A Taste of British Royalty in Long Beach
Who knew? After New York and San Francisco, the next largest Gay Pride in the nation is in - what? - Long Beach, CA. More than just an adjunct of Los Angeles, Long Beach has a California identity all its own, and worth more than a one-day visit. The city has a thriving culinary scene, but the best of the best isn’t in the city, but floating along side it.
The grande dame of Long Beach, all 1,019.5 feet and 81,237 tons of her, is the RMS Queen Mary, a living time warp into the age of Art Deco elegance. Twice the size of the Titanic, she set sail from the United Kingdom in 1936, was the undisputed empress of the seas, and was "simply what you did" for the London-to-New York trans-Atlantic crossing. Royalty of all sorts, from imperial Europe to Hollywood, fell over themselves to book the best suites, right up until the fateful day the ship was decommissioned in 1967 (darn those airplanes).
But rather than see her scrapped, the city of Long Beach bought her lock, stock, and barrel, moored her off the harbor, and, with all her elegance intact, re-christened the Queen Mary a floating hotel-restaurant-museum. Today an isle of oh-so British aristocracy (complete with starched collars and titanium white uniforms) in a Yankee sea, the ship is the crowning jewel of the city.
And the crowning jewel of the crowning jewel? That would be the award-winning Sir Winston’s, the premier restaurant of the ship, named for that most English of bulldogs, Winston Churchill.
Having already dazzled discriminating palates in some of the best hotels in the American West before taking to the sea, Executive Chef Todd Henderson gives some of his recommendations for a few Pride-goers looking for some of Long Beach’s finest food foraging.
"We try to create dishes that are reminiscent of things Churchill might have dined on; the Beef Wellington and those kinds of dishes," Henderson says, describing what epicureans will experience at his tables. "We try to change the menu seasonally, but we always leave the favorites."
There is no cuisine the British can’t destroy, particularly their own. However, there are exceptions to the rule, and Beef Wellington qualifies. Henderson’s nicely thick version of the English staple ($47) comes complemented with a light truffle sauce, surrounded by contingents of asparagus, roasted tomatoes, and truffle mashed potatoes.
Ordering just one course would leave one lacking in the full Sir Winston’s experience. When it comes to his appetizers, ranging from $13 to $17, "The lobster ravioli is good, but I like the Queenies," Henderson beams. "They’re the sea scallops that are seared in champagne. And as far as the desserts go, the soufflĂ©s are great at Sir Winston’s."
"We like to stay true to what was going on the ship when it sailed in the time of Sir Winston," continues Henderson, speaking of the restaurant’s appeal as well as its integration into the larger experience, the Queen Mary herself. "That’s what stands out; you can come to Sir Winston’s before your meal or after, and take in a little history of the Queen Mary as well."
An addition to the ship’s original layout and partially occupying the old engineer’s quarters, the space is today fully integrated into the larger Queen Mary experience. For the best seats in the house, Henderson recommends "the Horseshoe," the tables that line the crescent-shaped outer rim of Sir’s Winston’s, with views of the Long Beach skyline.
But there is another Queen Mary experience Sir Winston’s revels in: ghosts. The ship is reputedly one of the most haunted on the continent, with paranormal experts leading diners on tours of the darker corners of the ship. And what does Henderson think of a few extra, if incorporeal, guests?
"Apparently, there is one at Sir Winston’s. By the bathrooms," he demurs. "There are a couple cooks that have said they see things, but myself? Not yet. But every time I have to go up there..."
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Long Beach celebrates its 30th Anniversary Festival and Parade May 18-19.
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