This event was so special it deserves its own post. Kevin and I are pretty budget minded cruisers. We don't gamble or run up bar tabs, we are frugal with our excursion choices. But for once, we decided to splurge. I've always resisted the temptation of the Carnival Steakhouse (the main dining room has good food- why pay $30 more?) but there was finally an offering that I thought was worth the upcharge: The Chef's Table. Kevin is a bit of a foodie, and I thought this was an experience he would really enjoy. But I was worried about me: I'm pretty darn picky. Thanks to cruise critic I saw the menu ahead of time and learned that they will make accomodations, so I decided to try it. The cost of the evening is $75 per person, which includes wine. I don't drink wine. Yet another trepidation: would it be worth it? And would our night be ruined by people trying to "drink their money's worth?" I'm happy to report the answers were: Yes. and No. We actually ended up tipping an extra $20, and although everyone "enjoyed themselves", no one was sloppy drunk. Everyone was clearly there for the food.
We reserved the Chef's Table by emailing the Maitre'D before the cruise. It took him a very long time (3 weeks?) to respond, most people online reported responses within 2 days...
The very first thing that shows there is great attention to detail is the night before the Chef's Table. While eating in the main dining room --anytime dining- so they must have had us flagged on the computer. Not sure what they do if you go to the Lido that night- maybe a phone call? Or maybe you are SOL :) -- a representative of the Chef came and asked us if we had any allergies or food preferences. Kevin said no and I said I do not drink wine. I told them my preference was Diet Coke to drink. It helped I had seen the menu ahead of time. I knew there was no maple (Kevin's most hated food product) and the onions were limited (Kevin isn't a huge fan.) I also knew there was no pork or baby animals (lamb/veal)- as those are the things I do not eat. I also knew there was a lot of seafood, but was determined to be adventurous and try it. We were told to meet up for the Chef's Table the next night at 6:15, that men could not wear T-shirts (they didn't say ladies, maybe they just assume ladies tend to dress up?) and asked that I wear close toed shoes (didn't say men... another assumption...) and no heels.
Which brings us to the day of the Chef's Table. We skipped sushi (so sad!) because we didn't want to eat anything ahead of time. At 6:00 we headed down to the lobby to meet up at 6:15. I have to say- this was kind of stressful. We were not told who we were meeting, no exact spot, and the lobby was crowded. Finally I saw an officer in whites and went over to her and she did have the list for the Chef's table. She checked our name off, and told us the Chef would be out shortly. Well that part was easy, he was wearing a big Chef's hat! The Chef shook Kevin's hand and introduced himself and said "Your name?" to which Kevin did not respond!! I was shocked, so he shook my hand, I introduced myself as Jessica, and he did the same to everyone else. No one else seemed to introduce themselves. I can only assume his thick accent and the loud lobby made it so that no one else heard him ask for their names?
After the introductions the Chef said "Jessica. That I will remember, you will be the Chef of the night!" Since no one else had introduced themselves, I felt kind of embarassed and thought he was picking on me. Especially since he kept refering to me as we walked through to the galley! (In good fun, but I was embarassed to have done something different from everyone else.)
We went into galley during the dinner service and got a tour. The very first thing we learned is that a lot of waiters will try to go 'out' the 'in' door, and the Chef does NOT like this. He scolded a few, and then you could see them warning other waiters to not go that way. The Chef tells us they do this to serve tables faster, but it causes accidents and dropped trays. We got to see all the food stations set up, and it was very orderly, and very busy.
We stopped at a large table set up for us. There was champagne flutes, and a Diet Coke, and a Ginger Ale. Turns out the other non-drinker was the Chef :) Everyone got champagne, I got my Diet Coke, and then another woman asked for one. She said it hadn't occured to her to tell them she doesn't drink alcohol, and thought she would have water... We all toasted to the evening, and out came the appetizers. (I may have the order wrong...)
-Oh, no photos were allowed in the galley, so I don't have those here...- The Chef described each course, but the noise in the galley made it a little difficult to hear.
Up first was an Ahi Tuna Tartar on a cracker. I think the cracker had wasabi backed into it. The size was HUGE. My first thought was there was no way I could eat that much Ahi Tuna, but it was SO good I dug into it. Wow!
Next was a mini-beef taco, with a sour cream drizzle and sweet avacado. I've never had sweet avacado (it wasn't really guacamole) but it was amazing. Just thinking about it I want a bowl full. This had too much beef in it for me, so I handed it over to Kevin to finish after an initial bite. The man next to me (from San Antonio) pronounced it the best taco he'd ever had. I think at this point all the champagne glasses (and my coke) were refilled!
Then we had a duck potsticker with a barbeque sauce. This was really good, but the sauce made it difficult to eat. It was really something you wanted to pick up to eat, but the sauce made it messy (unlike the taco which you could pick up). It couldn't really be split with a fork. I finally just picked it up, and wiped off my fingers, but many tried to use the fork.
Last, we had Avocado Cheesecake, wrapped in phillo dough. It was designed to look like a present. This was a perfect little bite. The Ahi Tuna was my favorite though... Everyone finished up their second glass of champagne and we moved on.
We walked through more of the galley and saw gigantic vats they use to cook the sauces! Wow. Then we moved by cooling racks FILLED with Warm Chocolate Melting Cake. They said about half the desserts served each night are WMC.
And it turns out I wasn't being teased when I was made Chef of the night. At this point I got a hat (that I got to keep) and an apron and got to make the WMC we would eat that night! The Chef gave Kevin permission to take a picture, so here I am serving up the WMC I stirred (well, I had the Chef stir the flour in- it was really hard!) They say never trust a skinny Chef, but later he told us a Chef never needs to eat. It is important to taste things all day long, so you never have to have a meal. Interesting!
We took a picture, which we were told was available for $10.99 in the gallery (what? Everyone on cruise critic says it is included. Well later, he says because we were such a great group, he'd throw it in for us!) and then sat down to eat. The bar waitress offered a red and white wine, and everyone took both (seperate glasses were already set out) and the non-drinkers got our cokes. A full selection of cokes was set up to the side table, so anything could be requested by anyone, not just by those who had said they wouldn't have wine. I did have to ask once for my Diet Coke to be refilled, but most of the night it just happened. I don't think a wine glass ever got to be more than 1/3 full. The bar waitress said something to the Chef about levels being fine when he said to pour for someone- so she clearly had a point she was watching for. I think Kevin estimated he drank a bottle of wine (!!)...but it would be impossible to know, because the glass never got to be empty. He is a bit of a wine snob and said the wines were very nice for house wines, but they weren't wine pairings or anything. Carnival did not go bottem of the barrel though. What they were was mentioned, but I don't remember the details.
We started with assorted breads- I remember there was a foccacia and a multi-grain, as well as something like a stick? Different than the MDR. We all tried a blended butter and were asked to guess the ingredient. No one got it right (without a lot of prompting) and I won't tell you here, because you should try it.
Then of first course came out.
This is Beef Carpaccio. I can't remember what is on top of each one, but everything tasted amazing. They were hard to get off the plate, because they are sliced so thin. Kevin knew raw meet was a stretch for me (I rarely eat meat) so he said he looked over to see if I was trying it, and my plate was already clear!
Anyhow, while we were waiting a magician came to entertain us. I believe this is the same waiter who sang "That's Amore" in the dining room, in which case he is very talented indeed! His tricks were very good, and I think everyone at the table enjoyed them. Some online have said that a magician is out of place in a fine dining experience like this, but I thought it was perfect.
So then, out comes our final course. A Filet Mignon topped with leaks and a pepper stoplight. This was the best steak I have ever had in my life. I've eaten a lot of Filet Mignon and Tenderloin (it's really the only steak I eat...) and this hands down is the winner. Wow. If this is what Filet Mignon tastes like on Carnival, our next cruise I am paying the steakhouse upcharge!
I left feeling very full, but not uncomfortable.
We did get out in time to go to the talent show, but just barely. The guests in the show were good. We had a few singers (one wrote their song, the other did "I Will Always Love You"), a beat boxer (he was great- too young to get a bottle of champagne so the CD said he'd give him something even more expensive: a bottle of water), a drum soloist who was excellent, and maybe something I'm forgetting. The CD also did a magic trick before the show started, he gave a kid a magic coin which, if she put under her pillow at night would turn into a ten dollar bill! As she left the stage wide eyed, he said "Mom and Dad, you know how the magic works right?" Kevin said he also said "If it doesn't work, Mom and Dad don't love you." But I didn't hear it. (He gave the girl a build a bear box "just in case it doesn't work.") Tex is a pretty funny cruise director.
And then, time to go to bed! Cozumel is up next!