You'd ave to drink a lot of mimosas and eat a lot of poached salmon to make a $44 brunch worth the tab. Such a price would surely warrant a menu more elaborate than say, omelets and croissants. So it was with some skepticism that we made reservations on The Cherry Blossom, the Potomac Riverboat Co.'s recent contribution to the Sunday morning brunch business.

The vehicle for the outing is a handsome, recently refurbished paddle wheeler with three decks and twin smokestacks -- 110 feet of brass and mahogany trim and rich-hue carpets. Put the Orient Express on water, scale it down a bit and you have an idea of what to expect from this elegant vessel and its very likable crew.

Sutton Place Gourmet handles the catering on the cruise with imagination and panache. As guests board, they are greeted by a waiter in tuxedo bearing a tray of mimosas (with freshly squeezed orange juice) and Bloody Marys.

The buffet-style brunch commences as soon as the ship gets under way (promptly at noon). The basic menu includes a variety of egg and fish dishes, fresh fruits and vegetables and a plethora of breads and desserts, though the offerings are subject to change with the arrival of seasonal produce (asparagus wrapped in lemon rings was served a month ago) and the whimsy of the catering crew.

Beneath slowly revolving ceiling fans, tables set with fresh flowers and cloth napkins encircle the prominently displayed buffet. There's a tendency to linger at one's table before beginning the feast (each table has a wonderful window view) or better yet, on deck, as the boat begins its two-hour cruise on the Potomac.

This is no common breakfast affair. I encountered three rolled omelets -- spinach and mushroom, ham and cheese, and salmon -- with several favorable sauces, one a chunky tomato coulis, another that was Dijon mustard-spiked. A novel idea was the stir-fried baby vegetables sauteed with lean beef strips -- but the fact that it was terribly oversalted nearly ruined the dish. Two whole poached salmon, trimmed with paper-thin cucumber slices, sat on silver trays next to platters of delicious ham biscuits and bite-size miniature bagels with two spreads.

Salads included a melange of marinated baby squash, corn and string beans and a very pleasant tomato and cheese offering. Presiding over most of one table was a small mountain of luscious-looking fresh fruit (melons, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and both red and green grapes) that spilled forth from wicker baskets and made a stunning presentation.

Providing a tasteful finish to the buffet were freshly baked desserts, which on one visit included a rich, wonderfully creamy cheesecake, a moist carrot cake and chocolate shells filled with dense, rich chocolate mousse. They were accompanied by cups of freshly brewed hot coffee that waiters frequently refilled.

One annoyance: Though guests are permitted to stay on board one-half hour after docking, that didn't prevent the dining room staff from packing up even before we reached shore. Our last memories of the buffet were not of gleaming silver or inviting fare, but packing boxes and disassembled tables.