There was something about knowing that I'd be having dinner in the presence of ghosts and early cruisers � I dressed more carefully than I'd ever done for a Captain's dinner. My husband fussed over his tie.
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Some people say that the Olympic was really the Titanic and the names were swapped. Others say that it was only the propellers that were swapped. No matter, we were about to have a dinner that surpassed all expectations in a room that represented a time of ocean travel we never knew.
We arrived at the Olympic Restaurant spot on eight o'clock. We didn't have to give our names. "Ah. Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins."
The maitre d' shimmered � there's no better word for it � us to our table. Would we care for a cocktail?
Why, certainly. Feeling magnificently retro, I asked for a Martini, my husband favored a Manhattan. "Will Bombay do, Madame?"
The menus had been delivered to our cabin in mid-afternoon and we'd read them almost to death. Now that we were in the dining room, I tried to take in the total elegance around us. It looked much different than it had just a few hours before � shining silver, glittering crystal, glowing candles, and white gloves on the staff.
I couldn't resist turning over a fork to see if it was REAL silver. It was. We were later told that waitstaff carry extra silver because pieces tend to "grow legs" at some tables during some dinners. I wonder how long it would take to assemble a service for twelve by cruising on Celebrity.
The table linens' starch factor would put an old-fashioned nurse's cap to shame. The wine glasses, already in place, needed caressing. Mr. Practical Husband pointed out that they would never fit into the dishwasher at home. Or, for that matter, into my miniscule evening bag.
Our cocktails arrived swiftly in stemmed glassesI hadn't seen the likes of for years, and we smiled at the entertainment in the room. A piano player and a violinist dressed in 1920's garb, including 1920's haircuts, sawed and plunked away to the tunes of "the day". Looking around at the other diners, it was clear that they were taking this special occasion seriously, too. Beautifully dressed ladies, spanking-neat gentlemen.
There are no waiters in Celebrity's upscale restaurants. They are Chefs du Range. The reason? So many dishes are prepared tableside. Only Celebrity � at this point � does such tableside presentations. Each Chef du Range is assisted by two cohorts. The maximum number of people at a single table is six. Three men, two hands each, lifting exquisite silver covers in perfect concert is quite a sight to see.
It was our turn to think about what would be under our own silver covers. Unlike the main dining room where one must consider appetizers, soup, salad, entree, and dessert it's a four-course menu. Appetizers, soup and salad are lumped into Course One. Pick one. Or more.
Death by choices. Chilled Exotic Fruit Soup? Lobster Veloute? Caesar Salad? Russian Salad? (YES!!) Asparagus with Sauce Gribiche? Tartare of Salmon with Quail Eggs? Smoked Chicken with Oriental Salad? Stuffed Quail Glazed with Port Jelly? (YES!!) Goat Cheese souffle with Tomato Coulis? (Yes !!)
For those who really want to gild the lily, caviar will be served up with a flourish and an extra charge.
Oh, and by the way, if you want the chocolate souffle for dessert the chef du range respectfully suggests that one order it now. Each individual souffle is, truly, individual.
Floating in sensory heaven, it was time to think about the entree. We are both serious "foodies" and making the choice was akin to deciding which of our children we would kill first. We blew off the Risotto Primavera immediately. Heck, I can do that at home. The Sea Bass (brushed with tapenade), recommended by Roberto, was my choice. Neither of us cares much for scrod, even though it is masked with a shellfish sauce, so it was voted off the island. Andy waffled between the Flambe'd scampi (wrapped in pancetta, flamed in Armagnac, and served on a bed of rocket leaves) and the Steak Diane. Which would flambe more fantastically? Roberto REALLY wanted to do some flambe for us. The scampi won.
We apologize to the chicken (cooked "en cocotte"), the veal (saltimbocca alla Romana), and the lamb (a rack coated with a mushroom duxelle, wrapped in puff pastry). We'll get to them next time.
When we sail Infinity, it's safe to predict we'll end up with the specialty of that floating house � Long Island Duckling for Two as was served on the SS United States in her heyday. With the exception of the duck, the other menu items are identical.
Deciding on the entree was almost taken over by the choices of wine. We do enjoy our wine and have learned more about wine on cruise ships than we've ever learned at home. This experience was almost like a private wine tasting.
With one exception, a Sauvignon Blanc with the goat cheese souffle ($7 and extremely enjoyable), every glass of wine was more than $10 except for a couple of dessert wines. The $72 for a Cabernet to accompany the rack of lamb was the most expensive choice, but the rest stopped short of $30. A number of the wines served in Olympic and United States restaurants are not available in other venues aboard and certainly not by the glass. Trusting Michel Roux and his staff, we ordered the suggested wines, both Chardonnays, one at $16 a glass, the other at $28. There was a lot of cross-tasting between the two wines.
The cheese trolley is a quick trip to some of the finest dining rooms in European hotels. We went with the single suggested wine, a Malvedos at $14 a glass. Then we spent at least half an hour poking around our cheese choices and the accompanying bisquetry. The Chefs du Range are highly trained and highly skilled at suggesting cheese choices for those who are a bit timid when they see the array of cheeses from mellow bries and camemberts to seriously smelly bleus surrounded by grapes, apples and pears. They truly enjoy making unusual suggestions to diners who "know cheese."
Then the ultimate decision � dessert. I was totally focused on the Waldorf Pudding from 1914. Andy had already ordered his chocolate souffle. Roberto insisted that we nibble on Michel Roux' "dessert surprises". We did NOT go for the saboyan, which takes about ten minutes of at-table whipping, nor the Crepes Suzette. How much flambe can one take in an evening? There's always next time. Next time we'll do it twice.
Roux's cuisine is often accounted as the best and most creative in the mainstream fleet, particularly by those who live to eat, rather than those who eat to live. With the menus designed for these specialty restaurants, he's created a new wave of onboard dining delights equal to some of the best shoreside restaurants. Even the least adventurous "steak and potatoes" folks could be in heaven with a Caesar Salad, a perfectly flambeed Steak Diane, and a chocolate souffle while a spouse or tablemates are expanding their culinary horizons.
At this time, the per-person surcharge is $25 and worth every farthing, pfenning, peseta, or penny. There is no tipping. The only additional charges are for cocktails (all top-shelf) and wines. It's not impossible to spend close to $200 on these indulgences for two people, more if you're in a caviar mood. On the other hand, there are some excellent by-the-bottle choices in the $20-$30 price range. Unlike restaurants ashore, there will be no sneering if you take a more thrifty approach.
Bon Appetit !!!
Part 1 to the article on Celebrity alternative restaurants.