We Tried It! The Thomas Keller Partnership with Seabourn

by Sherri Eisenberg

We Tried It! The Thomas Keller Partnership with Seabourn

by Sherri Eisenberg
We Tried It!

Yes, we've eaten at Celebrity Chef Thomas Keller's elegant New York hot spot, Per Se, and coveted a table at French Laundry for as long as we could remember. So when we heard that Seabourn had partnered with Keller to revamp their fine dining restaurant, formerly known as Restaurant 2, we couldn't have been more excited.  We set sail on the Seabourn Quest out of Dover in August, excited to try out the new restaurant The Grill by Thomas Keller, a steakhouse that celebrates the classic chophouse genre of the 60s and 70s in both wood-paneled décor and in the menu choices.

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The Grill on Seabourn Quest / Seabourn Cruise Line
New York Strip Steak at Thomas Keller's The Grill on Seabourn Quest
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The Food

In proper cocktail culture fashion, meals here start with modern takes on traditional favorites like the Old Fashioned, updated with Amarena black cherries, and an amuse-bouche of house-made pretzel sticks and crudités with that legendary throwback, the green goddess dip, designed to nibble on while you make your menu selections. 

Appetizers include stalwarts like shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad (tossed table side) as well as a steamed artichoke with house-made aioli, Dungeness crab cakes and a rich dark consommé that's spiked with black truffles. Entrees have several stars, including the "made for two" dishes, such as a glorious roast chicken (presented before it is taken back and carved) that's as tender inside as it is savory outside, and a herb-crusted rack of lamb for two as well. The go-it-alone dishes include a buttery soft ribeye steak and a New York strip steak, Dover sole, lobster thermidor, and a veal t-bone.

Surprisingly, it was the sides that sounded so demure on the menu yet threatened to steal the show. Could a macaroni and cheese compete with a glorious rack of lamb? It can when it's served in a copper pan and topped with crisp breadcrumbs and a rich, gooey middle that somehow manages to feel both indulgent and grown up. The smooth whipped mashed potatoes were as much about butter and cream as they were potato, and the creamed spinach was equally rich and decadent. (You could order "wilted" spinach, sauteed mushrooms, or glazed carrots instead, but at this point with the accumulated caloric damage why bother?)

Dessert was equally sinful, with a dark chocolate layer cake that was easily the best dessert we had on board that week. (How good was it? We had it several times and found ourselves wondering if they would send it to our cabin from room service and share the recipe so we could make it at home.) There was also a perfectly lovely, if less memorable, coconut layer cake and a miniature lemon meringue tart, too. Many tables opted for the ice cream sundaes, which were also made table side.

One night, we ordered a glass of cold milk with our chocolate cake — a move we highly recommend —  and the waiter also brought out a few scoops of the custardy house-made vanilla ice cream and a warm chocolate chip cookie, which seemed reminiscent of the Tollhouse variety we grew up on in the suburbs in the 70s. (You know the ones ... they're made from the recipe on the back of the yellow bag of chocolate chips.)

In proper cocktail culture fashion, meals here start with modern takes on traditional favorites like the Old Fashioned, updated with Amarena black cherries, and an amuse-bouche of house-made pretzel sticks and crudités with that legendary throwback, the green goddess dip, designed to nibble on while you make your menu selections. 

Appetizers include stalwarts like shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad (tossed table side) as well as a steamed artichoke with house-made aioli, Dungeness crab cakes and a rich dark consommé that's spiked with black truffles. Entrees have several stars, including the "made for two" dishes, such as a glorious roast chicken (presented before it is taken back and carved) that's as tender inside as it is savory outside, and a herb-crusted rack of lamb for two as well. The go-it-alone dishes include a buttery soft ribeye steak and a New York strip steak, Dover sole, lobster thermidor, and a veal t-bone.

Surprisingly, it was the sides that sounded so demure on the menu yet threatened to steal the show. Could a macaroni and cheese compete with a glorious rack of lamb? It can when it's served in a copper pan and topped with crisp breadcrumbs and a rich, gooey middle that somehow manages to feel both indulgent and grown up. The smooth whipped mashed potatoes were as much about butter and cream as they were potato, and the creamed spinach was equally rich and decadent. (You could order "wilted" spinach, sauteed mushrooms, or glazed carrots instead, but at this point with the accumulated caloric damage why bother?)

Dessert was equally sinful, with a dark chocolate layer cake that was easily the best dessert we had on board that week. (How good was it? We had it several times and found ourselves wondering if they would send it to our cabin from room service and share the recipe so we could make it at home.) There was also a perfectly lovely, if less memorable, coconut layer cake and a miniature lemon meringue tart, too. Many tables opted for the ice cream sundaes, which were also made table side.

One night, we ordered a glass of cold milk with our chocolate cake — a move we highly recommend —  and the waiter also brought out a few scoops of the custardy house-made vanilla ice cream and a warm chocolate chip cookie, which seemed reminiscent of the Tollhouse variety we grew up on in the suburbs in the 70s. (You know the ones ... they're made from the recipe on the back of the yellow bag of chocolate chips.)

Rendering of The Grill on Seabourn Encore
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The Space

The former Restaurant 2 space has been remodeled to accommodate The Grill, and the music playlist is an eclectic blend of Keller's rock band favorites from the 60s and 70s. Right now, this spectacular steakhouse is just on Seabourn Quest, but it is rolling out to the rest of the fleet over the next year. Best of all, when Seabourn Encore launches in December, it will have a bigger version of The Grill complete with its own bar. 

For now, guests are allowed to pre-book tables before their cruise, but they are only guaranteed one seating in this space per week on board. On our sailing, a particularly rocky sea day left many passengers in their cabins ordering room service, and we were able to nab an extra spot in the restaurant, which was much quieter that night. As we walked into the eerily quiet room on our "bonus" night, the rocking of the ship felled all the standing ice buckets at once as we sat down, knocking bottles of wine and cubes of ice across the floors in one glorious bang. The suited waiters scrambled to pick them up then composed themselves and, for the rest of the evening, performed their service as though the floor beneath them wasn't moving and the glasses weren't knocking about on the tables. 

The former Restaurant 2 space has been remodeled to accommodate The Grill, and the music playlist is an eclectic blend of Keller's rock band favorites from the 60s and 70s. Right now, this spectacular steakhouse is just on Seabourn Quest, but it is rolling out to the rest of the fleet over the next year. Best of all, when Seabourn Encore launches in December, it will have a bigger version of The Grill complete with its own bar. 

For now, guests are allowed to pre-book tables before their cruise, but they are only guaranteed one seating in this space per week on board. On our sailing, a particularly rocky sea day left many passengers in their cabins ordering room service, and we were able to nab an extra spot in the restaurant, which was much quieter that night. As we walked into the eerily quiet room on our "bonus" night, the rocking of the ship felled all the standing ice buckets at once as we sat down, knocking bottles of wine and cubes of ice across the floors in one glorious bang. The suited waiters scrambled to pick them up then composed themselves and, for the rest of the evening, performed their service as though the floor beneath them wasn't moving and the glasses weren't knocking about on the tables. 

Fried chicken in The Colonnade on Seabourn Quest
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Across the Ship

For guests who are quickly enamored with the Thomas Keller and Seabourn partnership, there are other parts of the ship where this relationship plays out. In the main dining room, a small paper Thomas Keller menu is inserted into the middle of the menu at dinnertime, with a single appetizer, entrée, and dessert from Keller's repertoire. Often these are rich choices, such as a foie gras terrine and lobster topped with a red wine reduction. 

By the pool, the regular hot dogs, burgers, and kebabs are joined by a Thomas Keller "Napa" burger — served on a buttery brioche and topped with a "secret sauce" — and a Thomas Keller "Yountwurst" dog topped with sauerkraut and house-made relish, which also sits on a rich brioche bun. Served alongside pepperoni pizza, Greek salad, and halved grilled cheese sandwiches, the Keller options easily outshine the alternatives. 

Also, in The Colonnade restaurant — which serves as a buffet breakfast and lunch spot during the day — several evenings are set aside as special Thomas Keller family-style dinners. The one we tried? Keller's childhood favorite, a fried chicken dinner, which came complete with a Bibb lettuce salad topped with herb buttermilk dressing, a side of cheesy grits, and a cheese tray of California Mt. Tam served with house-made biscuits and raspberry jam. The dessert: a jar of butterscotch pudding topped with stiff whipped cream and rich caramel sauce that was more fancy Italian Budino than Middle America comfort food.

While these dishes are more akin to Keller's casual Ad Hoc restaurant than his formal French Laundry, we wondered if we had eaten anything executed at this level on a ship this year. 

 

For guests who are quickly enamored with the Thomas Keller and Seabourn partnership, there are other parts of the ship where this relationship plays out. In the main dining room, a small paper Thomas Keller menu is inserted into the middle of the menu at dinnertime, with a single appetizer, entrée, and dessert from Keller's repertoire. Often these are rich choices, such as a foie gras terrine and lobster topped with a red wine reduction. 

By the pool, the regular hot dogs, burgers, and kebabs are joined by a Thomas Keller "Napa" burger — served on a buttery brioche and topped with a "secret sauce" — and a Thomas Keller "Yountwurst" dog topped with sauerkraut and house-made relish, which also sits on a rich brioche bun. Served alongside pepperoni pizza, Greek salad, and halved grilled cheese sandwiches, the Keller options easily outshine the alternatives. 

Also, in The Colonnade restaurant — which serves as a buffet breakfast and lunch spot during the day — several evenings are set aside as special Thomas Keller family-style dinners. The one we tried? Keller's childhood favorite, a fried chicken dinner, which came complete with a Bibb lettuce salad topped with herb buttermilk dressing, a side of cheesy grits, and a cheese tray of California Mt. Tam served with house-made biscuits and raspberry jam. The dessert: a jar of butterscotch pudding topped with stiff whipped cream and rich caramel sauce that was more fancy Italian Budino than Middle America comfort food.

While these dishes are more akin to Keller's casual Ad Hoc restaurant than his formal French Laundry, we wondered if we had eaten anything executed at this level on a ship this year. 

 

Seven Layer Coconut Cake in The Grill on Seabourn Quest
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The Verdict

It's always exciting when a renown chef partners with a cruise line, and we thoroughly enjoy Crystal Cruises' partnership with "Iron Chef" Nobu Matsuhisa and Miami locavore hero Michael Schwartz's dishes on Royal Caribbean. But you could argue that, in terms of U.S.-based chefs, Thomas Keller is the very top of the field. 

So just how impressive were the Keller dishes onboard our Seabourn Quest sailing? After the first couple days, we found ourselves wishing we could at at The Grill — already the best steakhouse at sea, and one of the best restaurants on any ship, at just three months past its May 2016 opening — every night, stalking the Keller items throughout the ship, and wishing there were breakfast offerings, too. We actually planned where we ate each day of our sailing based on the Keller choices of the evening ... and we can't think of a better compliment than that. 

It's always exciting when a renown chef partners with a cruise line, and we thoroughly enjoy Crystal Cruises' partnership with "Iron Chef" Nobu Matsuhisa and Miami locavore hero Michael Schwartz's dishes on Royal Caribbean. But you could argue that, in terms of U.S.-based chefs, Thomas Keller is the very top of the field. 

So just how impressive were the Keller dishes onboard our Seabourn Quest sailing? After the first couple days, we found ourselves wishing we could at at The Grill — already the best steakhouse at sea, and one of the best restaurants on any ship, at just three months past its May 2016 opening — every night, stalking the Keller items throughout the ship, and wishing there were breakfast offerings, too. We actually planned where we ate each day of our sailing based on the Keller choices of the evening ... and we can't think of a better compliment than that. 

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