The sad, and unbelievable, tale of the cruise ship Costa Concordia just won't go away. More than a dozen passengers are still unaccounted for. The captain, a stereotypical “how-cool-am-I?" dude if ever there was one, keeps popping up on the evening news. And the expression “Get back on the boat, dammit,” barked by an Italian coast guard officer at the dithering captain, is destined to live on in infamy. (Loosely translated, it will forever mean “Quit whining and do your job, jackass.” )
But the whole kerfuffle has had the opposite effect on me, bringing back memories of the amazing Seabourn Spirit cruise I took two years ago, and inspiring me to sign up for another.
For decades I had avoided cruises. I get seasick. I don’t like crowds. I’m terrified in water that’s over my head. But, we hadn’t even cleared the waters of Venice and I was already a convert.
For starters, there was the captain….Magnus Bengtsson, a huge Scandinavian bear of a man, handsome, erect, an imposing presence, friendly but with a no-nonsense reserve. This guy inspired confidence, big time. No one is ever going to bark “Get back on the boat, dammit” to Captain Bengtsson.
The accommodations were wonderful, about 100 spacious suites (meaning no more than about 200 people on a cruise) with sitting areas, huge windows, well-stocked bars and fresh fruit and flowers. (Other Seabourn ships are larger; some offer terraces off the rooms.)
The itinerary was great, too. Hvar, Croatia; Puglia, Taormina, Lipari Island, Sorrento and Rome, Italy.
And the food? Awesome. Every night I was blown away by the elegance of the cooking, the fresh, bold flavors, the stylish presentations. I marveled that Chef Bjoern Wassmuth could pull this off in the middle of the Mediterranean when most restaurant chefs can’t get it together on land, with dozens of purveyors at their beck and call.
Among the highlights of our dinners: Chilled Corn & Lemongrass Soup (flecked with lobster salad and spicy shrimp oil) that tasted as if the corn had been snatched from the field moments before; grilled filet mignon with fresh chanterelles and a parmesan flan that practically floated off the plate; Crispy Corn Crusted Prawn with fennel slaw and romesco sauce; Jumbo Scallops on Potato Shallot Cake, with granny smith apple slivers, pistachios and a lemony vinaigrette; meringues, tarts and sublime homemade ice creams like those pictured here.
Among my favorite desserts were the "parade” of crème brulees – basil, white chocolate pistachio, and orange blossom; and a Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Bombe with Toasted Marsmallow and Honey Caramel Sauce that is reason enough to book another Seabourn cruise.
In addition to the ship’s dining room, the Spirit features the outdoor Veranda Café where top-notch breakfasts are served each morning and a “theme” restaurant is staged each night as an alternative to
the main dining room; and a top-deck Sky Grill for burgers and other grilled specialties. Seabourn prices, which the Website today says start at about $2,000 per person, are all-inclusive. That means all food and beverages, 24/7, and all activities, save for select shore excursions. One afternoon while we were anchored in the Gulf of Squillace, Chef Bjoern offered a cooking class for guests. Aided by a wise-cracking crew member, the affable German-born chef whipped up al dente porcini risotto, flecked with bits of dried truffles that had been plumped in Port wine; and an ethereal lemon mousse made with yogurt, orange zest and Grand Marnier.
Here’s the recipe for the mousse, adapted slightly (food editors simply can’t leave anything alone) and converted from Chef Bjoern’s metric measurements.
SEABOURN SPIRIT YOGURT LEMON MOUSSE with ALMOND BRITTLE & CRUSHED RASPBERRIES
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
3 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 sheet gelatin, softened
1 teaspoon orange zest (the grated, colored part of an orange)
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1 ½ cups plain yogurt
Almond brittle, for garnish
Crushed fresh raspberries, for garnish
In a heavy saucepan, heat the cream and milk together slowly, being careful it does not come to a boil. In a bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Pour 1/3 of the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture and whisk constantly until incorporated. Pour the egg mixture into the remaining cream/milk in the pan and stir over very low heat until it starts to thicken. Add orange zest and Grand Marnier, stirring constantly until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.
Remove from heat. Add the softened gelatin to the hot mixture and stir until completely blended.
Strain mixture through a fine sieve, then cool mixture on a bowl of ice cubes and water. Add the yogurt and whisk until completely blended. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Serve in tall parfait glasses or form into “egg” shapes and set on dessert plates. Garnish with crushed almond brittle and crushed raspberries.