Dave Jones’ Cafe Beat

Food & Drink - March 24th, 1989

How to enjoy a delicious ship-board dinner—and never leave port!

Sailing out into the blue horizon may be the stuff that songs are made of, but boy! is it dull! It’s water, water everywhere, and every drop the same no matter what sea you may be on.

I have taken a voyage three times in my life and found my­self reduced to utter boredom each time. My most exciting moments were spent eating, and I ate up time by constantly checking my watch for the start of the next meal period. Otherwise, I read or played hide-and seek with the ship’s entertainment director who forever wanted to involve me in shipboard games or social functions.

But the meals were almost worth the trips. I often have wished that someone would think up some way that one can dine at sea without the sea. Now some genius has come up with the answer. I have found a restaurant where you can have dinner aboard ship with­out undergoing the tedium of a cruise.

It isn’t an imitation ship, either, filled with nautical de­cor to provide a synthetic sea­faring appearance, but the real thing, though its prow no long­er cleaves the billowing wave. It’s the S.S. Hikawa Maru, the once proud queen of the Nip­pon Yusen Kaishi fleet. It serves lunches and dinners on board without stirring from Yokohama Harbor, lying berth­ed in all its sleek glory along­side a pier at Yamashita Park in front of the Yokohama Hotel. For, after sailing the seas for 30 years, the Hikawa Maru is now in retirement. During those three decades, it carried more than 25,000 passengers while crossing the Pacific 238 times.

It was launched in 1930 and placed on the Japan-Seattle route. When the Pacific War broke out, the 11,621-ton vessel went into service as a hospital ship and, when the war ended, repatriated soldiers from over­seas. Then it resumed its role as pacific route, retiring at Kobe in 1960.

Last year it was brought up from Kobe and turned into a restaurant that provides ex­cellent food, a good wine list and a genuine shipboard at­mosphere. If you have ever wondered what cabin-class food is like, now is your chance to find out. For the menus offered are duplicates of those that were served in the long-gone days when it was plying the Pacific before the 1960s ar­rived to disrupt the world.

You board the ship by a covered gangway on the star­board side, leading from the dock to the main deck. A uni­formed attendant meets and ushers you to the restaurant that spills over from the main cabin to the deck on the port side. Whether inside or out, you get a good view of the harbor, which is at its most gorgeous at night. For then the lights go on, turning the harbor into something dark decorated in gold and silver. Lights on anchored ships arc strung like golden necklaces on display. Lights from the shore play on the black surface, silvering the water. If you have a strong enough imagination, you can fancy yourself at sea.

The menu the waiter handed me was the same as the one the passengers had on board on Thursday, June 3, 1937. I wondered where I and the ship were that day, an idle thought.

The dinner started with Raviers de Hors d’Oeuvres et Saumon Fume Recherche, con­sisting of smoked salmon, a vegetable pati and some other small things. Next came a full-bodied Consomme a la Russe. I don’t know what was Russian about it, but it, like the hors d’oeuvres, was very good. Paupiette de Poisson a la Normande followed the soup. It was a slice of poached sole with a prawn in a cream sauce that gave the Norman touch.

Then came the main dish, a Filet Mignon a la Beurre de Raifort, a tender and tasty steak in a sauce that had a pleasant hint of horse-radish. If I could have eaten the food with my fingers, I would have dercribed it all as “finger-lickin’ good,” the highest accolade the late and admired gourmet Carl Hansen could give. With the steak I ordered a Chateau Corbonnieux, 1979. Though still a bit young, it was in good shape and had the distinctive gout de terroir which is the hall mark of a Graves.

A tomato-and-lettuce salad cleared the palate for the des­sert of ice cream and fruit and the cafe espresso that ended the meal.

The menu was only ¥8,000, as was the wine. Since there were three of us, it averaged out to less than ¥11,000 per person, quite reasonable for today in Japan. I noticed a steak lunch for ¥4,500, featur­ing a 200-gram sirloin, about seven ounces.

We had gone to visit the Yo­kohama Doll Museum, estab­lished by the city to feature dolls from all over the world. It has become very popular and is breaking all sorts of attend­ance records, I could see why. For the doll displays provide a view of life in miniature of the countries of the world, includ­ing Japan. We agreed that the excursion to Yokohama was well worth the time, given the museum and dinner afterwards, an excursion I can recommend to anyone.

Telephone number of the Hi­kawa Maru is (045) 664-0088. Reservations are recommended. It is closed on Mondays.