It is no secret that the thing most people look forward to when on a cruise vacation, is good food. There’s nothing that pampers more than breakfast, lunch, dinner and nearly unlimited snacks that you don’t have to prepare, and that are at your command. While midnight buffets have, in most cases, been replaced with huge buffet restaurants that are literally open around the clock, every cruise line now offers a dizzying array of eating options. There are the traditional, formal restaurants, along with specialty restaurants. Almost every line offers some kind of room service. On some lines, there is always a formal tea time. In case you’re still pining for something to eat after all of this, you might also find specialty coffee and pastry kiosks or ice cream parlors, pizza or even a place to get milk shakes made with home-made ice-cream.
Norwegian Cruise Lines offers something else that is truly unique. Offered just once per cruise, the line is giving discerning passengers with a taste for something more sophisticated and exclusive, a chef’s table experience. This intimate dining experience reminds me of the Captain’s tables of long ago, where well dressed VIPs enjoyed a unique meal, and each other’s company. Once of the nice benefits was meeting fellow passengers you might not normally connect with on your own.
While the food on Norwegian Cruise Line is good, and nicely prepared, the NCL chef’s table is a nine-course, upscale menu that rivals any upscale restaurant on line. The menu uses the highest quality ingredients, sophisticated cooking techniques, flavor compositions. The food is beautifully presented, and guests are tended to by a group of highly trained staff members offering high quality, unobtrusive, perfect service. The meal is accompanied by wines that are specially paired by the line’s Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson.
The NCL Chefs Table is limited to just 12 guests and is offered once per cruise on board Norwegian ships fleet-wide. However, I had the pleasure of attending the very first Chef’s Table Experience on the Norwegian Jade on the March 22nd sailing from Barcelona. Since this ship sails in Europe, and there were many people who were world travelers, and who also appreciated really fine food and wine.
Because it takes so much time to executive this experience (even sugar curls take hours to create and plate on a desert), the Chef’s Table was advertised only by a small card at the restaurant reservations desk in the main atrium upon embarkation. By the time we sailed out of port, it was sold out. But due to demand, a second Chef’s Table was added to this particular sailing. Considering the scope of the menu, the amount of labor, and the expertise and staff required to pull it off properly, the exclusive dining experience is a bargain at $75.00 per person, including gratuities, and a photo with the very talented and personable Executive Chef, Mr. Denton Laing Sr. of Jamaica W.I.
This special dining experience on the Norwegian Jade was a 2 1/2 hour-long delight. The guests were asked to gather in a lounge marked: “private party” outside of Le Bistro (the line’s French specialty restaurant), perhaps a little unsure of what the evening would bring . We broke the ice with a glass of champagne, and were escorted into the restaurant, to a large table with formal name cards, just as one would expect at a dinner party. After spending a few minutes mingling with the ship’s Executive Chef, Food and Beverage Director, Restaurant Manager, Assistant Maître d’ and Head Wine Steward, we took photos, and sat down to dinner in what was essentially a private dining room.
The Executive Chef formally welcomed us, and described the first two courses (he came out to explain every subsequent course as well): an Amuse Bouche ‘Molecular Gastronome’ consisting of Spherical Mango, Vodka & Jalapeno Ravioli and an Orange-Wasabi Glazed Ahi Tuna Tartar with freshly-baked Sesame Crisp. (served with a Matua Valley Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand). Although I didn’t take photos of every single dish, as you can see from the photo, even course #3, an asparagus cream soup, was a delicious work of art. Each of the wines were also detailed by the Somilier as they were poured. All were excellent and well paired.
The fourth course (served with a Silverado Vineyards Chardonnay from California), found us eating a buttery, moist, Short Crust Tartlet, and then, a delightful Grapefruit and Moscato Granite (a palate cleanser) for the fifth course. Course six was a fish course: Plantain- Crusted, Pan Seared Sea Bass accompanied by Mango, Papaya & Avocado Salsa and a Lobster Veloute.
Following was With a Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon from California, we were served a Milk-Fed Veal Chop with Anna Potatoes, Sautéed Spinach and Truffle Veal Jus. Each was cooked to perfection, neither overdone or too rare, and perfectly seasoned. It was so delicious, you can almost smell it from the photo!
A specially-selected cheese platter served as course number eight. The portions were generous for every course, but hardly anyone left a morsel. For the grand finale, course number nine, there were two desserts, served by the couple: : a Yogurt-Mousse Dome with Lychee Raspberry Crème, Hazel Sablee and Lime Vanilla Reduction; and a Chocolate Log with ‘Spiced’ Dark Rum, Infused Banana and Cocoa Mousse.
After dinner, we were invited back to the sectioned-off lounge to enjoy Lavazza coffee, and a seelction of after dinner drinks to cement our new friendships. It was a wonderful experience from beginning to end.
Norwegian Cruise Lines prides itself on the wide range of entertainment options they offer. Norwegian Cruise Line is the official cruise line of Blue Man Group, appearing for the first time at sea on Norwegian Epic, as well as the official cruise line of Legends in Concert, Second City® Comedy Troupe, Howl at the Moon Dueling Pianos, and Nickelodeon, the number-one entertainment brand for kids. Cirque Dreams™ & Dinner is also featured on board Norwegian Epic as the first show of its kind at sea under a big top. On NCL, there truly is “something for everybody.” For those who want an elegant, exclusive, sophisticated, dining experience that is truly above and beyond, if you are lucky enough to snag a space, The NCL Chef’s Table is the event to choose. While the meal was very memorable, we got something more. Our chef’s table brought together an international grouping of people who started out the dinner as strangers, but ended as friends. We shared something very special, brought together in friendship through that glue of all connections, food and wine.
If you are interested in learning more about Norwegian Cruise Lines, visit www.ncl.com, of contact the line