Few things in life better than a good meal with good friends in pleasant surroundings.
By Christopher D. Burns
Long, long ago, I said I would tell you about the Chateau Briand that made me weep. It is not much of a story but a promise is a promise. I was on the inaugural voyage of the "Zenith" which is Celebrity Cruise Lines. (If anyone ever says that they had a bad time on Celebrity it had to be on the "Brittanis" which was an older ship that has since been retired when Celebrity changed hands (and even the "Brittanis" was impressive, for her age…). Now all their ships are new and the food will be excellent as long as Michele Roux remains the Executive Chef Extraordinaire! Celebrity has since been purchase by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and only time will tell if they will leave Chef Roux to his job.
It was my first time on the "new" Line and I was treated to a FAM cruise (Only offered to people in the business, and it usually just cost port charges and $35 a day...) the ship was really nice. It was very different from what I had experienced on other lines. Instead of a lot of glitz and glamour it presented a rather understated elegance. Soft polished wood surfaces instead of glass and chrome. (Like RCCL) Subdued indirect lighting instead of harsh fluorescence and glaring neon. (Like Carnival) Elegant, but not gaudy, artwork was in precise locations. And live green plants were in abundance without overpowering the place. The cabins were roomy and the outside cabins did not have small round portholes, but nice sized rectangular windows. The cabin staff used stewardesses for the most part which was unusual at the time. A lot of them came from the former Soviet republics (Czech, Yugoslavia, Lithuania, etc...) some came from the UK like England and Ireland (right comely lasses from the Emerald Isle...) being from Europe, they all spoke English rather well. (I am not saying this from a American - centric point of view, but one of the problems that the passengers aboard the Ecstasy had was a failure to communicate with members of the crew. The crew, who were for the most part from Central or South America, spoke little or no English and the cruise line did not take the pains or make the effort to stress English as a primary language aboard ship.) The dining staff was from places like Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, and South Africa (for God's sake!) and all were crisp and efficient in the discharge of their duties. (I told you this was not much of a story...) Anyway, you know I love good food, especially in pleasant surroundings with delightful company (I was at a table for six, with four rather pleasing females and only one other male. [You can't always have everything...]) Maybe it was the fact that so many females festooned my table, but the wait staff (three dashingly handsome young gentlemen from Switzerland, Belgium) gave us extra attention without being overly solicitous. (Or maybe they all clamored to bask in the presence of one such as I.... [so gracious and yet so modest...])
The menu was a small slice of heaven. We enjoyed Golden Alaskan Caviar with chilled Russian Vodka, then we segued to Coquille St. Jacques, a lovely concoction comprised of small sweet and tender scallops and tiger prawns with green onions all sautéed in a rich clear butter sauce and lightly sprinkled with garlic spiced bread crumbs... ahhh! Talk about gustatory orgasm! My mouth fairly slavered. Then the entrée came, Chateau Briand. Now I had heard of it but (believe it or not) had never had it. It was a cut of beef akin to a Filet Mignon, but it has been marinated and broiled. Then it is finished off in Au Jus, simply soaking up the pure essence of all that is good about beef. Naturally moist it soaks in a boiling mixture of its own juice and a hint of garlic, onions, carrots and fresh ground black pepper. (Being a former cook I remember that I would start off with ten gallons of fresh beef stock to which I would add about three gallons of chopped onions, two cups of fresh ground black pepper, two cups of minced garlic and 5 or 6 large carrots cut into quarters. Reduce this mixture all the way down till you have about 5 or 6 gallons left. This will concentrate the flavors. Then strain through a china cap lined with cheese cloth [thereby removing all bits and pieces of pepper and veggies] and let it sit for about a half hour. While it is cooling, you will then skim the surface of all fat [which is now floating to the top]. You might have to repeat the skimming a little later as it cools and viola! Au Jus fit for a King!)
I have often heard people bragging about "...it was so tender, you could cut it with a fork." So much bull used to describe a piece of tender beef, but now it was true. Before me sat a cut of beef so tender, so juicy, it was a sacrilege to make it available to mere mortals...
As my knife (well I did not believe in the fork thing...) slid sensuously, almost effortlessly into the beef, I knew instantly that this was no dressed up steak; this was a phenomenon, a culinary miracle. I noticed the rich juices streaming from the meat and pooling around it, making it an island of intense oral pleasure surrounded by its own essence. The smell teased me like a taunting, but oh so willing prom queen. It seemed to take forever before the morsel reached my mouth and then.... ahhhh! It was better than sex... [Well pretty damn close!] The remaining pieces were lightly seasoned with my tears. Tears of pleasure and tears of loss, for I knew I would never see another cut of this ilk, prepared with such care ever again. But it was worth it. I don't even remember desert. Or why I woke up nude in a lifeboat...?
Well there you go. I trust it wasn't too unpleasant to plod through such a boring account of one meal eaten oh, so long ago....