Early each morning someone, usually either the captain or the onboard tour guide, walks, bicycles or drives into the village closest to where Adrienne has moored overnight to bring back fresh breads and pastries from the local boulangerie -- which form the carb cornerstone -- along with cheese, cold cuts, cereals and fruit for the daily Continental breakfast. The morning meal is served buffet-style, beginning at 8 a.m., in a dining room carved out of the aft end of the main salon, Adrienne's central lounge and bar. For those who rise earlier, a Krups residential-style coffee maker is preset from the night before to dispense life-giving, pre-breakfast java at the press of a button.
Lunches and dinners are more structured, even educational, as each meal includes a pair of wines -- one red, one white -- and a trio of cheeses, described in detail by the onboard hostesses. For the most part, the wines are premier cru or grand cru, and the cheese selections include varieties made from cow, goat and ewe milk spanning the full spectrum of recognizability, from U. S. supermarket-familiar to first-time taste adventures.
Lunches are generally served -- weather permitting -- on the sun deck forward of the salon. The deck is arranged with three round tables for four. The buffet service, described by the Adrienne's chef, includes two cold salads, a hot meat dish carved by the chef, a warm option such as quiche, mushrooms baked in a seeded bread shell, a focaccia covered with melted cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and anchovies. The noontime meal is capped off with a traditional cheese course.
Dinner is a set menu of four courses served at 7:30 each night, consumed at a typically unhurried European pace, ending between 9:30 and 10 p.m. A typical menu included an appetizer, main course, cheese and salad, and dessert. The three cheeses and two wines featured were presented with in-depth descriptions of region, flavor and constitution. There is only one choice per course, and French Country Waterways cautions that they are limited in their ability to execute special meal requests. So for passengers who have food issues, it makes sense to contact them before booking to be certain such requests can be addressed. The menu is neither nouvelle cuisine nor classic French, but somewhere in between, and though the brochure assertion that it tilts toward the healthy may be a bit of a stretch -- I can't remember ever seeing pate en croute on any FDA recommended lists -- sauces did tend to minimize cream and butter, and portions were reasonably sized.
Variety was excellent with each night's main course based on a different meat: chicken, lamb, fish, pork and beef. We found the quality of preparation, however, all over the map. The filet mignon of pork with mustard sauce over a potato and vegetable galette (flat cake) was spectacular, as was the salad of oyster mushrooms and carpaccio-thin-sliced smoked duck breast. Some of the other offerings, on the other hand, were disappointing. The first night's chicken filet was bone dry and the filet of beef served at the captain's farewell dinner was so overcooked and tough it couldn't be easily sliced with the cutlery provided.
On each of French Country Waterways' itineraries, one meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant is included in the cruise fare. On Adrienne it was at Auberge des Templiers built on the site of a guard post for the Knights Templar between the 12th and 17th centuries. Though rebuilt in 1946 and opened as an inn and restaurant, the property still has the elegant ambiance of centuries gone by. Our visit there began with complimentary cocktails and hors d'oeuvres in under a two-story coffered ceiling in a chateau-like sitting room. What followed was, for us, the culinary highlight of the trip, a five-course prix fixe menu served under the branches of hundred-year-old oaks in the inn's idyllic garden terrace. Besides two fantastic wines, the dinner included main course choices of beef, seafood and lamb, finished by a spectacular souffle into which a dollop of vanilla ice-cream was dropped.