Cruising with Teens
Apparently it is going to be a while before we eat, so perhaps an overview of the Olympic dining facility and its operating philosophy will help pass the time…
The restaurant is finished with the interior paneling from the a la carte dining room originally installed on R.M.S. Olympic, sister ship to the Titanic. The paneling sat disassembled in a private English residence for many decades, and was purchased by Celebrity Cruises when it was sold by Sotheby’s.
Outside the Olympic’s entrance is a lobby containing historic artifacts, pictures, and a continuous-play video. There are actually three rooms inside the restaurant –- a mid-sized room with rich dark paneling, the similarly adorned “wine cellar”, and a larger dining room done in bone-colored paneling decorated sparingly with painted filigree.
As for the dining experience, here are some quotes from the menu:
…The menu offers four courses. You may begin with a salad, soup or appetizer, followed by a choice of varied entrees. Following the cheese course, the final decision will be your dessert. Along with each course is a suggested wine that may be ordered by the glass… Of course, there is also an impressive list of fine wines not available elsewhere on the ship… Each dish served is prepared either in the galley or at the dining table…
I have scanned the Olympic menu and converted it into a file suitable for printing (Click here for the menu, a 343KB PDF file). A previously posted picture of a page from the wine list does warrant a repost – click the thumbnail for a larger version.
Meanwhile, back on the cruise…
At long last, a young woman pushed a cart up to the side of our table. In a thick French accent, she announced that she would be making Danny’s Caesar Salad. We all paid rapt attention as she narrated every step in the process. It was a nice show, but between the sound of the violin/piano duo and the accent, I really couldn’t understand more than a few words. The “Frenchness” came through, so I guess that’s good enough.
While the woman was making the salad, Dan turned to me with a funny look on his face. I’d describe the expression as “a puzzled sneer”.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“She put egg in my salad,” answered Dan.
“Of course she did. It’s a Caesar Salad. It’s supposed to have egg in it.”
“Not the way I like it.”
“You mean to tell me that a guy who smothers his broccoli in yellow mustard is afraid of a little egg in a salad?”
“Oh, I guess it’s O.K.”
I refrained from mentioning that there were probably anchovies in the salad, too. No sense in tormenting the poor guy.
The woman made another dish, though I’m not sure which. She put it aside, next to the Caesar Salad, and then vanished. Time marched on.
We’d practically forgotten about the whole thing when suddenly a parade of plate-bearing waiters approached us. They flowed around the table, and in perfect synchrony deposited a plate in front of each of us — they touched the table at precisely the same moment, and the servers’ hands withdrew with a practiced snap. Synchronized serving. Pretty cool…
Danny slowly picked at his salad, but didn’t really eat much of it. Kris had the Lobster Velouté, and being a “soup person”, seemed happy.
Wells watched me examining my appetizer. “I thought real men didn’t eat soufflés.”
“I think that’s quiche. Real men don’t eat quiche.”
Wells smirked, and I realized he was just being a wise guy. I wonder where he picked that up…
“What about you? Are quail eggs the newest craze?” I was actually impressed with his sense of adventure. But then again, teenaged boys tend to eat like dogs –- food doesn’t stay in their mouths long enough to be tasted. The act of eating is more inhalation than mastication…
My Goat Cheese Soufflé was tasty. I cannot tell you if it was superior to other Goat Cheese Soufflés, nor can I assure you that it wasn’t distinctly inferior. If I ever have it again, I’ll have a basis for comparison. I finished it without hesitation or regret.
Our plates were cleared promptly, but another slack period ensued. I asked the waiter to direct the sommelier our way.
“What should we get? Red or white?” I asked.
“Better get both,” said Kris. I could see the boys perk up.
Time started to lose all meaning. Later that evening, the young woman with the accent returned with her cart. A young gentleman, also pushing a cart, followed her. We were treated to another culinary show, this time for our entrees. There was a fair amount of drama in this segment of the program – lots of loud sizzling and flame.
I recognized my dish, which was constructed with great care and artistry. Wells’s Saltimbocca was fairly obvious, as was Dan’s Risotto. Kris had the Rack of Lamb, which must have been prepared in the galley.
Again, the plates were delivered with military precision. This time they were covered by silver lids, which were lifted in unison to reveal a handsome array of meals.
“Voila! Bon Appetite,” said the lead waiter, turning to leave. I snagged him before he got away.
“Please, I would like to order some wine to go with our dinner.”
“But of course, monsieur. Right away.” He marched off with purpose, mumbling to himself. It sounded like “Où est le clown dans le veston rouge? Cet idiot est prêt à dépenser de grand argent pour quelque jus de raisin.” [Roughly translated: “Where is the clown in the red jacket? This fool is ready to pay big bucks for some grape juice.”]
Kris tasted her lamb, and made a sound more appropriate for the bedroom than a public place. “Oooo, ahhhh, mmmmmm, that’s really good. Are we getting wine? How can we eat a fantastic meal like this without wine?”
“I’m working on it,” I replied. The recommended wine for Kris’s entrée was listed at $91 for a glass, $356 for a bottle. I was desperate enough that I might have gone for it, if only given the chance.
My food looked so nice that it was a shame to disturb it. I took a picture to diminish my guilt, and dove in. I wish I could do vegetables like this – little baby veggies that don’t even look like they’ve been cooked, but are tender as butter. The fillet was perfect, and I did not long for the Steak Diane.
Wells, predictably, finished long before anyone else. Dan took his time.
“I didn’t know risotto had rice in it,” said Dan.
“This meal is a real learning experience for you, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess so. I like it.”
Wells waited patiently for the rest of us to finish.
“What’s your rush?” I asked.
“I want dessert,” he replied.
The table was cleared, and we all waited for the next act. It came in the form of a large multi-tiered cart, steered carefully through the maze of tables by a pair of waiters.
The cart was laden with cheeses – several dozen varieties by the looks. Our waiter began a rapid-fire description of all of them, categorized by general characteristics. Then it was our turn to choose.
Nobody was quite sure what to do. How many should one specify? What were the criteria for choosing?
Wells and Dan went first. I couldn’t hear the transactions, but both boys received a plate with three little hunks of cheese.
I took my turn, selecting by sight alone since I couldn’t remember a single thing from the waiter’s overview. I stopped at three varieties, based on the boys’ example. They were way ahead of me in cheese sophistication. Kris selected two cheeses, also at random.
When the cheese wagon departed we all looked at each other, wondering what to do next.
“I guess we’re supposed to eat it,” I said, taking a position with little risk of controversy.
Everyone took a sample from their plate.
“Needs wine,” Kris remarked.
“Forget it. It’s not happening.” I was not pleased that the sommelier had never revisited our table. I don’t often get upset, but I was close now. “That’s really unbelievable. You’d think that wine would be a top priority here.”
Dan chimed in, probably trying to calm me down. “That’s all right. If we had wine, we’d probably all be asleep by now.”
Each of my cheese samples tasted like the others. Different textures, same flavor.
“These all taste the same,” said Kris. “I don’t think I get the ‘cheese thing’.”
“Shhhh! We’re out of our league here, but don’t let everyone around us know.” I popped a grape into my mouth and held it there. Maybe if I kept it there until dessert, it would ferment into something interesting.
Dessert brought more entertainment. Dan ordered Crepes Suzette, and the tableside preparation was spectacular. He didn’t seem to mind the inclusion of eggs in this dish, though I think it was a little too authentic for him. He was expecting something more like a Hostess Twinkie.
Wells and I both opted for ‘Michel Roux’s Favorite Bite Size Surprise Desserts’, which turned out to be a sampler of five different exotic goodies. Very good, indeed.
Kris went for the Chocolate Soufflé. Combined with coffee, it sent her into orbit around some other planet. The effect was short-lived, however, and soon she was advocating sleep.
By the time we finished it was after 10:30, more than three hours since we arrived. Time had clearly caught up with Wells and Dan. I thought I might have to carry them upstairs to bed and tuck them in, as I’d done more than once many years ago.
We shuffled away from the table toward the exit. Near the door stood the sommelier. He smiled. “Bon soir, monsieur et madam.”
“Notre plaisir pas pour vous rencontrer,” the voice in my head said in response. “Nice not meeting you.” High school French didn’t allow me to make a more succinct statement.
In the elevator, Wells asked a question. “Have you checked your account on the TV thingy?”
“No, I haven’t looked at it recently,” I responded.
“How much do you think it is?”
I thought for a moment, estimating the various bar bills and wine charges. Maybe tonight’s experience was for the better. I gave him a figure.
Wells looked thoughtful and nodded.
“Why do you ask?”
“Oh, just wondering,” he answered. He shot a quick look at Dan, who cast his eyes toward the floor.
We parted ways at the deck eight elevator lobby.
“I’ve gotta go to bed,” said Dan. “I don’t know about you.”
“Me too,” said Wells. They quickly disappeared around the corner.
“Sounds like a plan to me.” I was talking to myself, as Kris was already halfway to the cabin. On the way in, I rang the doorbell –- like a new envelope, it was a special treat for me.
By the time I extracted myself from the tux, Kris was sound asleep. I put a ‘space music’ CD in the player, and turned it up loud enough to cover the moaning and hacking sounds of our neighbor. It had actually been a fine evening, despite the wine issue. It would have been even better if we hadn’t all been exhausted from the long day. Better still if we had arranged to dine with our regular tablemates, whose company we really missed.
I ate both chocolates and sank into the bed. The music and the gentle motion of the ship made me feel like I was floating. Visions of stainless steel filled my head before everything faded to black…