Bateaux Parisiens Dinner Cruise

(Paris, FRANCE) According to acquaintances who have visited Paris in the past, a night-time cruise down the River Seine warranted a "must-do". As luck would have it, Viator provided several different cruises, with different options. We chose the best option, which included a 3 course meal and views of the illuminated monuments along the riverbank. This Bateaux Parisiens Dinner Cruise certainly looked good on paper, but would it stand up to scrutiny? Time will tell...

He Fed:
Our shuttle driver is late and I have to call Viator in order to ascertain, yes, he is on his way but only delayed a few minutes. Sure enough, the shuttle pulls up and our driver apologizes. Seems they double-booked him at the same time for two different hotels. We hop on board, not at all upset, to join some very quiet Californians who clearly do not want to mingle with a couple Michiganders.

We arrive a short time later to the Seine launching point. Our driver goes ahead to clear the path, then whisks us to the front of the line for priority seating. The boat is impressive, completely roofed in glass panels for a full view of all sights. Our table is well-appointed with white wine chilling alongside. Our waiter offers us a champagne apertif, which we gladly accept. As we clink glasses, we believe we are in for the greatest experience of our lives! Well,...

The trouble start immediately. My water glass has a chip out of it and our less-than-attentive waiter takes forever to replace it. Literally, 20 minutes and several reminders. The food comes out rapidly, not at all like the leisurely French meals to which we've grown accustomed. Feeling adventurous, I ordered the swordfish marinated in thin slices with spiced avocado. Little did I know this was fishy-smelling carpaccio-thin discs of swordfish accompanied by marinated vegetables. My first bite is all fish. Yuck! I bravely move forward with my choice, and find that when mixed with the veggies, the fish taste actually dissipates. I nearly finish it all, and at the very least get a glimpse into how foods can make other foods taste completely different. The white wine—a 2007 Côtes de Provence from Château Real Martin—doesn't quite do its job.

Shockingly, I order the beef tournedos for my main. They are pretty good, especially when paired with the amazing ratatouille side. Blizzam! The tart ratatouille overshadows all other side dishes. I want another turine of this, please! Our bottle of 2007 Saint-Estèphe from Château Morin pairs very nicely, and turns out to be the best red we've had since we arrived.

The cheese plate is pretty good, but I'm counting on dessert to bail me from the lackluster experience: Crepes Suzette with orange butter and Grand Marnier. They arrive flaming and, like most of the food, are pretty good...but not worth the money in the long run.

Although we're not the most romantic people on the face of the Earth, the scenery and atmosphere—with views of the Eiffel tower and Notre Dame all lit up—does lend itself to quiet conversation and stolen glances. (Though the rooftop terrace at Hotel Raphael beats all for romance.) If the quality of the food had been higher, or the service been closer to what we paid for, the cruise might have been a success. As it stands, it'll probably be the last we take.
She Fed:
The evening starts with a bit of a bump as our shuttle driver is nearly 30 minutes late picking us up. However, once we arrive at the docks, he is extremely helpful and leads our group onto the boat up to the VIP line. Luckily, we score a table for two (I hate sitting with strangers at a meal) right next to the window and enjoy our champagne toast as the last bit of sunshine seeps behind the impending rainclouds.

While we have a terrific choice of courses, for some reason I play it safe and pick old favorites. I start with the duck foie gras, toasted brioch,e and asparagus tips followed by the beef tournedos with bordelaise. Both courses are fine and my steak is cooked perfectly to medium rare, but there's nothing spectacular going on here. For the price we paid, I expected to be "oohing and aahing" all through dinner. It's clearly not going to happen here.

For me, the highlight of dinner is the cheese course which features Cantal. One of the oldest cheeses in France, it's named after the Cantal mountains in the Auvergne region. Jeremy nails it when he says it tastes similar to cheddar. It's tangy, buttery, and made from raw milk. As a fan of unpasteurized cheese, I immediately fall in love and gobble it up along with the accompanying jam-smeared piece of bread. (Dessert is something with strawberries. It's unremarkable and I'm still thinking of the Cantal.)

Our server is friendly enough, but harried and forgetful for most of the evening. We have to remind him three times to bring Jeremy a new water glass (his original had a large chip off the rim), and he brings Jeremy duck instead of beef at one point. At the end of the meal, he plops a dish with French candies on the table, mumbles "please use this dish to show your appreciation for tonight's service" then scurries from the table. Now Jeremy and I tend to tip on the heavy side, even in Paris where the tip is included in the price of the meal and no one leaves more than a few coins at the end of a meal. But this is too much for us and we both agree to leave the dish as is (comme c'est).

Despite dismal service and middling fare, I still recommend the experience of Bateaux Parisiens. The evening boat ride takes us past the Eiffel Tower, Musee d'Orsay, Notre Dame, the Great Library (whose four towers were built in the shape of open books), the Louvre, and more. The buildings are lit up against the inky night sky. There's soft jazz playing in the background along with an occasional appearance of a torch singer. Yes,it's borderline schmaltz, but I'm in Paris with my husband on a dinner cruise along the Seine; I push my jaded American sensibilities to the background and enjoy some fairytale-like romance, if only for one night. The boat offers a luncheon cruise, which might be a more affordable alternative...minus the moonlight.

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