By WALLACE IMMEN
Arrive hungry, advises a sign at the entrance to Harry’s, the alternative steak house on Carnival Liberty. And that turns out to be exceptionally good advice — because there’s not a chance you’ll leave hungry.
But it’s tough to come prepared for the grand dinner you’re in for here. I’ve never once felt I needed more food since I boarded this Carnival Cruise Lines Fun Ship for its week in the western Caribbean. I’ve skipped breakfasts entirely so I could enjoy giant gourmet burgers and fries, gorge on Mongolian stir fry and made-to-order burritos for lunch. I’ve headed down to the dining room in the evening wishing I’d saved room for the luscious chocolate melting cake that’s a feature on on the dessert menu every night.
Today, I’ve been an exceptionally good boy because tonight’s the night we’ve got a reservation at Harry’s to celebrate a belated birthday and I know this is going to be a feast.
Harry’s is the best spot on Liberty for a romantic getaway or a special meal with a group of friends and it maintains a cachet by being hard to find on the ship’s upper deck. The restaurant has the intimacy of a club rather than a big restaurant. While it has a capacity to seat more than 100, it’s divided into two smaller rooms. To keep it exclusive, reservations are required and there’s a $30 a person cover charge.
From the beginning, it’s clear the staff want ensure that customers never go away feeling they didn’t get what they paid for. Once we’re seated and have ordered a wine, the waiter wheels a trolley to the table laden with slabs of meat I thought might be meant to be shared by a rugby team in training.
A New York strip loin weighs in at 14 ounces and the protein poundage goes up from there. The spice rubbed prime rib “from the center of the prime rib” tips the scales at 18 ounces, as does the cowboy steak “for the real beef gourmet.” Yee haw.
Of course another option is the surf and turf, adding one or two rock lobster tails as a side to the beef. Or if you don’t fancy beef, there’s the fish of the day and it’s an American portion as well. I ordered the smallest piece of beef on the menu, a nine-ounce grilled filet mignon because I wanted to sample the starters, which also come in volume. Carpaccio, jumbo shrimp cocktail, ahi tuna tartare and lobster bisque are entree size portions. Salads include the essential Caesar tossed by the waiter with great flourish at the table or — my choice — a spinach salad made with greens that tasted as though they’d been freshly picked this morning. How’s that possible three days cruise from the nearest farm?
I was a little confused at first why there seemed to be lighted showcases around the room and decorations that looked like gold chains and necklaces draped on the walls. But then it dawned on me, the Harry who’s is the restaurant’s namesake is Harry Winston the legendary jeweller. The decor is the kind of dazzling bling you buy to show off in a restaurant like this. The broaches, pearl chokers and rings displayed in the cases may be just copies but they’re stunningly show stopping.
Seven chefs are at work in the kitchen you can see through glass walls, and it’s clear everything is being made to order. My steak arrived medium rare precisely as I’d ordered it but even bigger than I imagined it might be. My wife ordered grilled lamb chops which came as an array of four thick chops. It was all so ample I knew we wouldn’t be able to finish it all and I wondered if the folks in the kitchen might like to share the bounty with me—and they would do a doggie bag, if indeed I’d wanted steak for breakfast the next day.
I found the meat all magnificent prime cuts and the service and presentation on fine china was elegant. A disappointment was the mashed potatoes that came as one of the side dishes. They were described on the menu as Yukon gold, which should be fluffy and buttery, but what arrived at the table was a gluey puree, as though the taters had been strained and whipped with a mixer into a paste. I certainly wouldn’t have done it that way if I was using great potatoes to start with.
Then came the dessert menu with choices like crème brulee and ultra rich mousse. I couldn’t decide, so went for a sampler plate of chocolate confections, moving from right to left, each one upped the ante on richness. The experience demonstrated how haute cuisine Carnival could be if passengers were willing to go a bit higher on the price scale. At the same time, I’m not sure my waistline could afford this kind of grand bouffe every night.
To celebrate a special day or just to sample what Carnival can do, Harry’s is worth the cover charge for a memorable evening. Just remember to come really hungry.