Restaurants mark Titanic sinking with special dinners

HOUSTON -- Crystal tinkles as women clad in dinner best bow their heads over champagne glasses, listening to the captain's evening address. The Armagnac they sip is circa 1900. The dishes, crystal and silverware also hark back to a bygone era, one when the Titanic sailed the high seas, destined for disaster.

On this evening, though, the captain is Ryan Roberts, executive director of Cullen's restaurant in Houston.

"We're here to remember the people who perished on that fateful night, so if we could just bow our heads in a moment of silence," Roberts said, his white-gloved hands reminiscent of the opulence of the Edwardian era that birthed the lush first-class cabins and dining rooms of what was then the world's largest ship.

It's the 100th anniversary of the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, which hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic on a frigid, night, killing 1,514 people. To mark the occasion, 12 people in Houston enjoyed a $12,000 replica of the lavish 10-course dinner the wealthiest people aboard the ship enjoyed just before the crash.

The dinner was one of many served from New York to Memphis, Tenn., and across the oceans to Hong Kong, as chefs tried to transport diners to a time when waiters in starched coats and napkins hanging from their arms served an upper class that was far removed from the common man, who filled the lower portions of the Titanic and went largely unnoticed by the wealthy until they died together in the cold sea.

In Henderson, Bernard Tjordman, owner of Bernard's Bistro at Lake Las Vegas, said 130 people attended a dinner Saturday commemorating the Titanic sinking. The dinner was moved to a ballroom at the nearby Ravella because of inclement weather.

Tjordman said the dinner wrapped up around 11 p.m., after which the group took a cruise on the lake. Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen spoke as flowers were thrown into the lake to honor the Titanic's victims, Tjordman said.

"It was very nice," he said of Hafen's speech. "He gave a lot of hope and energy."

Across the valley at Bar + Bistro in the Arts District, executive chef Beni Velasquez said about 30 people indulged in the commemorative Titanic menu.

"People were licking their plates," Velazquez said. "They couldn't believe they ate that stuff 100 years ago."

Neither of the local dinners were as pricey as the one at Cullen's in Houston. Tjordman's dinner was $100 per person, and Velasquez's was $88.

At Cullen's, Roberts and Chef Paul Lewis spent months researching the menu, the waiters' attire, the china, silverware, crystal, wines, cognacs and Burgundies, hoping to offer their guests an experience as close to the actual event as possible. Pairing up with the Museum of Natural Science to include a tour of its Titanic exhibit, they came up with a $12,000 feast for each party of 12 that will be offered through September.

After viewing the exhibit, diners are driven by limousine to the upscale restaurant about 20 miles south of downtown Houston, where they are seated in an exclusive dining area suspended over the main hall. There, they are treated to foods from around the world prepared by cooks who have for months practiced and discussed how to interpret a menu too lavish for today's palette.

The truffles are from France, the oysters from Louisiana, the salmon from Scotland. The portions have been scaled down, and some -- such as the Consommé Olga, a Russian-style meat broth -- were given a more modern twist.

"We wanted to make sure there's enough there to give you the flavor or the substance but nothing to make you hugely uncomfortable sitting there, dreading the next course," Lewis said.

"Dinner back then was a little bit different as well. If you didn't want a course, you just waved it off and the waiter would just skip you and go on to the next person," Lewis said. "Of course, we don't want that. We want to make sure that everyone gets a little bit of everything."

Las Vegas Review-Journal writer Heidi Knapp Rinella contributed to this report.