bills the eatery as "vegetarian forward." The appetizer menu offers such elaborate, plant-based concoctions as a mushroom "tartare" served with a tarragon salsa verde and house-made crostini, and a nutty gazpacho with cucumbers, Marcona almonds and roasted garlic croutons.
Main dishes include whole roasted heirloom cauliflower with a vadouvan curry sauce, pistachios, sesame seeds and pomegranate.
It's that sort of place.
Still, even the official Razzle Dazzle menu offers a few "naughty" offerings, aimed at the spouses and friends of vegetarians and vegans who want to accompany them to the restaurant but aren't 100% on board for an all-veggie dinner.
Among "naughty" menu offerings is black garlic bowtie pasta made with fennel-braised pork, chanterelles and Swiss chard. There's also a fried chicken dish.
And then there's the secret steak.
As mentioned above, it's not on the menu, and you only can get it if you're in the know.
I had been tipped off to it by a Virgin Voyages executive who I met last week while in Miami for the Seatrade Cruise Global conference. He was raving about how it was the best steak on the ship.
The fact that it's a secret -- and that most Scarlet Lady passengers will never even know about it -- is just another one of the playful touches Virgin Voyages has added to the Scarlet Lady experience. That's the Virgin way.
Alas, I have some bad news for meat lovers: The steak wasn't all that great.
If this really is the best steak on Scarlet Lady, steak-loving cruisers are going to be in for a disappointment on this ship.
I'm no restaurant critic. My expertise is in cruise ships and travel in general. But I've had a lot of steaks on cruise vessels over more than 20 years of writing about them (and sailing on more than 150 different ships), and the steak at Razzle Dazzle doesn't even rank in my top 20 steak experiences at sea.
Related: Gene Sloan picks the 9 best steakhouses at sea
You don't need to be a professional epicure to know that the Razzle Dazzle steak fails to dazzle.
For starters, the steak came out smothered in sauce and toppings -- the aforementioned cheesy sauce, bacon and root vegetables. To me, it's never a good sign when a restaurant loads a lot of stuff atop a steak. It's evidence they're trying to hide something. Which, in fact, they were.
While the steak came out medium-rare, just as I ordered, it was chewy and tough. It didn't appear to be a great cut of beef. It also was pre-cut into slices, which in theory made for a better presentation but surely allowed some of the flavor to seep out of the beef on its way to my table from the kitchen.
The cheesy sauce itself was heavy and one-note. And not to pile on too much, but the steak was underseasoned (as they say on fancy cooking shows; to us regular people that just means it needed more salt). The bed of kale underneath the steak, by contrast, was overseasoned (too much salt).
I did eventually find a solution to this by combining a bit of steak and a bit of kale in each bite. There's my pro tip for you for today.
My vegan appetizer at Razzle Dazzle, the mushroom "tartare," by contrast, was fabulous. It had a wonderfully sophisticated mix of flavors, with the diced mushrooms giving it a meatiness that combined well with the fresh and bright tarragon sauce. There was a hint of spice to the dish. It was just right.
I also liked the purple sweet potato and coconut ice cream that came with the vegetarian "rainbow churros" dessert, although the churros themselves were covered with so much (red, green and blue) sugar that anyone who eats the whole thing runs the risk of a serious sugar rush. I took one bite.
Overall, I found Razzle Dazzle to be an enjoyable place. The decor had a casual but stylish vibe, and the staff was super friendly and attentive. I'm eager to give it another try.
But I have some advice for those thinking of ordering the secret steak at the eatery: Don't bother. Stick to the vegetarian and vegan items.
Gene Sloan is part of a three-person team from TPG and sister brand Lonely Planet reporting live this week from Scarlet Lady's maiden voyage out of Miami. You can find all of his dispatches at his author's page.
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