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Food & Wine Afloat

Fit for a King: Carnival's Supper Club

Carnival’s Supper Club:

Fit for a King (or a Queen)!

Painting of King Louis XIV goes here.By Susan J. Young

Louis XIV, France’s Sun King, loved glittery, ornate décor. We wonder what he’d have thought of the modern-day creations of Joe Farcus, Carnival Cruise Lines’ ship-interior designer?

Farcus clearly has a passion for the over-the-top, creative décor that wows. Had he lived in the Sun King’s time, we simply suspect he’d be employed creating new and off-the-wall rooms at the Sun King’s beloved palace, Versailles, which even today remains a bastion of opulence.

Interestingly, Farcus selected Louis XIV as the central figure for the décor in the new Carnival Freedom’s Supper Club. Louis is depicted in his full regalia in the painting done in 1701 by Hyacinthe Rigaudy.

As guests enter the elegant alternative restaurant, they’re greeted by both a statue of the Sun King and paintings of the 17th century monarch.

Photo of Joe Farcus goes here.Other design elements by Farcus include elaborate tapestries; antique mirrors; and a large trompe l’oeil mural depicting the king’s court.

An impressive period chandelier hangs in the skylight dome with smaller versions throughout the room.

Diners soon realize they’re in for a truly grand dining experience.

Excellence from Start to Finish

Photo of Sun King Supper Club dining goes here.It’s no secret that many members of the news media as well as top-notch travel agents believe Carnival’s Supper Club is top-notch.

One trade publication, TravelAge West magazine, recently designated the restaurant as its pick for the Top Alternative Restaurant at sea.

We dined recently at the Carnival Freedom's Sun King Supper Club (see photo at right*) 

Modeled along the lines of an upscale New York steakhouse experience, this intimate and elegant alternative dining experience is well worth the $30 per person charge; that fee includes the tip. 

Photo of David and Supper Club on the Carnival Pride goes here.Supper Clubs are found on Carnival’s Spirit-class and Conquest-class ships.

The list includes: Carnival Spirit, Carnival Pride, Carnival Legend, Carnival Conquest, Carnival Glory, Carnival Miracle, Carnival Valor, Carnival Liberty, Carnival Freedom and (soon) Carnival Splendor.

Each Supper Club has its own singular theming. 

For example, you'll find David of Michelangelo fame (shown above*) on the Renaissance inspired Carnival Pride and Scarlett’s (inspired by Gone with the Wind) on Carnival Valor.

Just for the record, Louis XIV, France's Sun King (shown below*), was an absolute monarch and reigned longer than any ruler in European history (1643-1715).

Painting of Louis XIV goes here.How did he get the name Sun King? At the age of 18, he took part in a court ritual known as the masque – an entertaining combination of dance, music, drama and costume.

Not surprisingly, his pick for a costume was the “sun.” He had a none-too-modest view that he was akin to the sun with the world revolving around him!

Certainly, the Supper Club also carries that cache that it's the epitome of fine dining onboard a Carnival Ship.

Reservations are required. The Supper Club is only open in the evenings. You may make a reservation online in advance or once onboard.

Book a reservation early in your cruise, as availability is limited. The line never fills the 105-seat restaurant in order to give the small number of guests served a truly pampering experience.

 Hints and Intel

Impeccable service, the finest china and stemware, and an extensive wine list, contribute to the overall experience. Several hints if you opt to make a reservation?

  • This is far more than just a simple supper. The line recommends diners plan for a two-and-one-half-hour experience. We'd up that to three hours. The pace is very leisurely and the atmosphere quite relaxed.

  • Also, take a hearty appetite. On the day of your Supper Club booking, avoid overeating at lunch or filling up on afternoon snacks or at cocktail hour. If you do, you'll regret it. This is a robust dining experience -- not heaping mounds of food, but multiple creative courses. And the chops and steaks are of large size.

  • Photo of guests enjoying a glass of champagne goes here.If you have a reservation for the club, go a bit early to enjoy a drink at the Supper Club’s bar and to enjoy the live music. Our dining experience featured a piano player and a singer offering light jazz fare. A dance floor also awaits.

We wish the design of the restaurant had been a bit different. While the musical performers and the dance floor are dramatically positioned just under Louis XIV’s watchful gaze, not all diners within the restaurant can see this area while dining. It’s one of the most pleasant entertainment spots on the ship.

A Full-Bodied Dining Experience

After being escorted to our table, we were presented with the menu of the day. A few minutes later, a server arrived with a tray that showcased the meat cuts and seafood available.  

Options include hand-cut, dry-aged USDA Prime beef including a nine-ounce filet mignon, a 14-ounce strip loin, and a massive 24-ounce porterhouse. All are served with impeccable service, presentation and flavorful sauces.

From the lobster side, you might order surf and turf. Or, you might -- as I did – go for the granddaddy of lobster tails, a 12-14 ounce tail.

You only pay the $30 fee, no matter what you order. That includes all courses from appetizers to dessert.

One exception is the one-ounce caviar appetizer for $45. And, of course, you pay for whatever wine, dessert wine or after-dinner drink you select. The wine list handed to our group started at $65 and up.

If that seems a bit pricey for your taste, just ask the sommelier about the cellar's more affordable and excellent wines. One member of our group asked and was told they have another menu (perhaps the one from the main dining room) with less pricey options – many in the $25-$35 range. 

But you have to proactively ask. Many diners may feel nothing else is offered. So we'd like to see that policy changed to provide a few less pricey choices.

Starters, Salads and More

Diners are offered a selection of savory breads, with a nice choice of three butters – paprika, herb and truffle.

The extensive menu includes 17 gourmet appetizers, salads, soups and side dishes. From the appetizer perspective, I couldn’t choose between two of my favorites, so I ordered both!

I “oohed” and “aahed” over the lobster bisque with vintage cognac; it was creamy, rich and flavorful.

My second appetizer was an escargot tasting trio. It was enjoyable, but the escargot itself was a bit overwhelmed by the seasonings and preparations. 

Here is the full selection of Starters from the Supper Club Menu:

  • Trio of Escargots - baked in brioche, stuffed in fondue potatoes and classic Bourguigonne 
  • Crepe Vonnassiennes - cured fjord salmon, lemon-scented salmon roe and oyster cream on a delicate potato cake
  • Beef Carpaccio - sliced raw beef tenderloin with shaved Parmesan chesese and marinated mache lettuce 
  • Sushi Platter - salmon, lobster and shrimp with picked ginger and wasabe. 
  • Iced Russian Caviar - 1 ounce of Sevruga caviar with condiments and buckwheat blinis (an extra $45 charge applies)
  • Shrimp Cocktail - Misissippi Delta shrimp with American cocktail sauce
  • New England Crab Cake - served on roasted pepper remoulade
  • Lobster Bisque - with vintage cognac, fleuron and fresh cream
  • Baked Onion Soup "Les Halles" - a Parisian classic

For salads, diners may choose from the following:

  • Baby Leaf Spinach and Fresh Mushrooms with blue cheese dressing and warm bacon bits
  • Classic Caesar Salad - hearts of Romaine lettuce, traditionally prepared
  • Tossed Garden Salad - green radichio, tomato, purple onion rings and watercress, with a choice of house, ranch or blue-cheese dressing

I ordered the spinach and mushroom salad. The galley happily substituted oil and vinegar for the blue cheese dressing as requested. When it arrived, my salad was fresh and appetizing. 

In between the courses, the restaurant provides a tiny tasting sample – two guests at our table were given one item, the other two diners a different one. Mine had clam in it. My mother didn't like hers. Mine was just okay. It escapes me what the tasting really involved (enough said).

The Main Event

We were saving our attention for the main event! When my 13-ounce lobster arrived it created a stir at our group table.

It was creatively presented in what my fellow diners affectionately termed the “tower of tails” – split in two and stacked on a bed of mashed potatoes.

I have to say this is the only time in my life when I left lobster still on the plate. If you enjoy lobster and can't ever get your fill, this is what you should order. It was served with drawn butter.

You might alternatively select one of the following entrees:

  • Broiled New York Strip Loin Steak - 14 ounces
  • Grilled Prime Rib Chop** - 18 ounces and served with herbed Burgundy wine reduction and roasted garlic, creamy mashed potatoes and tips of spring vegetables 
  • Classic Porterhouse Steak - 24 ounces. This cut combines the full flavor of the strip loin with the tenderness of tenderloin
  • Broiled Filet Mignon 9 ounces
  • Surf & Turf - seared lobster tail over tomato confit and grilled filet mignon over Cardamom braised carrots, pumpkin ravioli.
  • Whole Dover Sole Meuniere - pan fried and serve with Beurre Noisette
  • Broiled Supreme of Free Range Chicken - with Blackberry and Port wine reduction
  • Grilled Lamb Chops - Double cut chops served on five-bean cassoulet and Rosemary jus. 
  • Broiled Provimi Veal Chop - center chop cut from the highest grade, milk-fed veal

**A symbol on the menu designates special dishes like this one created by French master chef Georges Blanc. Famed for his Paris restaurant, Blanc has created signature dishes that can be paired with superb wines from his own collection. Ask your server or the sommelier for details.

Carnival's own chefs regularly are sent for training at Blanc's Paris restaurant. So not only is the line able to offer some eclectic dining options for guests, it assures that its own culinary staff are on the cutting edge of trends.

Beyond the entree you choose -- Georges Blanc created or not -- you'll likely order at least one side order. I chose the sauteed medley of fresh mushrooms. Definitely, these were yummy. The "shrooms" enticed my palette with a rich nut-like taste.

Other sides included:

  • Baked Potato with the Trimmings
  • Yukon Gold Mash with Wasabe Horseradish
  • Grilled Fresh Vegetables in Season
  • Creamed Spinach with Garlic

Capping Off Your Meal

By this time, all of us were getting full. But of course, we just had to try the dessert. It's included within the price of your meal. So are regular tea and coffee, decaffeinated coffee and herbal tea. 

  • Citrus Cheesecake with Hazelnut Biscuit (burnt Basmati and mango ravioli with almond and Mascarpone jam)

  • Washington Apple Tarte Tartin (served with chocolate and lemon balm salad)

  • Chocolate Tarte with Bitter Chocolate Pate (pineapple croquant, tiramisu notre facon)

  • Fresh Fruits (tropical fruit and berries in season served with homemade sherbet)

  • Selection of International Cheeses

Dessert wine and after-dinner drinks are extra.

Service Style

The Supper Club's service is highly professional and European in styling. According to Carnival's Executive Chef Peter Leypold, the wait staff within the Supper Club is hand-picked.

Don't expect the same type of up-close and entertaining waiters that you'll have on Carnival in the main dining room. Our servers were friendly but not effusive.

Many other guests we interviewed on our cruise said they loved the Supper Club experience. We did as well. 

A few others we talked with felt the amount of food was a bit too much. If you want to eat sparingly, this culinary experience may not be for you.

What does it offer? It's a lovely evening if you're seeking a relaxed yet elegant dining atmosphere for a special occasion or an evening of romance. 

It's also an excellent choice if you enjoy savory food with chops and seafood of robust sizes.

Editor's Note: Our assessment was that the same meal in New York or Los Angeles might cost $300 per couple without wine, versus the $60 fee for this restaurant. You simply cannot beat the price charged for the quality of the food available and the number of courses.

Finally, we like the Supper Club because it's a unique experience. In addition to soaking in the flavor of Louis XIV's court, you'll dine like a king or queen, enjoy light entertainment and probably come away feeling like the evening was one of the highlights of your Carnival cruise. 

*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.

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