With a focus on fine French cuisine, dining on Deborah is a highlight of the cruise and meals -- lunch in particular -- are greeted with much fanfare. With so few passengers, the onboard chef has the ability to show off with complicated French dishes such as salmon en croute, lamb roasted for seven hours and beef bourguignon, all served with a rotating list of French wines designed to pair. We've never eaten so well on the water before.
For American (or other passengers) who are used to lots of choice with their meals, Deborah -- and the CroisiEurope line overall -- will take some adjustment. Meals are set so there's no need to order or peruse a menu. Breakfasts are on the light side, but lunch is a nearly two-hour affair that has four courses, including a cheese course that comes with a formal presentation. Dinner, too, is on the heavy side, with three courses. Although the French in general do not snack, the Deborah staff put out pretzels before lunch (and more elaborate apps when we went through the Briare Canal) and usually served an "amuse-bouche" during aperitif hour.
Overall, the fixed menus are designed with carnivores in mind. Special diets for vegetarians or food allergies can be accommodated, but you should contact the line when you book and talk to the chef when you get onboard. Croisi is not a line for picky eaters, as the meals could include foods that are somewhat exotic to Americans such as duck, foie gras and veal; we saw pork switched out for some passengers one night, but on the whole, passengers were pretty happy with what they were served.
The wines on Deborah were all French, with many reflecting the Loire Valley. They changed at every meal, and always chosen to pair with the entree. We loved the mix of varietals and learned a lot.
Restaurant (Main Deck): Deborah's restaurant has one table for six passengers and four tables of four. It's a compact, yet attractive space with windows that open, white tablecloths and flowers on the table, purple chairs and gray curtains. People can sit where they wish, although people tended to stick with others who spoke their language.
Breakfast usually begins at 7:30 a.m. The buffet includes croissants, various breads and spreads, cheese and meats, yogurt and fruit. Hard-boiled eggs are available and there's also a hot egg dish, such as scrambled or an omelet, offered each day.
Lunch is the main meal of the day, and it usually begins at 12:30 or 1 p.m. The chef doesn't run through the meal until everyone is seated, so dawdling on the way to the table is not encouraged. Expect a starter of two cold salads such as a pasta salad with salmon and a coleslaw made from celery root, followed by a hearty entree such as veal, lamb or pork. Our favorite was an impressive salmon en croute. The cheese course comes next -- more on that below -- and then there's dessert, which could be creme brulee or chocolate mousse.
Deborah's lunchtime cheese courses are something to behold. Coming after the entree and served with a green salad as a palate cleanser, these cheeses will make anything you've picked up at Trader Joe's look insignificant (and because some are unpasteurized, you can't even find them in the United States). The French take their cheese very seriously, and have appellations for them, just like wine. Among those we were served: Sainte-Maure de Touraine, a goat cheese held together with a straw that's been rolled in wood ash; and Langres, an orange washed rind cheese that is served with schnapps to pour on top. Before the tray was put down, we were given a highly involved explanation of the cheeses that passengers greeted with clapping enthusiasm. If you're lactose-intolerant, Deborah is probably not your ship.
While dinner is a little less of a production than lunch, it's still three course (five on gala night). It begins at 7:30 p.m. and consists of a starter such as a vermicelli consumme, an entree such as beef bourguignon and a dessert like rhubarb tart. The gala night meal was amazing, with lobster soup; housemade duck foie gras with brioche buns; rack of veal with shallots and tarragon sauce, vitelotte mashed potatoes and vegetables; Reblochon cheese baked in a puff pastry and baked Alaska flambeed in Grand Marnier. Oof. Bring antacid.
Deborah does not have room service. You won't miss it.