The high life

I suspect the Cellar Master’s dinner was chosen as a way to celebrate our passage through the Panama Canal, given it took place the night we emerged from the Canal. As it turned out, it was a lovely way to end a magical day.

The evening didn’t start auspiciously, though. Al had the aura of a migraine, and even though he took some medication, we weren’t sure it was going to kick in soon enough. However, we set out in hope all would work out.

The participants for the meal met in one of the bars for pre-dinner Champagne. Al and I sat with a trio from New Zealand. The gentleman and his wife – Bob and Cheryl – were fairly upbeat people and seemed to be having a good trip, but the friend who was with them had to be one of the most negative people it’s ever been my misfortune to meet. No matter what we said – whether it was Bob, or his wife or Al or I, she had to throw cold water over it.

We liked the Neptune lounge. They hadn’t had a chance to see it, since there were only a few cabins set aside for Australia and New Zealand, so they hadn’t had a chance at the Neptune suites. (I have no idea if this is true or not, but she seemed convinced of it.)

I suggested they book their next cruise over the internet, directly on the cruise ship site, since that’s what I’d done and that didn’t depend on travel agents and possible quotas. Bob explained that it wasn’t just the cruise, that when they got to Fort Lauderdale they were doing a full North American tour, so had had to go through a travel agent, and that the stateroom they had was really good.

Friend mentioned the shortness of the couch for sleeping on. And commented that the internet service on board was lousy. We agreed that we’d heard that. (I’m still not sure what the onboard internet problems had to do with booking a cabin for a cruise, but she obviously saw some connection!)

Bob mentioned they just used text with the phone to stay in touch with family back home. She replied that phone service wasn’t available all the time, and they ought to fix that (given that we have to be in range of the wireless and microwave and phone towers for that to happen, I’m not entirely sure how the crew are supposed to manage that.)

We asked them about the excursions they’d been on, and found out they’d taken the same trip to the Mangrove swamps in Puerto Chiapas that we had. Bob and Cheryl had really enjoyed it, but their friend found it too hot, and said that Australian woman ruined the entire trip. (The Australian woman was the one who worried about the length of the trip and the availability of TP.) The friend didn’t seem too happy about Australians.

The champagne was rather nice, I ventured (searching desperately for some topic that wouldn’t get squashed by Ms. Negative, and it was a lovely champagne actually, but at this point, I wasn’t about to get too enthusiastic about anything). It was too bubbly and minerally for her tastes. (Of course – it’s a French champagne, it’s going to be minerally. It’s a sparkling wine, of course it’s going to be bubbly! I think I strained my eyelids from trying not to roll my eyes about now.)

Luckily, they called those three for seating in the restaurant about then. Luckily because at this point I was on the verge of saying something really unpleasant to her. I hoped we wouldn’t be seated near them. I had to wonder how Bob and Cheryl put up with her! And they still had over a month and a half to go on their trip.

We were called for seating just after that, and ended up next to a couple from Victoria, and beside them, a couple from Vancouver. So between talking about home, and the trip so far, and how Denis and Heather had met and gotten to know each other (it wasn’t a honeymoon cruise for them, but they were not married that long (second marriage for both), and were obviously really happy together which was really nice to see), and what we all did when we weren’t cruising, (he was a retired investment counselor and she was an artist – photography) and with the quality of the food and wine, I didn’t think to take any notes. (see the graphic for the menu).

cellar master menuClick on the graphic to see the enlargement.

But . . . the appetizer was a challenge for me. Both my parents were severely reactive to lobster and crab, even though they loved it – so until this night, I’d never had the courage to taste it. But I was learning about food and wine pairings, and couldn’t tell if the pairing worked unless I had some. So, I did. And wondered what all the fuss was about. Like strawberries, tomatoes and one or two other things that people tend to go ga-ga over, I didn’t have much of a reaction one way or the other to the lobster. I found it fairly bland, even with the saffron chilli mayonnaise (although those flavours worked really nicely.) The champagne paired fine with it – but if they enhanced each other’s flavours, I wasn’t aware of it.

The soup was a real surprise – I’m not a big garlic fan, but while it was very garlicky, it was a great garlic! I really enjoyed it and the wine matched it terrifically (that may actually have been why the soup worked so well). It was a red wine, and I’m sorry, I don’t remember the grape varieties, although Cab Sauv was definitely in there and was amazing. But when I looked up Flanagan’s, I’m not really surprised. Their wines go for $200.00 a bottle. And you can’t buy them in very many places. Very exclusive.

I’ve liked duck the few times I’ve had it, but this seared duck breast? Oh, my gosh. The bing cherry sauce and the Cab Franc and the fowl had me over the moon. They all worked together to first stun and then kill my taste buds with pure bliss. Really. This wine wasn’t in the price class of the Flanagen’s, not even in the same ballpark (this was very close to our price point, actually) but it was even better than that more exclusive one. Lovely long finish, lovely velvety tannins.

Then the lemon spoom. And if, like us, you’d never heard of this before, or even knew what it was when it was put in front of you, lean closer and learn. It looked like a failed float – a dollop of vanilla ice cream in a clear pop that didn’t fizz and foam and do all the wonderful things that a float usually does. But it was lemony and bitter and it cleared the palate completely. Lemon something (not ice cream) and maybe tonic water? We weren’t sure about what it actually was until a couple of weeks ago, when we bought some lemon sorbet for dessert and realized that’s what the spoom had been. Lemon sorbet and tonic water. Just for the record, even though it did clear the palate and wake me up wonderfully, I still am no fan of tonic water. So, while I might use this if I ever do a really fancy dinner party, my gin will always be mated with 7-up. I admit it. I’m a philistine. You can take the girl away from the peasantry, but you can’t get the peasant out of the girl. Or whatever. Elegant and distinguished will never be adjectives associated with me. But that’s okay, I have fun anyway.

As you can see from the menu, there was a choice of main course. Both Al and I chose the filet mignon (that it wasn’t much of a tussle. Not a fish fan, and I do love me my filet.) Although, I do admit to just a bit of a pull – halibut is a nice fish, and hazelnuts are one of my favourite nuts. But . .  filet mignon? I don’t get that often, and . . . yeah, that Col Solare at the Premium wine tasting had been really, really nice. And a Maderia sauce? How could I resist? So I didn’t. I wanted to see how they would work with the filet. With the filet they worked magnificently. The problem was, the foi gras was not goose liver. It was duck, and I found it super fatty and unpleasant on the tongue – both texture and taste, and I didn’t like the way it and the Col Solare worked together. But overall, that was minor and most of the main course was a real treat.

Dessert was again, one of my favourites. Mocha is something I don’t even try to resist anytime, and with a fresh berry coulis? Yeah, it had me from hello. And it didn’t disappoint, and neither did the port, which was another we’d tasted at the port and chocolate tasting, and which was improved by the dessert.

We talked a while with Dennis and Heather and then headed back to the cabin. The entertainment didn’t attract (a virtuoso Latin American pianist named Juan Pablo) and the cold, while on its way out, wasn’t gone entirely, so we made it an earlyish night (we didn’t finish dinner until after 9 pm).

Tomorrow we see Cartagena, and tour its fort and the old city. I’m looking forward to that. It’s a combined bus and walking tour. Al’s still in charge of the camera, so I’m not sure what we’re going to see. (The batteries in his camera died and we haven’t found any to replace them yet. The onboard stores are closed when in port, and apparently the Canal qualifies as “port”.) So, we’ll all be surprised when you tune in tomorrow.


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