Who: Rich and Kathy
Where: Los Angeles to Ensenada cruise, Disneyland Resort, Newport Beach
What: Carnival Imagination, Residence Inn, Hyatt Regency Newport Beach
When: July 11-16, 2018
Why: Kathy’s Birthday Celebration (Catching up with SoCal)
We requested our places at the Chef’s Table before the cruise, but we didn’t hear whether we were included until we got a call in our stateroom on Thursday. Originally, they told us the Chef’s Table would be Saturday night, a disappointment for us since we wanted it to be on Kathy’s birthday.
Thankfully, they called us back that night and informed us we would be seated at the Chef’s Table Friday night. The next morning we received a letter in our cabin inviting us to meet at the Lobby Bar at 6:00 PM Friday night.
We arrived in the Lobby Bar a little early to find a large group of people mingling as if they knew each. One of the group, Steve, was kind enough to let us know that 300 people from their Orange County company were onboard and 10 of them were attending the Chef’s Table. There were 17 of us altogether, and while we anticipated having an awkward night with so many people who knew each other, it turned out to be a very pleasant group.
Just before 6:00 PM, we were each given a glass of champagne, and at 6:00 PM, our Chef’s Table host, Eduardo the ship’s sous chef from the Philippines, welcomed us and led us to the kitchen for a tour. We stopped in the middle of the kitchen to meet the Pastry Chef who demonstrated the preparation of the famous Carnival chocolate melting cake.
We were then led to another section of the kitchen where we were served four enticing appetizer bites:
Mango Sphere, Rosemary Biscuit
Salmon Tartar Cornets, Sesame Seeds
Beef Carpaccio on Air Pillow, Chocolate Bacon, Apple Ribbons
Double Cooked Lamb
The mango sphere exploded flavor in our mouths and was quite surprising. The salmon was delicious and fun in a cone. One of our favorites. The beef carpaccio was served on a parmesan-filled air pillow. This was my favorite appetizer, although the best part was the air pillow. The lamb was served as a small meatball in pastry and was quite good. All the appetizers were delightful, and it was fun having our nibbles in the kitchen.
We were then led through the dining room and into the Library where our long table was set up. First, we posed for a group photo, and then we found our places at the table marked by name cards. We were seated near six people from the company group and Kathy was next to April and her friend from Phoenix.
They gave us a choice of wine, Zonin Pinot Grigio or McGuigan Australian Merlot. We both chose the Merlot. They refilled our wine glasses throughout the meal.
We each had a menu that detailed the seven-course meal to be presented to us, starting with bread service.
Beef Blanket, Spiced Grape Tea
Asparagus Cauliflower, Honey Carrot Tian, Mache, Lemon Streusel
Comments: The grape tea was especially exciting and enjoyable.
Beef Blanket Before Spiced Tea
Beef Blanket After Spiced Tea
Corn Custard, Polenta Cracker, Tangerine, Passion Caviar
Comments: I am allergic to crab, so they substituted chicken. Unfortunately, that pretty much made this course disappointing.
Rich’s “Crab Stack” ala Chicken
Kathy’s Crab Stack (delicious!)
Creamy Quinoa, Parmesan Churros, Olive Snow, Port Wine Jus
Comments: The duck was very rich, and we didn’t finish this course.
Bisque Our Way
Two Tomatoes, Three Basil, Crisped Brioche, Garlic Chip
Comments: They served the soups separated in the bowl, and then had us mix them. A fascinating and tasty dish.
Chorizo Crust, Fried Pop Corn Pudding, Lemon Macaroon, Lobster Foam
Comments: This was one of my favorite dishes. So flavorful. They omitted the lobster foam due to my allergy.
Bone Marrow Souffle, Scallion & Garlic Panisse, Gremolata Crisp
Comments: Wonderful Waygu beef. Very rich. Couldn’t eat all this.
Sea Salt Praline Chocolate, Raspberry Mojito, Key Lime Cake, Apricot Vanilla Gel, Citrus Cream
Comments: We were so full by the end of the meal, but we managed to eat most of the dessert plate.
As you can see, we were served a lot of food, all of it well thought out, well prepared, and full of interesting flavors. After the dessert course, Eduardo brought out two birthday cakes with candles for Kathy and another guest who were celebrating birthdays. Everyone sang Happy Birthday. And the birthday cake was fabulous.
Eduardo was a superb host. We gave him the highest ratings on our post-cruise survey. The conversation around the table was enjoyable, although, with the long table, we really only interacted with half of the group. One of the company guys had an allergic reaction in the middle of the meal and had to leave mid-meal with his wife. We later heard he collapsed but was recovering well by the time we finished.
At the end of the meal, we were each given a packet that included a copy of the group photo and the recipe for the chocolate melting cake.
The food and service were amazing. We were quite impressed with the quality of everything. This was very good food served interestingly. Eduardo and his team prepared the dishes in the Library and then served them to us. Very impressive.
There were only two things I would critique. First, in the middle of the meal, we took a break from eating to be “entertained” by a magician. Neither of us cares for magicians, and this one was no exception. Boring. The other critique is that they only offered us one wine from a choice of two for the whole meal. We would have preferred several wines served throughout the meal to pair with the food. However, these critiques are minor. Overall, it was a marvelous and memorable experience. It was a 9 out of 10 for us, and an amazing way to celebrate Kathy’s birthday.