Dining on the Princess ships is not just about the main dining rooms. Princess offers an array of specialty venues and alternative dining experiences. On the various princess ships, there are the Crown Grill (see review), the Bayou Cafe (see review), Gelato (see review), the Crab Shack (see review), Fondues, the Ocean Terrace, the International Cafe to name just some.
One of the best known specialty dining experiences on the Princess ships is the Chef's Table, which originated with Princess and now has been copied by several other cruise lines. (See slideshow) Once or twice during a cruise, a small group of eight to 12 guests assembles and is taken into the ship's main galley during the dinner hours. The guests see the whirlwind of activity that is taking place as cooks prepare meals and waiters place orders. In addition, the guests are taken to a section of the galley where they are treated to a procession of appetizers prepared especially by the ship's executive chef. These are accompanied by French champagne usually poured by the ship's maitre d'. Then it is out into the main dining room, where the guests have a multi-course feast with wine pairings. Many of the dishes are finished tableside by the ship's executive chef.
“Its a dining experience. I am more than sure that when you have a dinner like this with another eight, ten people, you create friendship. Its a way to put people together. It is really a way to create friendship.”
It is an opportunity to see and taste the chef's creativity. “[Princess Vice President Peter Tobbler] and me put together a set of menus, which I send to [the chefs] but it is just a guideline. The chef can improvise. He can use his creativity and own talent. I recommend to the chef, use your imagination. Do what you think is right.”
On most Princess ships, guests participating in the Chef's Table experience are seated at an ordinary table in the main dining room. But on Royal Princess and Regal Princess, there are purpose-built structures at the heart of one of the dining rooms. Guests sit at a table separated from the rest of the dining room behind a glass curtain that is bathed in light. It is called the Chef's Table Lumiere.
“This was really a big innovation. Lumiere is a French word for light. Beside the table is a masterpiece - - mother of pearl, ebony wood [pillars]. The sculpture in the middle is made in Murano. The chandelier has 4,800 pieces of crystal, one behind the other. It is like being in a special effect in a Hollywood movie.”
“The people pay $95 but you don't pay a penny for the food when you take into consideration what you get. You get French champagne. You get a beautiful white wine where the price is over $40. You have a beautiful red wine where the price is over $50. You have the dessert wine. You have one of my books that is $28. Then you have two pictures, individual and group. When you put everything together, you don't pay a penny for the food.”
Originally developed for Grand Princess, a signature specialty restaurant throughout the Princess fleet is Sabantini's.
Today, Sabatini's is Italian-inspired, elegant, fine-dining. However, “the original plan for Sabatini's was to do pizza and pasta.” However, people began to suggest: “Why don't you have a little appetizer like in Italy. When you go in the pizzeria, you have a Capri salad or buratta, a seafood salad, one or two pastas and then you have the pizza as the main course. Then it became a full restaurant.”
Sabatini's bears the name of a well-known restaurant in Florence, Italy. “I knew the owner and I said: 'Our company has decided to build a ship here in Italy in Malfalcone and we want to have a restaurant with your name, can we do it? 'Feel free to do it, it is my pleasure.”
In addition to bearing the same name, the shipboard restaurant recalls the table setting of the shoreside venue. “I asked permission, I took a picture and I sent the picture to Dobson in England. When you sit in our restaurant, you eat atop 100 percent Egyptian cotton made in Italy not in China. And our dishes are not from Taiwan, they are from England. Our silver - - only a few ships still use silver - - is German, it is not from Hong Kong. Our set up of the table is different than some of the competition. All this, I think makes Princess a step above everybody else.”
“The menu has been reviewed recently. Italy is divided in regions. It is not really Italian cuisine, it is regional cuisines. What you eat in Piermont, you don't eat in Venice. What you eat in Venice, you don't eat in Naples, Sicily or Sardinia. Italy has 20 regions. It is Piermont for red meat and Tuscany.”
At Sabatini's, “you have three different types of pasta. You have a few appetizers - - unique in the business you have buratta. The main course, you [can] have steak, 14 ounces of Tuscany steak. It is served with arugla salad and braised cannellini beans. The steak is a melange of all these flavors. The arugla is a little sour/bitter. Then you have the sweetness and the butteriness of the cannellini combined with the meat. Our system is to cook the steak, remove from the grill, let rest for two or three minutes, drizzle it with extra virgin olive oil.”
Recalling the original Sabatini's concept, Chef Marzi has won praise for a new venue, which bears his name - - Alfredo's Pizzeria. “Princess started three of four years ago to put the Alfredo Pizzeria in the lobby [of some ships] but it was only pizzeria. Starting with the Royal, it is a full restaurant. It has a vegetarian and regular appetizer, the salad, pasta, sandwich and pizza.”
Calling these dishes pizza is somewhat misleading. These our individual size gourmet pizzas, prepared ala minute. (See review). The variations were developed by Chef Marzi and recall his Italian heritage.
“I also invented the pizza baguette. You get a regular baguette or regular bread, you cut it in half. You toast it just a little bit then you top it with everything that is your pleasure. We have two different pizza baguettes. One is with tuna and of course tomato. Another one is vegetarian. You put it in the oven at a low temperature. Everything is melted and is lick your fingers. [The idea was] to give something new to our customer.”
Cruise ship interview - - Princess Cruises - - Master Chef and Culinary Ambassador Alfredo Marzi - - page 2