Dedicated to my friend Josie back home in Canada, who always asks for food posts.
On our Viking South American cruise in December of 2019, our favourite restaurant on the Sun was The Chef’s Table, with its themed fixed tasting menu and curated wine selections.
The menu descriptions always sound enticing, and yet somehow can’t adequately reflect the actual dishes, which are inventive and delicious – and stunningly presented.
Our first Chef’s Table dinner of this cruise used the theme La Route des Indes, focusing on creative uses of the Eastern spices that Christopher Columbus was in search of when he landed in the Americas.
Each course, with the exception of the palate cleanser, is paired with a complementary wine, giving diners the opportunity to try both new dishes and new wines. For me, and for Ted, The Chef’s Table is a chance to explore tastes out of our usual comfort zone – and certainly dishes of a quality that we would not easily find in a restaurant at home.
The Carrot and Cardamom Cream amuse bouche tonight was like eating a cloud; the texture of the orange and anise foam could only be described as ethereal, and the tiny cubes of spiced carrot added a surprising and delightful texture. It was paired with one of my all-time favourite wines, a Grüner Veltliner from Austria’s Wachau Valley.
Our second course, paired with a dry white Château Recougne from Bordeaux, was a seared tuna, crusted with finely crushed Szechuan peppercorns, plated on pickled carrots and cucumber, with avocado and balsamic reduction “dots”, a stripe of sesame powder, and lemon foam puffs garnished with dill. Ted had never tried seared tuna before, not being a seafood fan beyond fish and chips, and loved it. Again, the presentation and the textures added immeasurably to the whole experience: the tuna was silky, firm, and peppery; the punch of flavour from the “dots” exploded in our mouths; the sesame had a slight crunch, while the lemon foam (garnished with the most delicate sprig of dill) simply melted on the tongue. Sublime.
As a palate cleanser we had a cold crystalline tarragon granita, topped with a vodka-infused lemon foam. Not only was it incredibly refreshing, but the combination of crunchy cold ice and pillowy soft foam was perfect. It may have looked similar in size and presentation to the amuse bouche, but the flavours were a (spice) world away.
Our main course was perfectly medium rare beef tenderloin infused with spices, accompanied by velvet-smooth purple potato purée, oyster mushrooms, a port wine reduction, and a garnish of sweet smoky paprika. At this point, before even getting dessert, Ted pronounced this the best meal he had EVER eaten. I’d be hard pressed not to agree. Our wine pairing was a Maison Castel Côtes du Rhone.
It seems almost impossible that we would have room for dessert, but the beauty of this tasting menu is that portions are intentionally small enough to allow you to experience the entire meal.
While dessert was described as a tarte tatin, it was definitely a surprising version. While sharing the same ingredients, this presentation was spectacular. Picture a perfect apple, peeled, and then sliced into one continuous spiral, eliminating the core, and reassembled into its apple shape, poached in calvados and cinnamon, and served atop a delicious crunch of pastry, with just a sweep of calvados and butterscotch sauce. Once again the textures – soft apple, crunchy pastry, slightly sticky sauce – create a sensual mouth feel. Now accompany that gorgeous dessert with a glass of Domaine Montgilet from France’s Loire Valley, a wine so sweet and syrupy that it rivals the taste of Canadian ice wine, and you have the perfect finish to an incredible meal.
Honestly, I don’t t know how we managed our espresso drinks after that, but we did, partly because we really didn’t want the meal to end.
The fixed menu changes every 4 to 5 days, so we’ll return for the California theme on December 29th.
To our fellow cruisers: if you love trying new things, this just might become your favourite restaurant on board too. If you’re more of a traditionalist, or need to be in control of what goes on your plate, it may not be your cup of tea. The nice thing about being on a Viking ocean ship is that there really is something for everyone.