Tag: Travel

The Grille by Thomas Keller on Seabourn

The Grille by Thomas Keller on Seabourn

Chef Thomas Keller is a consultant to Seabourn Cruises, and has created unique high-end restaurants on each the of larger ships. Keller is best known, of course, for his well-regarded French Laundry in Yountville, CA and Per Se in Manhattan.

While “The Grille by Thomas Keller” does not aspire to the nine courses you find in his land-based restaurants, it is an extremely good restaurant, especially since the standard ship dining room serves excellent 4-course meals every night. The Grille is smaller, however, and you must make reservations in advance. In fact you can make them on-line as soon as you have booked your cruise, as the restaurant is very popular and getting reservations once you are on board is very difficult. Repeat visits are nearly impossible to obtain.

seating

Literature provided in each room includes a booklet on the purveyors Keller uses for his floating gourmet experience. Farms, orchards, seafood, chicken, smoked meats, veal, cheese, beef and olive oil are all spelled out. (There is also a booklet on Spa and Wellness by Andrew Weil which is utter bull-pucky and can be discarded.)

Dinner at the Grille is served from 6pm to 9pm nightly and consists of starters, plates, sides and sweets, each served impeccably by an experienced staff.

iced veggiesOur dinner began with a dish of fresh vegetable on ice.

There is an element of theater to presentations in the Grill, with a number of dishes prepared table side. At our table, an order of Caesar salad was nearly a 3 act production, but quite entertaining, and the resulting salad was indeed very good.

 

They also prepare Dover Sole Meuniere at table side, as we noted when the next table ordered it.

Our other starter was a “Double Consomme ‘Celestine’,” with Black Winter Truffles and Julienned Crepes. Like most soups in the Seabourn dining rooms, the waiters bring you a bowl with the dry, floating ingredients and then pour in the soup liquid.

 

This was a light but really rich and flavorful soup that we picked because our main course was quite rich. The definition of “Celestine” is “heavenly,” and it was that good.

 

One of our entrees was dubbed “Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Medallions with Herb Crust,” and the lamb as tender and juicy as any you could imagine. It was prepared table-side, to the extent that they poured sauce over the lamb. As noted, it was delicious.

Our other entrée was Lobster Thermidor,  which amounts to lobster out of the shell served with a creamy sauce made with cream, vegetable and mushroom stocks, and a few croutons.

thermidor

Here is a typical recipe. While we didn’t get much in the way of table-side theater, this was one of the best lobster dishes we have ever had.

We also shared a side vegetable dish of excellent, multicolored buttered carrots.

 

Finally, our dessert was a gorgeous and delicious Lemon Meringue Tart, and since my birthday was the previous week, it came with a candle.

Dinner at the Grille is a delightful experience with superb service. However, the menu changes little during the week (the lamb wasn’t on every night) so if you are able to return, you may have to plan from the same menu. They are, however, delivered daily to your room for that purpose.

Other Keller influences

Once each week, the main dining room has a special Chef’s Dinner. On that same day, the secondary restaurant, called the Colonnade has a single menu dinner by chef Keller, consisting last week of Waldorf Salad, Grilled “RR” Ribeye, Cypress Hill Humboldt Fog cheese with wild flower honey and country bread, and Chocolate Silk Pie.

The service is “Family Style” meaning that they bring one platter for the whole table. Since most people on a cruise are just couples, this isn’t very significant, but cute. This is modeled on Keller’s Ad Hoc restaurant in Napa. The kitchen staff also shouts out the order numbers, which is even sillier when everyone is getting the same meal. While we loved the beef, cheese and dessert, the Waldorf salad was rather weird, with just a few ultra-thin slices of apple mixed with the lettuce, celery, nuts and currants.

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Seabourn Cruises: what are they like?

Seabourn Cruises: what are they like?

Seabourn is one of 4 or 5 providers of “luxury cruises,” where the level of service is very high: the price is pretty much all-inclusive. In Seabourn’s case, this means that gratuities are included as is all food and drink. (If you order a whole bottle of premium wine, you pay for it, but this is about the only cost.) Excursions are not included. Seabourn’s ships are rather small: most carry only 450-600 passengers, so you get exceptional service and attention.

We found the experience delightful and of high quality from beginning to end: our Caribbean cruise began on Barbados, and ended there, too, a week later. From the moment we arrived at the ship terminal, Seabourn personnel took over, welcoming us and taking our bags to be delivered to our suite. They quickly produced scannable ID cards that would open our rooms and served as identification to get on and off the ship, and sent us to the gangway with instructions to go to the 8th deck for lunch at the Colonade.  Lunch was more or less buffet style, but our waiter promised to bring us the food himself if we preferred, along with some nice wine.

After lunch we went to our room. We were greeted by our room stewardess, who helped us with anything we asked for. In fact, to our surprise, our luggage was already there.  Most rooms on Seabourn ships have a King sized bed or two single beds, a sitting area with TV, a veranda, a walk-in closet with ample storage, a bath with a two sink vanity, and a separate tub and shower stall.

We were on the Seabourn Odyssey, but the Seabourn Sojourn and Quest are essentially identical. Most of the rooms are 300 square feet, with a 65 square foot veranda.

Food on Seabourn cruises is uniformly excellent: the ship provides 5 dining options:  the less formal Colonade, the main Restaurant, which serves 4 course dinners every evening, the Patio by the pool, which serves pizza, burgers and similar fare, and the Grill by Thomas Keller which we’ll write about separately. Room service is also available 24 hours at no charge.

The  Pool area is a great place to relax both in the sun and in shaded areas, and in addition to the actual pool, there are two very nice whirlpools. The ship has 4 more such whirlpools on other decks, and these are terrific for relaxing after a tiring excursion. And, of course, the waiters are happy to bring you any drinks you might like.

pool

Service on Seabourn is uniformly excellent: and since there are only 459 passengers, the staff soon has learned your names and some of your preferences. Our waiter brought us one coffee, one tea and two glasses of orange juice every day before even taking our breakfast order. And since we had to vacate our rooms early on our last day, our room stewardess offered to bring us breakfast in bed.

While Seabourn’s offices are in Seattle, these are European ships with European electrical outlets, and only two US outlets in the suites: one in the bathroom for a razor and one on a little vanity shelf, while we charged our cell phones. There are no outlets near the bed and no US outlets near the desk for plugging in a laptop. However, the staff quickly provided a US extension cord for our needs. You might bring a European to US adapter with you.

There are more entertainment events than you can possibly attend: there was a cooking demo on making a Vietnamese fish stew by the head chef, and there are lectures on the geology of the islands you are visiting. The Seabourn Singers and dancers provide highly competent pop music performances and even one called Opera Favorites (if you believe Lloyd-Webber is opera). They also had a superb jazz combo and singer.

One silly Seabourn tradition is Caviar in the Surf, where the crew, dressed in whites stands in the surf handing out plates of caviar. However, because of rough seas, we could not take the water shuttles to land on Mayreau. So the crew set up the caviar ceremony in the pool, followed by the lobster barbecue. Brilliant improvisation!

WiFi is available for 40 cents a minute or for a flat weekly fee of $239. We only used it to check for news from our family and the minute charge was a better deal. The ship’s free internal WiFi allows you to check the ship’s daily schedule as well as to read a number of newspapers on line using the PressReader app, which you should install before you leave home.

While we spent most mornings on some sort of tour of the islands we visited: Guadeloupe, Nevis, Martinique, Grenada, Tobago and Barbados, we rested in the afternoons in a whirlpool and reading on our veranda.  This was for us an absolutely ideal vacation.  The prices on Seabourn are a little higher than on the larger mass-market cruise lines, but when you consider that gratuities and all food and drink are included, this is really a very good deal. And the service is simply superb.

sunset