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Chef’s Table A Princess Delight

Hors d'oeuvre

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) Ignazio d’Agostinomaitre 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 Remo Bolisdesigned 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, Main courseMarket 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-Dessertlooking 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

Celebrity Constellation
11 nights
October 12, 2015
Istanbul (return): Olympia, Corfu, Split, Dubrovnik, Athens, Ephesus 
Inside: $899
Cost per day: $81
www.celebritycruises.com

Royal Changes for New Princess Ship

It's still more than a year away, but the Royal Princess is getting the jump on the food and beverage part of the ship. Or at least it's getting the jump on telling people what will be on the Royal Princess. In case any other cruise lines have the same idea, we'll know who was first.

Here are some of the new twists from the kitchen and the wine cellar…

• The Horizon Court buffet will have twice as many seats and a new layout (always a good idea when you're doubling the capacity), with room for 1,250 passengers at a time. This is good news for people (ahem) who enjoy the anonymity that cruise-ship crowds don't always provide.

• A crab shack, fondue restaurant and fresh pastry shop will be part of the new layout. Just when you wonder what a buffet can be that's different, Princess seems to have the answer.

• Several restaurants are being combined. Putting food (Crown Grill) and beverage (Wheelhouse Bar) together is never a bad idea for pre- and post-dinner matching…although we always seem to let the food part dominate us.

• The first ever chef's table at sea (hence the name, Chef's Table) will be rebranded as Chef's Table Lumiere. What's changing is privacy. Diners will be "magically surrounded" by a curtain of light that will provide a "wall of privacy." Raise your hand if you remember when light meant less privacy?

• Sabatini's, the specialty restaurant that's all-star-Italian, will add some impressive Super Tuscan wines like Sassicaia, Tignanello and Solaia. Judging by the last (only) time we had a bottle of Sassicaia, we'll have to be lucky at the casino down the hall before ordering one here.

• A special "late, late risers" breakfast selection. Having missed more than one breakfast buffet in our day, we can only say "Saluté!"

The Daily Deal will be posted at 2:59 EDT, so check back then.

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