Any fan of Oceania Cruises knows that exquisite cuisine is one of our hallmarks. We have gone to great lengths to ensure that our onboard restaurants serve only the finest cuisine. Our culinary success can be largely attributed to Vice Chairman Bob Binder, Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations Franco Semeraro, Fleet Corporate Chef Franck Garanger and to the vision of our Executive Culinary Director, Master Chef Jacques Pépin.
Chef Pépin has been a source of inspiration for our entire culinary team since day one, but his contribution to the organization does not end there. Onboard Marina – and soon Riviera – we proudly feature his first-ever namesake restaurant, Jacques, a charming Parisian-style bistro serving authentic, timeless French classics.
“A brasserie is an intimate restaurant because dining is a very human experience,” says Chef Pépin. “It may be one of the greatest experiences to share food with friends.”
Pépin’s great love of not only fantastic food, but also the dining experience itself, manifests in every detail of Jacques. As one would expect, each course is a culinary masterpiece, but equal attention has also been given to the exquisite design of the chairs and the custom preparation of the bread. The entire atmosphere of the restaurant is very personal, almost as if Pépin has invited you to join him for dinner at his home. Some of the artwork gracing the walls even came from his personal collection.
In the foreword to Taste the World: The Food and Flavors of Oceania Cruises, Pépin writes, “We have designed the menu and the space itself in the spirit of the great brasseries and bistros of France – casual yet with a certain elegance and a dreamlike feeling of entering another time.”
As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently had the pleasure of dining at Jacques, and my only regret is that Jacques is not the corner restaurant down the street from my home. Jacques would always be my choice for celebrations, even if I were simply celebrating the company of good friends. Dining at Jacques is more than just a great meal; it’s an experience.
It goes without saying that an evening at Jacques begins with an excellent bottle of French wine, so without further delay, let’s move on to the cuisine. Chef Pépin’s vision was to offer a taste of classic French dishes, prepared the right way. He says, “This is the kind of ‘perfect meal’ food that satisfies me and makes me happy. It has panache and style, but it’s also familiar and comforting, and I hope that combination makes you happy, too.”
It certainly does. Chef Franck Garanger has collaborated with Pépin to create a menu that is sure to please. The classics are here in abundance, and each dish is masterfully executed, from the escargots to the French onion soup to the pommes frites to the canard à l’orange. The only challenge is to limit yourself to a reasonable number of courses, and the wait staff will be of no assistance there, as they only encourage you to fully indulge your palate’s every desire.
I cleverly resolved my conflict over which entrée to select by ordering one of the entrées as an appetizer—the Coquille Saint-Jacques aux Morilles et Pommes de Terre Fondantes. This delightful dish featured perfectly seared scallops over fondant potatoes that melted in my mouth. The flavor of the morel mushrooms provided the ideal complement.
My husband began with the Escargots à la Bourguignonne. I could barely contain myself long enough to allow him the first taste. The escargots filled my mouth with the rich, buttery flavor that is the essence of French cooking, and I could not resist dipping my baguette in the delicious sauce.
We of course had to try the French onion soup. You won’t be surprised to hear that it was exceptional, and Chef Pépin explains why. “The onion soup is made with real Gruyère, real bread and real stock, seasoned the right way, and served in the right bowl with that little indentation that catches the cheese so it forms a perfect crust in the oven. These small touches add up to a very great difference.”
I can certainly bear witness to the truth of that statement.
We decided to try another classic soup as well, the Soupe de Poisson Marseillaise. This delicious fish soup was served with crisp garlic croutons and rouille sauce on the side, so I could garnish it exactly as I wished. Trusting the chef’s judgment on the portions provided, I decided it would be best to use every bit of the garnish, and I believe I made the correct choice. The flavor profile was both intense and well balanced.
For my entrée, I knew from the onset that I would be unable to resist the Homard Thermidor à ma Façon. When it arrived, I recognized at once that it would be everything I had hoped. The lobster was baked in shell in a delectable mushroom cream sauce and served with crispy parmesan. It was both decadent and comforting at the same time.
My husband ordered the Carré de Veau Mariné à la Tapenade from the rotisserie. As if the aromas wafting through Jacques are not enough, the rotisserie is open to view so that the roasting meats can tempt you visually as well. My husband’s inability to resist was duly rewarded. The veal was unbelievably tender and flavorful.
As if all of this were not enough to satiate us, there were also many tantalizing choices available to accompany the entrées. My husband and I were unsuccessful in our attempt to make a modest selection.
It is with a great sense of shame that I confess I simply could not find room for dessert. There was a pastry display at the front of Jacques filled with delectable options, and I’d had grand notions of sampling several. But the side dishes were ultimately my undoing. Had I been able to forego the Gratin Dauphinois, I may have been able to try a dessert, but I have to say the creamy, crispy buttery goodness of those perfectly prepared potatoes was worth the sacrifice.
I guess this means I will be forced to return and sample the pastries another time. Chef Franck Garanger continues to create sumptuous new dishes to feature in Jacques, so I feel obliged to try these as well. I am most definitely up to the task, and I hope the opportunity presents itself very soon.