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Last night I had the opportunity to review Ad Hoc by Thomas Keller as executed on Seabourn Quest. Yesterday I reviewed my experience at the land-based Ad Hoc in Yountville, California and also discussed the new Seabourn partnership with Thomas Keller.
Much of the Ad Hoc experience appeals to the farm-to-table aesthetic that has been a growing food trend for years and part of the millennial food culture.
Seabourn launched the Ad Hoc concept this past winter on its luxury cruise lines as one of the themed night offerings in its Colonnade bistros.
It was met with some criticism from Seabourn regulars who are accustomed to a certain wow factor with Seabourn. Several have been vocal with their distaste for the concept (and some for Thomas Keller in general) on social sites such as Cruise Critic. While some are turned off by the casual family style offerings (“unhygienic!” a few proclaimed) or more casual attire donned by the staff on these nights to mimic the Napa County uniforms, others take issue with the offerings themselves proclaiming, for example, that short ribs (one of the offerings) are not elegant and therefore not worthy of Seabourn’s cuisine standards.
The hullabaloo is part of a wider Seabourn image issue. Stalwarts believe “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and aficionados still reminisce fondly about the smaller ships that the line recently sold to Windstar and the larger builds (starting with Encore later this year) that have “ruined” the Seabourn experience. Others argue that the progressive changes are a positive move that will bring a new generation of luxury cruisers into the brand fold which is important for any brand whose average age is “retiree”. (On our current sailing, I am – at 44 – easily one of the youngest non-staff members onboard. I’ve more than once been asked to provide directions or other assistance to a guest who did not take too kindly to the news that I was not a staff member but a guest too.)
The Ad Hoc by Thomas Keller experience on Quest is provided as one of the “theme” nights in the Colonnade, the ship’s bistro-style restaurant that serves as a buffet (with menu service) at breakfast and lunch and provides limited menu dinners that usually revolve around a theme (Tuscan Market, Steakhouse, and Thai are just a few we’ve seen onboard so far). As such, the Ad Hoc concept of a set four-course menu does not seem too off base. The normal theme menu offers a couple of appetizers and entrees to choose from within the chosen genre plus a short list of classics items for those feeling less adventurous that evening. The Thomas Keller evenings, however, do not allow for deviations or alternative choices which may be the root of some of the aggravation.
We are aware of two Ad Hoc by Thomas Keller menus in current rotation (one focusing on ribs, the other on rib eye steak). Rumor is that dry dock enhancements will provide equipment allowing for Keller’s famed brined fried chicken in the future. In the meantime, the two menus are intended to give Seabourn a chance to work out the service for the concept as well as introduce guests to this downscale end of his cuisine.
The plus side of dining at Ad Hoc when at sea is that we have the menu 12 hours earlier than on land. Reservations could be made in advance to ensure a table at the desired seating time. It was a beautiful night for al fresco dining and we managed to secure one of the remaining tables on the aft terrace despite a later reservation time.
Our table was set for family style service with a large trivet placed on the table. Blue-based stemless water glasses (which are somewhat new in all Seabourn dining venues) alongside stemless wine glasses. Our first server immediately poured water in the wine glasses causing a bit of distress for the sommelier. His consternation was not as pronounced as some of the Seabourn customer online comments – they were upset with the mere concept of pedestrian wine tumblers.
Bread service preceded the meal as we were given a basket of country style bread slices with a ramekin that contained what looked like the butt end of a margarine stick. The hearty bread was soft and fresh but nothing to write home about. The butter was too cold and tore the bread when I attempted to spread it.
Our first course was a Waldorf salad from young lettuce, celery, Fuji apples, candied walnuts, and wine poached raisins. It was accompanied by a Maytag blue cheese dressing which appeared in both pools on the serving platter as well as a small ceramic pitcher served on the side. The dressing was a perfect balance of creamy and sharp and was a stark contrast to the sweetness of the apples, walnuts, and soaked fruit. The salad greens required a knife and fork to eat properly as leaves were too large for polite bites otherwise.
I enjoyed the salad but found the serving utensils a bit difficult to easily wield to portion out food. Its also difficult to equally distribute toppings on the salad (my mother compared it to the Olive Garden where the first person to serve themselves from the salad bowl can take all the “goodies” for themselves). The self-service aspect was one of the major complaints from those online commenters dissatisfied with the Ad Hoc by Thomas Keller concept on Seabourn.
Our second course was a grilled RR ribeye steak served sliced with a “A4 sauce”, broccolini, and whipped red bliss potatoes. Allegedly there was also a Santa Maria remoulade but I don’t remember it although I can see it in my photos (it seemed to roll off the broccolini rather than staying atop it – either that or my mother got the top portions that contained the sauce).
The steak was cooked a perfect medium rare. Keller does not like to let guests dictate cooking temperature for food so there was no option to select how we would like our steak cooked. I enjoyed the temperature we were given but I could see this being a stressful experience for one who does not appreciate pink meat. The steak was very tender and flavorful and really did not need the A4 sauce to accompany it.
The potatoes were my favorite part of my meal. The contained an unrevealed horseradish flavor that provided a necessary kick of flavor for the entrée. Although I loved the steak, this was my least favorite course.
Our third course was Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a tangy cheddar-style cheese, served with flatbread and Blue Apron ale mustard. The cheese was firm and flavorful and accompanied by three wedges of crispy flatbread. I wish we’d been given more than the meager portion of mustard as it complimented the other items quite nicely.
Ironically, the cheese originally marketed for the evening was Humboldt Fog, a substitution eerily reminiscent of my February visit to the Yountville site. It was to be served with Marshall’s Farm honey, a purveyor whose profile still occupied the back side of the printed menu.
The final course was a chocolate silk pie with whipped Chantilly cream. I loved this pie as it reminded me of childhood desserts. My mother thought the crust was too firm but I disagreed as I like a crust that holds together, especially with a soft pie like chocolate silk.
Overall, I thought the meal was very good. The quality of the ingredients was what I expect from Thomas Keller and the menu carried the usual imagination I’ve also grown accustomed to. It was a lovely evening with top notch service and an unbeatable view.
In my last post in this series,I’ll share my thoughts on the side-by-side comparison and how it works (or doesn’t) on Seabourn and what modifications might help bring the stalwarts around.