I entered the Princess Room at the Omni Mt. Washington Hotel a man without tails. I had the money set aside, a sort of slush fund I keep for spontaneous life enriching experiences. I had time, overnight shipping for the perfect, most authentic Edwardian tuxedo was only thirty dollars extra. What stymied this writer was a confusion about etiquette. Had I been fitted for shirt, pants, jacket, and bow tie would I have been able to acquire hat, shoes, spats, stick, and monocle in time for this intriguing event? If I could find all these flourishing details, would they be appreciated as appropriate dress or caricature’s costume?
I decided to reel in my tendency toward fanfare and love for pageantry. I wore gray wool pants, a white shirt, black vest, and a fun jacket I bought outside of a reservation in Arizona. Admittedly the outfit makes me look like I earn a side-living preaching fire and brimstone in big tents at the edge of town, but I didn’t mind. Entering the Princess Room at the Mt. Washington comes with an authenticity for which one may not be prepared. I entered into a round room with a raised section providing intimate seating coming off the central room like a spoke. A second spoke offered a lovely dark wood bar and stools. I am told this was Lady Stickney’s private parlor (she didn’t become Princess Stickney until she remarried).
My evening began with a glass of Brouilly from Chateau de La Chaize. It was described as having delightful fruit and berry notes and I took that to mean it would aid me in my evening’s observations and people watching. As I sipped and sampled appetizers from silver platters I began to make assumptions about the cast of characters gathering around me. I tried the Pâté de Foie Gras and watched an elegant couple dressed to the nines. They were obviously a handful of presidential terms apart in age, but they moved through the entry and up to the Princess Room’s intimate seating as a couple practiced in the ways of drawing intrigue. His tuxedo was clearly not rented but startlingly of the era. Her dress, a pale rose color, had been worn for a while, but drew the gaze of male and female onlookers alike.
The Bordeaux Superieur from Chateau de Macard drew my attention when I heard the bartender describe its attributes to a nervous looking man in plaid. She mentioned hints of dark fruit and black leather, I was intrigued. A glass was poured for each of us. The man made a tight-cheeked face like a child sampling a sip of his uncle’s beer for the first time and hustled off into the lobby. The evening was capped at twenty attendees, twenty four tickets were sold. Nobody was there by accident. Men in their finest between-season suits accompanied women in tall boots and others in spring gowns. I tried the Oysters a la Russe and heard the pop of a champagne cork.
At $225 per person, Last Dinner On The Titanic would be my most high class and fancy to do of 2017. I was loose now and getting warm. I decided to remove my jacket (the Princess room shares a wall with the Mt. Washington’s main kitchen). Shedding a layer provided two unexpected outcomes. The first was a preview of the Ammonoosuc Room where we would be enjoying the sit down part of our evening. The center piece floral arrangement immediately declared to me that elegance and etiquette would be the way of the evening. I found my name tag, hung my jacket on my chair, felt briefly distracted by what looked like a large framed Instagram photo of a covered bridge hanging on the largest wall. It appeared to be laden with heavy filters and looked like “structure” was set all the way to one hundred. I moved back across the hall, past the bar, and returned to my observation station at the center of the Princess Room.
The second unintended consequence of my inability to thermal regulate in fancy dress was my accidental cosplay drawing nods from around the room. My white shirt, the sleeves cuffed to my elbows, with gray pants, made my appearance slightly reminiscent of a certain fictional character of the Titanic played by a young Leonardo DiCaprio. I was fine with it. I nodded back to my onlookers in that sort of “I meant to do this” way and sought out a glass of champagne. Enjoying the chill and bubbles of my beverage, I reached for a bite of smoked duck, felt a momentary internal convulsion something like I assume rapture might feel and urgently reached out for a second bite.
A silver tray went by as I was discussing the elegance of the evening with a guest who used to write for magazines in China. Our conversation was paused when we both noticed the generously cut Lamb Chops heading our way. Somebody called them lamb lolly pops as they were served on the bone. One was expected to go about biting off small bits until the succulent bite nearest the bone could be ripped from the “stick.” I went caveman style with an indulgent first bite and chewed contentedly. Watching guests go at their quarter pound of juicy lamb meat with dainty, sawing-front-teeth-bites was wonderful. The lamb was well worth setting aside propriety for just that moment. And from that bite forward my mind was made up: this was the best evening out that I have enjoyed since Maggie Hassan’s last inaugural ball at the Mt. Washington.
Knowing that we had seven courses yet to go I decided to slow down. I opted for a second glass of champagne, a lighter pour of course, and thought it time I took some notes. My intention was to describe the ten couples, some of them sitting in Edwardian Chairs as Lady Stickney might have done beneath one of the hotels charming chandeliers, but then I saw shrimp. Listed on the menu as Canapés a l’Amiral, this shrimp snuggling a spoonful of flying fish roe accompanied my glass of Mumm Napa Cuvée like an ice cream cone accompanies a child’s visit to the beach.
Our evening’s host Gene Meoni, Food and Beverage Director for the Mt. Washington, approached me to ask if I had any questions. He told me about the King of Chefs and the Chef of Kings, Augustus Escoffier. A legend in the culinary world, Escoffier revolutionized the early twentieth century kitchen by bringing it out of the basement and up to street level and instituting stations, known as the brigade system, that allowed deserts to be made in one area while soups and salads had their own separate areas for preparation and presentation before being served to guests. The last dinner on the Titanic was inspired by the Ritz; Jackie Francois, Head Chef for the Mt. Washington, interpreted Escoffier’s menu and style for our evening at the Mt. Washington resort hotel.
As Meoni patiently allowed me to pick his brain on culinary history and Titanic lore, a Bluetooth speaker spouted the traditional bugle call, Roast Beef Of Old England, that summoned guests to dinner aboard Titanic. We all moved into the Ammonoosuc room and took our seats. As we situated ourselves, Meoni regaled us with history and descriptions of the courses to be served. The first seated course was Consommé Olga, an impressively clear ox tail bone broth poured over slices of scallops. Observing propriety I abstained from lifting the bowl to my mouth to slurp every last ounce of the delicate liquid into my face.
The second course was Poached Salmon with Mousseline. The fish was exquisitely prepared and the Mousseline (think hollandaise for adults) was creamy and livened the salmon flavor beautifully, but the wine… The Chateau Bonnet Boudreaux, 2012 changed me as a freelance wine drinker. I have had reds and whites all over the world. My palette is just sophisticated enough to know box from bottle and quite good from maybe-I-don’t-understand, but this Boudreaux leveled up my expectations of beverages like the first time I learned that Martini means gin. The first sip, brilliantly paired with the Salmon and following the crystal clear Consommé altered reality for a moment and when I came to and looked around the table I saw that I was not the only one experiencing this transformative flavor-high.
Filet Minion and Roasted Squab followed and the final course before desert was a simple Asparagus Salad with a Champagne Saffron Vinaigrette served with a light Riesling. Throughout the meal, Meoni continued to explain the food and times of Titanic, including charming anecdotes about the people and their individual experiences aboard the notorious luxury cruise ship. The final course was of course dessert. As an exemplary smattering of desserts presented on a single plate were placed before each of us, one of my fellow guests raised a glass of the Cuvée to those who perished on the mightiest unsinkable ship of The White Star Line.
I wasn’t ready for the evening to end. I had sipped and supped and mingled with polite society for hours by evening’s close. As the meal concluded, several of us were scribbling email addresses on torn pages from our notebooks. I was ready for cigars and brandy on one of the Mt. Washington Hotel’s many balconies even though I am not particularly fond of brandy, cigars, or outdoor seating during New Hampshire’s mud season melt. Gene Meoni had created a magical setting taken from a piece of world history. He recreated the feeling of Titanic within the equally sensational walls of the Mt. Washington Resort Hotel, in her Ammonoosuc Room, a setting that oozes with exclusiveness and propriety. The hour was late and some among us did not have the foresight to reserve rooms in this historic home of Edwardian hospitality.
I understood the examples of solidarity immortalized in James Cameron’s epic, Titanic. From the violins singing their final notes and the gentleman donning their finest attire, all going down with the ship together… On some level, after enjoying food and drink on such a scope of greatness, sinking as one into a darkened sea of ice might have been an evening’s end that was not altogether reprehensible. I drove home, shed my evening’s attire in my living room and rehydrated while taking in Cameron’s opus in a bathrobe. A feeling of connection beyond the silver platters and the perfect floral arrangement sat with me on my couch and I wondered if I would reach out to my fellow guests the next day. Perhaps not. I do however look forward to next year’s meal and pulling the trigger on those twentieth century tails.