Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Viking Star - The Chef’s Table Restaurant
The Viking Star is a Viking cruiser that sails the Mediterranean and, because it is a larger ship compared to the Viking River Longships we have sailed on in the past (it carries up to 930 passengers as opposed to the longships carrying only up to 190), it offers a number of dining options on board including The Restaurant - the ship's primary dining venue; the World Café; the Pool Grill that offers dynamite hamburgers for lunch; Manfredi’s Italian restaurant and the Chef’s Table, a dinning concept with a set menu that changes every other or every third day to accommodate one of five revolving themes. The Chef's Table, as well as Manfredi’s, is open from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and reservations are necessary for both.
We ate at the Chef’s Table one evening to try their “Asian Panorama” a five-course menu with paired wines inspired by the ingredients and tastes of Asia, and specifically China. Asian gastronomy creates a “balanced and harmonious” meal through ingredients that express combinations of the five basic tastes our taste buds can discern i.e. sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savory (umami).
One of the reasons I wanted to try this menu is because they were offering European (low-priced French as standard; Italian as premium with an Argentinean Chardonnay thrown in for good measure) wine pairings with each of the dishes. At a recent tasting in NYC, the Italian Consorzio Tutela Lugana hosted a number of prominent food and wine writers at Jing Fong in Manhattan’s Chinatown, pairing white still wines with Cantonese-style dishes (see East Food/West Wines) and a few of those pairings were eminently successful.
I was invited to that meal, and a few other East/West pairings through the years but I still consider pairing Asian food with Western wines, problematic for most commercial kitchens. So, I wanted to see how successful the pairings were at the Chef’s Table.
I’m always interested in finding how different chefs cope with pairing their dishes with different wines, especially nowadays when there is such abundance of wines from around the world, at all price ranges, that could be paired with different cuisines. My personal rule-of-thumb is: the best pairing is a dish with a wine that’s produced in the area where the dish originated.
At the Chef’s Table the “premium” pairings that incur an additional cost, were much more successful than the standard pairing and considering the quality and cost of some of the better wines, well worth the extra expense.
In this case, Fontanafredda’s Gavi di Gavi from Piemonte was far superior to the standard Muscadet Melon de Bourgogne, from France that was offered with the Amuse Bouche of chilled King Crab with coconut foam and curry.
The First Course, “Shanghai-style Lobster & Chicken Shu Mai”, was standard paired with a Brise Marine Grenache Blanc. The Argentinean Trivento Reserva Chardonnay, from Mendoza’s Uco Valley, was better than the Grenache Blanc, but not so much as to make a dramatic difference.
What was called Shu Mai did not really look like any Shu Mai I have seen; Shu Mais are open faced dumplings, while the ones on my plate actually looked like large wontons. The mislabeling notwithstanding, the taste was excellent and unmistakably lobster and chicken.
A Lemongrass & Red Chili Granita with lychee foam was used to cleanse the palate before the Main Course, which was “Peking Duck”.
Peking Duck is a famous dish offered in practically every Chinese restaurant in the US, plus I had tasted it during press trips to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Zhengzhou, the capital city of Henan Province; one of the 5 imperial capital cities that form the cultural and historic center of China.
Some duck dishes are better than others, but the bird is usually carved table-side; the slivers of meat and very crisp skin are wrapped in a warm pancake wrapper and slathered with thick hoisin sauce along with long slices of cold cucumber and spring onion slivers. In this case, the duck came pre-sliced from the kitchen, covered with an indifferent loose red sauce that also made what was supposed to be very crispy skin soggy, and had a few strands of slivered carrot and scallions on the side. The accompanying Raimonda Barbera d’ Alba was an unfortunate pairing; a left-bank Merlot blend from Bordeaux (rather than the cheap French Merlot that came as a standard) or, even better, a Chilean Carménère would have been a much better decision.
The dessert was called “Asian Trilogy”: a yuzu crème brûlé, a green-tea cheesecake piece, and a chocolate-banana spring roll were paired with a Torrevento Dulcis from Apulia, Italy (premium pairing). Good pairing of a golden, aromatic Moscato, especially with the crunchy spring roll. I will quibble and say that probably a Passito from Pantelleria or a Malvasia from the Aeolian Islands could have made an even better pairing, especially with the crème brûlé and the cheesecake, but all things considered the pairing offered was fine.
To your health!
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