If Celebrity Cruises pops up a restaurant in San Francisco and its loyal past passengers don’t know about it … does it actually exist?
It does. We know because Cruise Critic ate lunch at the pop-up venue, created from scratch at the back patio of the Stable Café and existing for two days and four meals only. Celebrity brought in everything from tables and chairs to wine glasses and cutlery -– not to mention its director of culinary operations, John Suley, and a few other Celebrity chefs — to turn the Mission District venue into a Celebrity Cruises-style restaurant on land.
The goal of the event was to reach out to local foodies — especially those, such as my dining companion, who believe all cruise food is “rubber chicken” –- to show them the new culinary heights to which cruise ship chefs are aspiring. To that end, Celebrity did not specifically alert loyalty program members and instead advertised exclusively through Tasting Table, an online publication that focuses on culinary trends and local foodie events. Media and select travel agent partners were invited as well. Proceeds of the sold-out event will go to the Celebrity Cruises Scholarship at The Culinary Institute of America, Suley’s alma mater and a local institution with a campus in St. Helena, north of San Francisco in wine country.
The set-up did evoke that cruise ship alternative restaurant feel, with a red and black color scheme, white plates in varying shapes and sizes, extra-large glassware and beautifully presented food. Three dishes even came straight off the ships: a hamachi crudo appetizer, similar to a Tuscan Grille dish found on Reflection; a five-spice crusted Cervena venison loin from the Murano menu; and “Strawberry Fields” chocolate-covered strawberries on lollipop sticks from Qsine. Portion sizes were small, in keeping with a cruise vacation where you’re constantly eating, but could have been slightly larger for a workday lunch. We also missed the presence of an international waitstaff – both their expert service experience and the fun of meeting people from around the globe.
But will the restaurant persuade San Francisco foodies to try cruising? Our lunch date declared his venison perfectly done but wondered if the dish could be prepared as well on a ship, halfway into a weeklong sailing. Can a talented chef “inspired by seasonal, local ingredients and flavors in and around San Francisco and the Pacific Northwest” (as the news release states) persuade diners that he’ll have the same success with frozen foods procured and prepared en masse onboard? We’re not sure, but Suley and Celebrity have certainly shown San Franciscans that cruise lines are thinking about food in very different ways from the stereotypical smorgasbords of abundant yet mediocre dishes – a fact that people who cruised in the past few years already know.
And one lucky couple will get to see for themselves: Celebrity is entering all attendees into a drawing to win a seven-night Alaska cruise on Celebrity Solstice in 2013.
As for us, we very much enjoyed our tender and flavorful Arctic char, two different local wines and a small portion of cocoa cake paired with salted caramel ice cream. Unfortunately, we had to leave our yummy glass of Sonoma County Zinfandel unfinished. Unlike on a cruise ship, we were the ones driving home.
Love food? Consider a food and wine theme cruise.
Hate paying those upcharges? Here are seven scary fees.
Get your very own Lido Deck subscription.