ABOARD THE AMALEGRO –L’escargots and frogs’ legs in cream sauce for lunch?
Could a menu on this ship get any fancier?
Well, perhaps. Last night we had dinner at the Chef’s Table, the smaller and more exclusive of the AMALegro’s two dining rooms, with floor-to-ceiling windows and beautiful views out the stern of the boat, where Chef George Sakadanov works his magic behind a glass wall for us to watch.
The Chef’s Table is limited to 24 dinner reservations and evokes the ambience of privilege. But truth to tell, it’s hard to top the food in the main dining room on this boat. From what we’ve tasted, the only advantage to this exclusive dining room is a more precious presentation, a cocktail, the view, and an even more attentive wait staff. . . if that’s possible.
When you can have the best of Normandy cuisine, including frogs’ legs, beef bourguignon, freshly caught seafood, a large selection of vegetables, seven kinds of cheese and lovely wines for dinner in the main dining room, there’s really no need to pay extra for the Chef’s Table. This is Normandy and the food in both restaurants is exquisite.
We’ve now toured two Normandy towns notable for their history, their architecture and their entertainment. The first one was Honfleur, a fortified Middle Ages town, one of the few not touched by WWII bombs. Home of the composer Erik Satie, it is noted for its slate-covered half-timber homes and its pastel houses centered around the picturesque harbor that Claude Monet loved and painted.
We took a bicycle tour around the second town -– Rouen -– chosen in 911 as the capital of Normandy by the Viking leader Rollo. Gustav Flaubert, writer of “Madame Bovary,” lived here. Our guide led us to two of Rouen’s notable churches. The first, the Church of Saint-Maclou, looks like the winner of a serious sand sculpture contest. It is so gorgeously lacy that our guide called it “embroidery in stone.” The architectural style is actually known as “Flamboyant Gothic,” a perfect description.
The Rouen Cathedral, built between the 12th and 16th Centuries, now presents a stunning light and sound show on its face front, with incredibly colorful depictions of the Vikings’ capture of Rouen, the battles with the Dukes of Normandy, and the role of Joan of Arc, who took the church into the war and was finally burned at the stake in this town at the age of 19. The light show draws huge crowds who gather in front of the cathedral every night to see this unique spectacle.
In between our city tours we were able to catch up with the captain of the AMALegro, Geoffrey Masson, 36, on the ship’s bridge, using his manual lever, radar, and visual talent – no computers – to steer the 11.45-meter-wide riverboat into 12-meter-wide locks on the Seine. The ship travels normally around 13 miles per hour, and when it slips under the lowest bridges, Captain Masson must set down the railings on the top deck and lower his entire command of operations six meters to the deck.
Masson trained with the French military for 10 years, and I asked him whether he prefers river cruising or ocean cruising. “I like the excitement of ocean storms,” he smiled, “but I like seeing my family more.”
Last night the good captain presided in the main dining room at a most unusual captain’s dinner. It was celebrating AMAWaterway’s honor as the only riverboat company in the world that has been awarded membership in the “Royal Guild of Goose Roasters,” the oldest international gastronomic society on the planet.
Goose was about the only food not on the menu – with the exception of foie gras, of course.
Photos and video by Timothy Leland