ON THE STAR PRINCESS — Of all the “specialty restaurant experiences” you can have on a cruise ship, the creme-de-la-creme is the Chef’s Table. That’s where you pay a fee to be part of a small group of passengers whose dining begins where the menu begins, in the galley.
It almost defies description, but we’ll give it a shot.
Princess was the first cruise line to introduce passengers to Chef’s Table. On the Star Princess, like all the line’s ships, there are regular opportunities during a week-long cruise. The cost is $95 per person and while it might be hard to think of that as a bargain, it is.
For the food…the wine…the experience.
It starts at the sink. That’s where you wash your hands with instructions from (in our case) maitre d’ Ignazio d’Agostino, who surely has the perfect name for a man in his position. With the tap water at 120 degrees (he could tell by the feel), he doesn’t sing it but he does instruct you to wash for “two verses of Happy Birthday” if you want to go deeper into the galley.
With him and executive chef Remo Bolis providing running commentary about how the galley functions, we slip on our chef jackets, which unfortunately do not come with Remo’s skillset. While answering all of our questions, he pours champagne to go with the three hors ‘oeuvres (above is the Ginger and Spicy Red Chili Cocktail, which tastes even better than it looks).
Galley consumption complete, the group is escorted to a special table. Ah yes, the Chef’s Table. You feel like the only customers they’re serving. The appetizer — isn’t that what we had in the galley? — is a Bering Sea Red King Crab and Porcini Mushroom Risotto, enhanced by the complementary white wine. Outstanding. It ’s followed by palate cleansing orange sorbet spiked (our word) with a splash of vodka.
At that point, most people in our group (10 is maximum size) are feeling satisfied but Chef Remo, another nice Italian (are there any other kind?), is just beginning. He specifically designed the menu for the occasion…a menu that isn’t offered anywhere else on the ship, a menu that focuses on “regional cuisine or ingredients from a recent port.” Since we are in Alaska, that means utilizing ingredients such as crab and tuna. We presume the vodka was imported from the western tip of the Alaska’s Aluetians because from there, you can see Russia.
The entree is a tripleheader…Giant Prawns, Beer-Roast Veal Shank and Crusty Lamb Rack. That’s a mouthful in more ways than one, and it’s accompanied by Buttered Asparagus, Market Fresh Vegetable and Creamy Mousseline Potatoes…and a Napa Valley cabernet. Chef Remo didn’t say whether he took his calorie counter when he went shopping. That answer is clear by the time dessert arrives — following a cheese specialty called Stilton-Mascarpone Mousse — because there aren’t any diets we know that include the wild-looking and entirely edible (right) "Choco-Halzelnut Parfait with Torroncino Heart Englkish Sauce Coulis and Drambuie Marinated Berries" followed by coffee and Bitter Chocolate Truffles and Pistachio Macaroons.
With dessert wine, of course.
In the end — and there eventually is an end to this all-evening experience — the presentation and preparation is as impressive as the food, and the one thing you can’t do is be afraid to leave any of it on your plate. There’s nobody we know with an appetite big enough to consume it all and, as much as diners are often concerned about getting their money’s worth, smaller servings would be appropriate for so many dishes.
Before it’s time to waddle back to your stateroom, each couple receives a copy of Courses, A Culinary Journey, and a printed copy of the night’s menu. You get your picture taken with Chef Remo…alas, with no osmosis of his cooking skills.
In the news…
• Queen Mary 2 heading to dry dock for extensive refurbishing
• Royal Caribbean reverts to My Time Dining on almost all ships
• Costa setting itself apart with Italy's Finest concept
Today at portsandbows.com: Regent's first around-the-world cruise in six years