Restaurant Review

Review: Sabor Taqueria & Tequila Bar on Allure of the Seas

In:
17Mar2016

One of my favorite Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants has been Sabor Modern Mexican, which is available on Navigator of the Seas and Freedom of the Seas.  So when I cruised on Allure of the Seas, this was my opportunity to see this slight variation on the original Sabor concept with Sabor Taqueria & Tequila Bar.

Unlike the original Sabor restaurants, Sabor Taqueria & Tequila Bar is an a la carte experience, where you pay for only what you order.  In addition, there are some menu variations compared to the original.

Being a fan of Sabor on other ships, it was not much of a stretch for me to visit Sabor on Allure of the Seas and see if this variation is as good as I remember on other ships.

Atmosphere

Sabor is located in the Boardwalk neighborhood, having replaced Rita's Cantina in a recent refurbishment.  It is across the Boardwalk from Johnny Rockets.

Sabor is an open air restaurant, with covered and uncovered dining areas and there is plenty of space too.  For a specialty restaurant, Sabor offers a lot of dining capacity.

Sabor is also one of the more colorful restaurants, with a color motif that differs greatly from Sabor Modern Mexican.  On Allure of the Seas, there is lots of light blues, pinks and some oranges.  Sabor Taqueria feels more like the kind of restaurant you would find near a beach than Sabor Modern Mexican.

Guests can sit at the bar, tables or booths.  We visited Sabor about 4 times throughout our cruise (for "research" purposes), and finding an available table was never a problem.

The colors of Sabor are quite striking and it is a rather eye pleasing restaurant to eat at.  

Eats

What has historically attracted me to Sabor on any Royal Caribbean ships has been the really tasty food, so I had high expectations for what is served up here.

The Sabor Taqueria menu is similar to Sabor Modern Mexican's menu, but not identical.  If you have dined at Sabor Modern Mexican, you will find some favorites, but it is not exactly the same.

All Sabor menus incorporate traditional Mexican dishes along with more contemporary options.  Sabor's food is less about Tex-Mex, and more about serving up authentic Mexican dishes.

As you area seated, guests are served complimentary chips and salsa.  The salsa is freshly made (nothing out of a jar) and served with tortilla chips that also do not taste like they came out of a bag.  The fact this traditional Mexican starting dish tastes fresh is always a good sign.

Sabor has built its reputation on its tableside guacamole, which I always order and recommend.

After ordering the guacamole, your waiter will return with a cart filled with guacamole ingredients and will create this delicious dish in front of you and to your specifications (spicy or not spicy, extra lime, etc).

My personal recommendation is to ask for extra lime.  

Sabor also serves up a menu of featured margaritas.  Unlike the margaritas at Sabor Modern Mexican, these are not created tableside.  

While I miss the show aspect of having the drinks made in front of me, nonetheless, they tasted really good and I would definitely rate the avocado and jalapeño-cucumber margaritas as great choices.

Speaking of drinks, if you enjoy a good tequila, be sure to consider the tequila flights offered.  

The horizontal tequila flight is always pleasing and I can tell you from experience that it certainly satisfies.

In terms of the appetizers and entrees on the menu, there is a lot to choose from.

The Oaxacan ceviche of red snapper was pretty good and the tortilla soup was also quite good.

If you like gazpacho (cold tomato soup), Sabor's gazpacho is also quite good.

For entrees, you will choose between tacos, quesadillas and the main courses.

The tacos and quesadillas are easily shareable and priced quite reasonably ($5 for a plate).  

My absolute favorite dish at Sabor is the Tuna Crudo tacos.  It is some of the tastiest ahi tacos you will ever eat.

For picky eaters or those that enjoy a good "safe food", you cannot go wrong with the tres quesos quesadilla. It always hits the spot.

For the main dishes, we tried the mole short rib and pan-seared red snapper.

The short rib was something new that I wanted to try and it was a very tender cut of beef in a mole sauce.  For beef lovers, this is your dish.

The red snapper was also great as a main course and I enjoyed this more than the red snapper ceviche appetizer.  I especially like the mango-papaya salsa it is served with, as it really adds to the dish's flavor.

Without a doubt, the overlooked options on Sabor's menu are the sides and desserts.  

It may be difficult to leave room for them, but they are really quite good choices.  

The yucca fries and banana and chocolate chimichanga are the standouts.

Overall

Sabor Taqueria lived up to my expectations from dining at Sabor Modern Mexican, but there were a few subtle differences between the two that I picked up on that I think leaves me preferring Sabor Modern Mexican just a bit.

The best thing about Sabor Taqueria is the fact it is priced a la carte, which means it is much easier to stop in for guacamole, a margarita and maybe an entree without committing to the full cover charge price found at Sabor Modern Mexican.

I mentioned earlier that I ate at Sabor on four separate occasions while on Allure of the Seas and I can guarantee you that would not have been the case if it had a cover charge.  Being able to drop in and have a drink with chips or just order tacos is a terrific perk.

The reason I give the edge to Sabor Modern Mexican are some of the minor differences between the two experiences.  I like having the tableside margarita option and the food menu at Sabor Modern Mexican is larger. Plus, I think I like the atmosphere of the enclosed restaurant a bit more than the open air option.

Nonetheless, anyone going on Allure of the Seas should strongly consider Sabor Taqueria because it is priced reasonably and if all you do is order the guacamole, a few drinks and tacos, you would still be quite happy with the experience.

For anyone with an unlimited alcohol package, Sabor is a great choice because of how many drink options there are and many are covered by the drink packages.  You can really get value from your drink package by using it at Sabor.

The bottom line is dine at Sabor Taqueria for great tasting Mexican food and drinks, especially if you are looking for somewhere quick and easy to get in and out.

Review: Izumi on Allure of the Seas

In:
02Mar2016

Perhaps no Royal Caribbean specialty restaurant has spread as quickly and has been as well received as Izumi.

Izumi has become a favorite go-to restaurant for me on my Royal Caribbean cruises, and on Allure of the Seas, I had the chance to dine there on three separate occasions.

Izumi offers guests high quality sushi at a reasonable price and has been well received by guests and crew members alike.  

It is well worth a visit for lunch, dinner or just a quick bite to eat and is conveniently located on deck 4, near the main dining room.

Let's take a look.

Atmosphere

Guests who have sailed on Allure of the Seas in years past may remember Izumi being located high up on deck 16, overlooking the pools.  

In a somewhat recent ship refurbishment, Royal Caribbean moved Izumi down to deck 4 to give it much more room and a better location.

The restaurant is located near the Grande dining room, near the stairs on the port side of the ship.

Walking into Izumi, you will be greeted in a room filled with dark reds, browns and blacks.

The restaurant is divided into two sections: one dining area for those eating sushi and other Japanese cuisine, and another section for the hibachi.

This review will focus on the sushi side, but it is worth noting the restaurant offers both experiences.

Once inside Izumi, you quickly get that feeling of being in a Japanese restaurant.

The seating area is comprised of one large room, with optional seating at the sushi bar.

During the day, there are large windows offering a view to the ocean.

Izumi is a colorful restaurant that has its own unique look that is not found elsewhere on Allure of the Seas.  Izumi strikes me as somewhere that certainly evokes a Japanese motif and sets the right tone for the upcoming meal.

Eats

On Allure of the Seas, we dined at Izumi three times during our cruise, both for lunch and dinner.  

Izumi's menu offers a lot of variety and it is not just sushi, although sushi is a big part of it.

Guests can choose from salads, noodle soups, carpaccio and appetizers.  Of course, there is quite a lot of sushi to choose from as well.

Unlike Izumi on other Royal Caribbean ships, Izumi on Allure of the Seas does not feature ishiyake (hot rocks), presumably because of the hibachi option.

There is no cover charge to dine at Izumi, guests are seated at their table and will pay a la carte pricing for all items on the menu.

All guests receive a complimentary bowl of edamame soy beans, sprinkled with salt. It is a delicious appetizer and I highly recommend trying them.

Our group opted for a combination of sushi and non-sushi choices.  Our group ranged from die-hard sushi fans to those who preferred cooked food.

Starting things off was the pork gyoza dumpling that is served with gyoza sauce.

The dumplings were quite tasty and cooked just right (not too hard, not too soft).

To me, no sushi meal is complete without a bowl of miso soup.

The Windjammer offers most mornings a make-your-own miso soup option and suffice to say, the Izumi miso soup was significantly superior.  

One of our friends was vegetarian and ordered the shrimp and vegetable tempura appetizer.

My grandfather used to say that it is difficult for any food that is fried to taste bad, and certainly tempura vegetables follow that rule as well.  Eating your vegetables was never so tasty!

My wife ordered the nabeyaki udon soup, which is a collection of shrimp and assorted Asian vegetables cooked in dashi stock with udon noodles. 

Of course, the focus of our meal was the sushi.

Izumi's sushi ranges in choice from basic nigiri/sashimi rolls, to signature rolls and even a few of the chef's signature rolls.

Izumi also features sushi combination dishes, that offer a tremendous value for the price.

My favorite go-to combination dish at Izumi is the DX Sushi Combo.  Not only is it a great assortment of rolls, but you cannot beat the price.  

The sushi was well-prepared and offered some really great tastes.  What I like about Izumi is that the sushi here is more than just regular sushi that you can find anywhere.  Rather, Izumi offers high quality sushi choices that combine different ingredients to give a really interesting and unique taste.

In addition, the amount of sushi offered in any of the rolls we ordered was quite high.  There is no skimping on quality or quantity when dining at Izumi.

There is also something to be said about presentation, and the sushi chefs at Izumi do a fantastic job at making their food as pretty to look at as it is to eat.

Overall

There is one good way to determine if an ethnic restaurant has good food, and that is if you spot a lot of guests dining there that are originally from that part of the world, where the food is from.  On Royal Caribbean cruise ships, the best way to tell if a specialty restaurant is good is by how many crew members you spot eating there.

Consistently, I have seen many crew members dining in Izumi or stopping by for take out and that is a microcosm of an example that shows how good Izumi really is.

When you consider how quickly Izumi has spread across Royal Caribbean's fleet since the first one debuted on Oasis of the Seas just six years ago, it is quite impressive.

Izumi on Allure of the Seas did not disappoint and continued in the tradition of offering high quality Japanese cuisine that tastes really good.

The staff at Izumi is quite attentive and willing to work with any special requests you may have in order to ensure you have a great time.

In the grand scheme of Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants, Izumi stands out as a fabulous option for a night out or just an afternoon bite to eat.  The prices are quite fair (especially compared to land based sushi restaurants) and the fact it is on a cruise ship does not provide an excuse to compromise on the experience.

If you want great Japanese cuisine (especially sushi), be sure to make a reservation (or three) at Izumi.

What do you think of Izumi? Please let us know with a comment!

Review: Chops Grille on Brilliance of the Seas

In:
22Dec2015

Perhaps no specialty restaurant is as well known (or liked) on Royal Caribbean cruise ships as Chops Grille.

Over the years, Chops Grille has seen her fair share of changes, but it remains a fan favorite restaurant for the high quality food offered.  

While on Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas, we just had to go back and try Chops one more time and see if all the admiration it receives is deserved.

Atmosphere

Located on deck 6 of Brilliance of the Seas, Chops Grille is right outside the Schooner Bar and is the only specialty restaurant that was not a recent addition.

The restaurant is essentially one large room, with booth tables along the sides, some smaller tables by the windows and larger tables in the interior.

There is an open kitchen, which allows guests to watch the "action" in the kitchen from tables close enough to get a view.

In the evening, the lights are dimmed and it certainly feels like you are dining in a fine steakhouse, with the dark and light browns contrasting against the white tablecloths and plates.

What is interesting about Chops Grille is fleet wide, the experience inside is pretty much the same and all Chops Grilles have a very similar flow.

Food

Though the focus at Chops Grille is naturally on the steaks, there are plenty of other things to talk about as well.

To begin the meal, a plate of warm bread with butter is served.  

My wife swears this is the best butter ever.  We are not certain what is in it, but it just tastes really good.  Certainly a great start to the meal.

Admittedly, it is often difficult to not over eat just the bread, but you must avoid the temptation because the food that is forthcoming is always worth it.

There are quite a few appetizers to choose from, and it sets the tone for the entire meal of there being too much good food to try for one stomach to handle.

For salads, we tried the mesclun salad and the crispy goat cheese salad.

Both are freshly made and good starts to our meal.  Plus, eating a salad before hitting the "heavy stuff" totally offsets the calories, right?

The signature appetizers offer some of the best food that do not end in the word "steak".  

The charred beef carpaccio is some of the thinnest and tastiest slices of beef I have ever had.  

The beef carpaccio has been a staple of the Chops Grille menu for years and something I always have to order.

However, the award for most impressive appetizer goes to the grilled black pepper bacon. 

Comparing this slab of slow-cooked Berkshire pork to bacon you might get at a diner is like comparing a 12 year old Pee Wee football player to an NFL linebacker.  

This is a massive serving of bacon and among bacon aficionados, it is a must-order.

For our entrees, I went "off the reservation" and actually did not order a steak.  Please, hold your fire!

In an effort to document all aspects of the Chops Grille experience (and to watch my girlish figure), I opted to order something other than steak.  

I asked my waiter if he recommended the Everything Crusted Tuna or the Snapper Veracruz and without hesitation, he pointed me to the tuna.

As the name implies, everything is indeed crusted on this tuna and it was mighty good.  

I love tuna and this was definitely a great piece of fish and I enjoyed the Asian inspired seasoning.  

Fret not, steak fans, because my wife went with old faithful: the "petite" filet mignon.

The steaks at Chops Grille have been historically great and this time was no different.  A beautiful piece of meat and cooked to perfection.  I may or may not have snuck a few bites in from my side of the table.

For dessert, I do not even read the dessert menu because I always order the same thing and regret nothing!

Yes my friends, I always order the red velvet cake.

I do not care about what it used to be or anything else. It is still really, really good and arguably the best red velvet cake I eat every time.

We also ordered the chocolate mud pie, which is a rich chocolate cake served with a berry sauce.

By this point in the meal, we were stuffed, so it was time to waddle out of the restaurant with the knowledge of another great Chops Grille meal complete.

Overall

I have eaten at Chops Grille on a number of Royal Caribbean cruise ships and each time I have a great experience and this meal on Brilliance of the Seas was no different.

I feel the consistently good meals at Chops Grille are why so many guests come back time and time again.  In fact, it is not unusual to hear about guests that dine at Chops Grille on multiple nights of their cruise.  It really is that darn good.

Chops Grille offers a lot of food and we did not even try the dry aged steaks this time (for our review of the dry aged steaks, check out our Navigator of the Seas review).  However, that is the strength of the menu that you can order so many options and still come away with a great meal.

Chops Grille excels at all aspects of the meal and it is because of this consistency that it is hard to ever go wrong with dining here.

What are your thoughts on Chops Grille? Leave us a comment and tell us about it below!

Review: Giovanni's Table on Brilliance of the Seas

In:
16Dec2015

Of all the Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants available, few have spread as far and as wide as Giovanni's Table has, especially given how relatively new it is to Royal Caribbean.

While aboard Brilliance of the Seas, I just could not resist the temptation to enjoy lunch at Giovanni's Table one more time.

I had no plans to dine at Giovanni's Table, but the tempting favorites along with the lower lunch price swayed my decision on one particular sea day.

Atmosphere

Located on deck 6, Giovanni's Table is across from the ever popular Schooner Bar.

Walking in, the restaurant is rather large and offers seating in a variety of configurations.

The restaurant is essentially one large room, with windows making up one wall, that offer an unobstructed view of the ocean.

On our day to eat here, there were waves of 2-4 meters, so we certainly had some action to see.  Admittedly, these waves were also responsible for not having the largest of appetites with all of the motion.

Giovanni's Table will not win any accolades purely for its aesthetical looks, but it feels like a restaurant that is distinct from its surroundings and certainly more elaborately decorated than Rita's Cantina

Eats

It is no secret that Giovanni's Table is an Italian restaurant and there are plenty of Italian favorites to pick from on the menu.

On my last visit to Giovanni's Table on Freedom of the Seas, I felt I did not do a good job ordering, so this time I would try something more on the "seafood spectrum" as means of correcting the experience.

Once seated, we were served complimentary bread and olive oil.  This is consistent with the every other Giovanni's Table I have dined at and having bread and oil is a standard practice among many Italian restaurants.

As I said earlier, the ship was rocking quite a bit so we ordered lightly.  

To start with, we shared an insalata caprese.

This is your standard tomato and mozzarella salad. If I can be picky, I would point out the tomatoes are the same previously frozen tomatoes served in the Windjammer.  Not the end of the world, but I was hoping for something fresher.

I also ordered the eggplant parmigiana.

The eggplant parm from Giovanni's Table is not breaded and is more of a baked eggplant than traditional eggplant parm.  Nonetheless, I would say this was the best eggplant parm I have had at Giovanni's Table in quite a while.

For our entrees, I ordered the sole filets, while my wife opted for the pappardelle pasta.

My fish was a lightly fried sole filet that was served on top of sautéed garlic zucchini spaghetti.

The fish was light and pretty good, but it was the zucchini that I really enjoyed.  Combining the zucchini and fish together was a real treat and if I were to order this again, I would ask for extra zucchini.

My wife's pasta came in a white cream sauce and the little she ate of it, she enjoyed (the motion of the ocean was starting to get to her by this point).  

I sampled a bit of it too and thought the pasta tasted better than something out of the box.

Overall

Giovanni's Table on Brilliance of the Seas is a good option for those looking for Italian food that is more than just the typical pasta and sauce served in the Windjammer.

It is far from my favorite specialty restaurant, but the price (especially for lunch) makes it almost impossible to ignore. 

I will point out that when we dined there, there were perhaps six tables but only one waiter who also was serving as maître d'.  

Because of this, the service was extremely slow.  It did improve towards the tail end of the meal when more servers showed up to assist. 

Our overworked waiter was still quite generous, because he opted not to charge my wife for her meal because she barely ate it due to her not feeling well.  Definitely a welcome gesture and a credit to his service.

If you are asking, "should I eat at Giovanni's Table on Brilliance of the Seas," my advice is go for lunch on a sea day and take advantage of the lower cost and ease of which it is to get a table.  Stick with traditional Italian dishes and enjoy the view!

Giovanni's Table is open for lunch 12:00pm to 1:30pm and open for dinner 6:00pm to 9:30pm and we reviewed Giovanni's Table on Brilliance of the Seas.

Review: Rita's Cantina on Brilliance of the Seas

In:
09Dec2015

It is time to talk about a specialty restaurant that we have never reviewed before, Rita's Cantina on Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas.

Rita's Cantina is a Tex-Mex inspired restaurant that first launched on Allure of the Seas when she debuted and has since spread to a number of Royal Caribbean ships.

Before ever stepping foot into Rita's, I had read quite a number of reviews online and most guests seemed to have a negative view of Rita's, especially compared to Sabor Modern Mexican.

I try not to judge anything based purely on what I may read or hear about it, but I will admit I did lower my expectations considerably.  I assumed a meal at Rita's would not be similar to my amazing meals at Sabor, but I wanted to keep as open a mind as possible.

Once on Brilliance of the Seas, I made a point to stop in for lunch on one of our sea days.  Will it be a hit or miss? Time to find out!

Atmosphere

On Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas, Rita's Cantina is located on deck 11 behind the Windjammer on the port side of the ship.

Rita's is a half open air restaurant, with covered seating and tables out in the open.  If you have eaten at Johnny Rockets on a Voyager or Freedom class ship, the seating arrangement is somewhat similar in that there is indoor and outdoor seating. 

On Brilliance of the Seas, although there is covered seating, there is no air conditioning (or heat) for the indoor portion, so you are still somewhat at the mercy of the weather conditions outdoors.

Regardless of if you are seating inside or outside, there are views of the ocean from everywhere, except the bar (although you could simply turn around to see the ocean).

To describe the decor of Rita's Cantina, I would have to say there are hints of a Southwestern USA/Mexico motif with teals, dark reds and oranges.

Much of the restaurant, however, is not very well themed and feels more like a table at the Windjammer than a typical Royal Caribbean specialty restaurant.

After I scoped out the restaurant for a bit, it was time to dig into lunch.  Let's check out the menus!

Eats

For my meal at Rita's Cantina, I wanted to sample a little of everything that I could to get a sense of what Rita's really offers.

The first thing I noticed about the menu at Rita's Cantina is that while you could have a meal here, the menu really leans more towards being a restaurant that offers a lot of drinks and some snacks and light fare to go along with the drinks.

There is quite a selection of margaritas available, served on the rocks or frozen.

If mixed drinks or beer are your thing, then there is plenty to choose from as well.  Certainly. no one can complain about there not being a good selection of alcohol at Rita's Cantina.

The food menu is fairly limited, with just eight items listed.

The one thing I did notice immediately about Rita's Cantina menu are the prices.  Everything is incredibly inexpensive.  Most items are about $2-3 each.  That is dirt cheap.

I asked my waiter for a recommendation for a margarita and he pointed me towards the Pineapple Orange Margarita.

I opted for frozen and it was served in a rather large cup.

The margarita was fine, neither the best I have ever had nor the worst.  I prefer my margaritas to have more tequila than what I was served, but not the end of the world.

For my food, I ordered the roasted tomatillo broth, fiesta guacamole, chips & salsa and a grilled Quesadilla.  I figured that would be a good assortment of food to consider.

Service was a bit slower than I expected, but not because of my waiter.  The restaurant was not that busy, so at least I could tell the food was not just sitting around.

First up was the chips and salsa. 

The salsa was more of a pico de gallo, and I really enjoyed it.  We had just been in Cozumel, Mexico the day before, so I had a pretty good idea of what good salsa is and this was freshly made.  I could snack on this any day.  The chips were certainly out of a bag.

Next came the guacamole.

This guacamole was, well, awful.  The consistency was too watery and it was really bland.  I hate to say it, but I have had far better guacamole out of a jar from my local supermarket.  

Luckily, the tomatillo soup came out next and it was a welcome distraction from the guacamole.

The soup was more of a tortilla soup than anything else and it was above average.  I certainly ate much more of the soup than I did the guacamole.

Last out was the chicken Quesadilla, which was served with sour cream and more guacamole.  

I sampled the guacamole that came with the Quesadilla to see if perhaps my first guac serving was a bad batch, but this too was inedible.

The Quesadilla itself was okay and lent itself to the comparison that most Quesadilla are just Mexican grilled cheese's.  I ate a good amount of it, but the Quesadilla was just okay.  

Overall

After hearing mixed reviews of Rita's Cantina for years, I did not know what to expect but after eating at Rita's Cantina, I now know why it has the reputation it has.

I have two takeaways from RIta's Cantina on Brilliance of the Seas:

  1. The food is nothing special and tends to be more lackluster than anything else
  2. The food is really, really inexpensive

I freely admit the food is not going to impress many, but when you consider the low prices (I spent about $8 for all my food), perhaps Rita's Cantina is not an awful value.

I see Rita's Cantina as not a restaurant for a meal, but rather a snack with a few drinks.  If you purchase one of the unlimited alcohol packages, I could easily see Rita's Cantina being a great spot to enjoy the benefits of the drink package with a plate of nachos and salsa.

The bottom line is Rita's Cantina will not be at the top of many guests' favorite restaurant lists, but I do like the low prices and ample selection of drinks available.

Have you dined at Rita's Cantina? What's your favorite dish on the menu?

Review: Izumi on Brilliance of the Seas

In:
03Dec2015

When we talk about favorite restaurants on Royal Caribbean Blog, Izumi is at the top of the list and for good reason.

On Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas, we had the chance to dine at Izumi. Three times. Suffice to say, we had a pretty good look at what Izumi offers.

With Izumi, Royal Caribbean offers its passengers a high quality Japanese cuisine experience.  And with sushi being as popular as ever, we had to give Izumi another try on Brilliance of the Seas to ensure the experience has not changed.

Read on to see what our experience was like.

Atmosphere

Izumi is located on deck 12 at the aft of Brilliance of the Seas, where the Seaview Cafe used to be located.

Looking purely at the exterior, you would be hard pressed to know there is a Japanese restaurant inside, given that the traditional hallmarks of a Japanese restaurant are not evident outside.

Once inside Izumi, you quickly get that feeling of being in a Japanese restaurant.

Izumi on Brilliance of the Seas features a lot of dark woods and oranges mixed with bright colors, notably a light blue.

I am not certain I could pull off the color motif found in Izumi in my living room, but it is aesthetically pleasing, especially at the bar.

The seating area is comprised of one large room, with optional seating at the sushi bar.

The best seats have to be by the window, which offer views out to the ocean and deck twelve.  The larger capacity tables are at the center of the restaurant.

You may not mistake the restaurant for a little piece of Tokyo from looks alone, but the food will make you second guess yourself!

Eats

On Brilliance of the Seas, we dined at Izumi on three separate occasions for "research" purposes.  The Izumi menu offers a fairly wide selection of food.  

Sushi dominates the menu, but there are also a good selection of starters, salads, soups and ishiyake (hot rocks).

It should be noted that there is no cover charge at Izumi on Brilliance of the Seas. Rather, you will pay a la carte pricing for all items on the menu.

All guests receive a complimentary bowl of edamame soy beans, sprinkled with salt.  It is a delicious appetizer and I highly recommend trying them.

Interestingly, the miso soup at Izumi on Brilliance of the Seas now costs extra.  On all of our previous Izumi experiences, the miso soup was complimentary as well, but it seems to be a change on some ships.

I ordered the miso soup and at $2, it was the largest serving of miso soup I have ever had.   

Like all Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants, there is a full bar selection.  I would be remiss not to sample the hot sake while dining at Izumi.

There is a serving of hot organic sake that is included with the premium unlimited alcohol package and it definitely hit the spot. Try ordering a beer and dropping a cup of your sake in it for a sake bomb!

By far, the reason most guests go to Izumi is for the sushi and this was no exception.  Guests will find a large selection of sushi to choose from, including hand rolls, sashimi, combinations, signature rolls and chef's signature rolls.

The best value is in one of the combination plates, signature rolls or chef's signature rolls.  We found it difficult to order any of the nigri or sashimi pieces without realizing we were better off financially to order one of the combination plates.

In addition, the signature rolls offer more pieces and the best quality sushi.  There is nothing wrong with the individual pieces of sushi, but we gravitated towards the signature rolls and combinations for those exact reasons.

You might be wondering how good the sushi is and I can easily tell you it is as good or better than many land based sushi restaurants I have been to.  The basic hand rolls were a bit small, but any of the signature rolls were ample in size and serving.

There is also something to be said about presentation, and the sushi chefs at Izumi do a fantastic job at making their food as pretty to look at as it is to eat.

Those looking for the best value, stick with the combination plates, which offer a lot to enjoy in one price.  If you want the best sushi Izumi has to offer, go with any of the signature rolls. 

If sushi is not your thing, there are some other options worth considering.  My wife has no love in her heart for fish, so she picks the hot rock plates.

Essentially, the hot rocks are slabs of rock that are heated to to 575 °F and guests are invited to cook their choice of seafood, chicken, or beef.

If this sounds fun, it really is.  And not to worry if you are not sure what you are doing, because the staff is happy to help you cook the pre-seasoned food.

There are also a good variety of salads and soups, although I cannot speak for them since I always saved room for the sushi!

Overall

When looking at Izumi on Brilliance of the Seas, I am biased in the sense that I really love sushi.  But on the other hand, I eat so much sushi on land that I feel I can make an informed decision about how good or bad Izumi is.

In terms of service, Izumi has a very attentive staff that responded very well to everything we asked for.  

The bottom line is Izumi offers great sushi (and other Japanese cuisine) for a fair price.  Most of the prices you will find at Izumi are about what you would pay at any reputable sushi establishment on land.  As noted earlier, the combination plates are easily the best value of the menu, given how much you get for the price.

I would love to hear your opinion on Izumi.  Have you enjoyed dining at Izumi? Let us know in the comments below.

Restaurant Review: Giovanni's Table on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas

In:
24Aug2015

Giovanni's Table on Freedom of the Seas offers guests fresh made Italian food that has been getting a lot of attention lately, so we decided to try it out on our recent cruise.

Part of Royal Caribbean's update to Freedom of the Seas in early 2015 saw Giovanni's Table replace Portofino as the Italian specialty restaurant onboard.  The replacement of Portofino by Giovanni's Table has been a fleetwide initiative for a few years now and while we will miss Portofino, Giovanni's Table offers a different kind of experience that we have enjoyed on other ships.

It is always interesting to see how this Giovanni's Table compares to other Giovanni's Table restaurants in the fleet, as well as dearly departed Portofino.  Let us head in and try out this new restaurant!

Atmosphere

You will find Giovanni's Table up on deck 11 in the Windjammer area.  It is located to the left as you walk into the Windjammer, in the former location of Portofino.

As you step inside Giovanni's Table, you will find a lot of browns and greens, with a hint of orange.  This is a different color pallete from Giovanni's Table on Navigator of the Seas, which had more of a blue tone to the location.

Just like Navigator of the Seas, the Giovanni's Table on Freedom of the Seas has a great view of the ocean.  If you happen to dine here for lunch or early dinner, you should have a very nice view of the sea as you dine.

The restaurant is divided up between two rooms and it is a rather large space, relative to most specialty restaurants.  The first room as you enter is more rectangular shape, while the second area opens up a bit more into a box shaped room.  Both rooms have large floor to ceiling windows with views of the ocean.

Compared to Portofino, the look and feel of Giovanni's Table is a bit less formal.  Where Portofino had an upscale look to it, I think Giovanni's Table does not have quite that formal look to match, but it certainly feels like a specialty restaurant.

Eats

We ate at Giovanni's Table for lunch and the menu certainly offers a lot of choices. I think Giovanni's Table appeal is that there is a lot of good Italian food to choose from and most of it are foods you have probably heard of.

Giovanni's Table also tends to be among the least expensive Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants, and I think that is welcome by most guests.

For our meal, I tried to go between favorites and new dishes. I will admit two friends of mine onboard raved about their Giovanni's Table experience, although they went heavier into the seafood choices than I did.  

Most dishes, especially the appetizers are on the small side, so be sure to order extra to share.  

We started off with two classics: insalata caprese per due and malanzane alla parmigiana.

The eggplant parmigiana came out in a small white bowl and I really enjoyed it.  It might have been cooked a bit too long, but I love eggplant parmigiana and when I got below the top layer of cheese, I really enjoyed it!

The caprese salad is an Italian classic as well, and to me it is the perfect appetizer because of its light nature.  Grab a piece of bread and put some of the mozzarella and tomato on top and it is perfetto!

On to entrees and we wanted to try something different, so I picked the 8 ounce grilled strip loin steak.  My wife opted for the chicken breast filled with ricotta and mushroom, wrapped in prosciutto.

I wanted to try the steak to get a sense of something a little different than I might otherwise order.  Our waiter also mentioned the steak as being a good choice, so I went with it.

Out came a very tender piece of beef that I enjoyed.  It was simple, but I liked the Barolo reduction and thought it was a good choice.  It was also on the small side, which I did not mind since I wanted to sample lots of food.

I also ordered the traditional meat lasagna because I have had it at other Giovanni's Tables and enjoyed it.

Sure enough, this lasagna was equally as good and as someone that enjoys a lot of sauce with his lasagna, this did not disappoint.

The chicken was incredibly moist and tasty and my wife really enjoyed the contrast between the chicken and the prosciutto.  She said this was something she would definitely order again.

Alas, no meal at Giovanni's Table is complete without a visit to the dessert cart.  Luckily, after all this food, the dessert cart comes to you.

We tried the canoli and chocolate cake, both of which were incredibly rich and even better than they look in these photos.

Overall

Giovanni's Table offers some tasty and satisfying Italian food that I think most guests will really enjoy. If you like Italian food, it is hard to go wrong with eating at Giovanni's Table. 

What Giovanni's Table lacks in "WOW factor", it makes up for in an enjoyable meal experience.  The view of the ocean combined with a wide selection of Italian dishes makes for a great spot for a meal away from the usual.

I really think Giovanni's Table is a great choice for lunch, perhaps even more so than dinner.  The reason is for lunch, the cost is only $15 and I think guests will find the menu offerings a nice change of pace compared to what is available for lunch elsewhere on the ship.

It is also not difficult to get a table at Giovanni's Table, especially given the large size of its restaurant.  Royal Caribbean encourages reservations, but if on a whim you decide to try Giovanni's Table, I think you will find there to be a table open for you.

Giovanni's Table is open for lunch 12:00pm to 1:30pm and open for dinner 5:30pm to 9:30pm and we reviewed Giovanni's Table on Freedom of the Seas.

Restaurant Review: Sabor Modern Mexican on Freedom of the Seas

In:
18Aug2015

If you have read this blog at length, you may know that I am a really big fan of Sabor Modern Mexican specialty restaurant.  

Ever since Royal Caribbean first added it to Navigator of the Seas and I had my first taste of homemade guacamole and first sip of hand crafted margaritas, I was hooked.

Since then, to my pleasure, Royal Caribbean has added Sabor Modern Mexican to a number of cruise ships, including Freedom of the Seas as part of a refurbishment that occurred in early 2015.

While on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, I just had to eat at Sabor and enjoy it again. 

Will my love for Sabor Modern Mexican continue and can this restaurant continue to win me over with amazing food and drink?  Let's find out!

Atmosphere

Sabor Modern Mexican is located on deck 4 of Freedom of the Seas, in the spot where the night club once existed and across the hall from the Schooner Bar.

Much like Navigator of the Seas, Sabor Modern Mexican on Freedom of the Seas is nearly identical in look and layout.  You will find lots of browns, reds and oranges that accentuate a modern restaurant look and feel.

Sabor Modern Mexican definitely does not look like a typical Mexican restaurant found in the United States, with sombreros, art involving mules and mariachi band music playing.  Instead, Sabor Modern Mexican has the kind of vibe that you are in a hip new restaurant that opened in a city close to you and if not for the food, there is not a whole lot here that says Mexican simply by looking at it.

The restaurant is laid out in a sort of rectangle, with a set of tables in the center and tables and booths around the edges.  It is not a large space but it can comfortable fit a lot of guests inside.

Inside Sabor, you will find a lot of colorful flowers and woods.  There is also a larger table near the entrance for bigger groups.  Recently, Royal Caribbean has been adding one large table near the entrance that has the most interesting decor.  Perhaps that is an indication to bring more friends with you!

Eats

On Freedom of the Seas, we elected to eat at Sabor twice.  Frankly, I am surprised it was not more than that.  

Sabor is open for lunch on sea days and dinner on every evening.  There are slight menu differences, with the lunch menu offering a couple less options than dinner but otherwise the experience is indistinguishable.  For the purpose of this review, we will refer to both experiences interchangeably unless otherwise important to note.

After being seated, your server will welcome you with menus and offer you chips and salsa as well as the option of having a bowl of guacamole made in front of you.  

The guacamole is made via a portable cart that has all the ingredients.  Guests can tell the waiter how spicy (or un-spicy) the guacamole should be and if there are any ingredients you want less or more of.  

It is quite interesting to watch the guacamole be made and in just minutes, your guac will be ready for you to eat.  In my opinion, this is the best guacamole I have ever eaten and I could easily come to eat the guacamole and chips alone.  I was very happy to find the guacamole on Freedom of the Seas lived up to the expectations I had from Navigator of the Seas!

For beverages, guests may order from a variety of drinks.  All beverages beyond water have an extra charge to them unless you happen to have a qualifying beverage package.

We opted first to try the handcrafted margaritas. Just like the guacamole, a different cart is brought to your table to have the drinks made for you.

 There are only two margaritas (sweet and spice margarita and Sabor Grand margarita) that are brought to your table to be made in front of you, while the rest are made at the bar.  

Being that we enjoy a show, we opted for the handcrafted margaritas (when in Rome, err... Mexico City, right?).

Watching the margaritas being made was enjoyable and tasting them was even better.  The drinks are large and have some fantastic flavor that certainly masks the alcohol inside.  

Sweet & Spice Margarita and the Sabor Grand Margarita

Simply perfect margarita & Jalapeno-Cucumber Margarita

The Sweet and Spice margarita is quite interesting because it tastes sweet as you drink it, but after you swallow, you get a spicy kick to it.  Very interesting!

I also wanted to try one of the tequila flights available, after a friend recommended it.  There are two tequila flights to choose from: the vertical tequila flight and the horizontal tequila flight.

Do not ask me what the difference is but the horizontal flight is slightly more expensive and comes highly recommended by our waiter.  I went with the horizontal flight!

The flight offers three tequilas to try: Don Julio Reposado, Sauza Hornitos Reposado, Corazón Reposado.  

I am no tequila expert, but I can say that each was very smooth and certainly puts you in the right mood to enjoy a meal!

Moving onto the food (assuming you have not filled up on chips and guac yet), the menu has a mix of appetizers and entrees but they are intermixed.  Our waiter (hi Juan) knew which to bring out when but feel free to order whatever sounds good.

At lunch, we started out with the queso fundido and sopa de tortilla.  

Both appetizers were great and I think my wife and I enjoyed both a lot.  

It is worth noting that many of the dishes are on the small side, so it is a good idea to order more than you might ordinarily order at a restaurant.

Our entrees were the tres quesos quesadillas and the chicken and roasted corn empanada.

The quesadilla features melted Monterey Jack, queso fresco and Chihuahua cheeses.  If cheese is your thing, this is your meal.  My wife recommends dipping the quesadilla into the queso for maximum cheese levels!

The empanadas had good flavor to them but I found them to be a little dry.  I compensated by dipping the empanadas in the salsa and guacamole and it tasted a lot better.

For my dinner appetizer, I tried the Tuna Crudo, 3 crispy corn tortillas, fresh tuna, salsa mexicana, guacamole.  

My friends, this was one of the best things I ate over the course of the entire cruise and when I come back next time, I may just order a few servings of this. It was really outstanding!

Keeping with my change of pace, I also ordered a different entree at dinner and went with the pan-seared red snapper.

Had I not filled up on guacamole, chips, tuna crudo, guacamole, margaritas and guacamole, I might have enjoyed this a bit more but the red snapper was very, very good.  It tasted wonderful and was cooked to perfection.

There are also side orders to be had and in both lunch and dinner, our waiter simply brought us all of them.  

Yucca barrel fries, Mexican rice, calabacitas and Mexican beans are available to try.  They all looked good and I sampled some of it but I was so full by this point that I did not eat much.

If by some miracle you have room in your stomach left, the desserts are really phenomenal.

Just like the accompaniments, the desserts are served family style on a large plate and are described as "Mexican inspired mini-desserts".

My wife still dreams about the churros and chocolate banana empanadas.  

Overall

I have to say eating at Sabor Modern Mexican on Freedom of the Seas lived up to and exceeded my expectations.

I love the mix of freshly made food combined with plenty of choices.  I feel like there is a good mix of traditional Mexican favorites (tacos, quesadillas, etc) and some new choices. 

The guacamole, chips and salsa are supreme and I really considered a few times paying the cover charge again simply to dine on them along with perhaps a few drinks.

If you are going to try a margarita, go for the ones made at your table and my friend was definitely right about ordering the tequila flights.  Both will set the right tone for the meal (and likely well into your evening).

Looking at the cost, lunch comes in at $15 and dinner at $25.  I really feel both prices are well worth it and there is not much of a difference between the two to say one is better than the other.  If you want to save some money, go for lunch.

Sabor Modern Mexican still lives up to the lofty heights I have in my mind and it is without a doubt a restaurant I would recommend trying and then going back again (and again) for on your next cruise on Freedom of the Seas.

Sabor Modern Mexican is open for lunch on sea days between noon - 1:30 p.m. and dinner every night between 5:30 p.m.- 9:30 p.m. for dinner. We reviewed Sabor Modern Mexican aboard Freedom of the Seas.

Guest Review: Sabor Taqueria & Tequila Bar on Oasis of the Seas

In:
21May2015

Our good friend, Michael Poole, is back to share with us his review of Sabor Taqueria & Tequila Bar​ specialty restaurant from Oasis of the Seas.  Yum!

A year ago Royal Caribbean created a new restaurant called Sabor Modern Mexican onboard Navigator of The Seas.  This was a new concept to the fleet to cater the Texas market, since the Navigator sailed out of Galveston, Texas.  If you want to compare the two styles here is a review on the Modern style.  

When Oasis of the Seas went into dry dock in fall 2014, they removed Seafood Shack, and added Sabor Taqueria & Tequila Bar.

Atmosphere

Located on deck 6 of Oasis of the Seas, Sabor is featured on their Boardwalk deck.  This is an open-air deck, with mostly catering to children with a few things for the adults also. 

The restaurant is full of bright colors, with a lot of pink, yellow, and blue.

When you arrive to the restaurant you will notice open-air style restaurant, almost like you would find on the beach in Mexico. There is air-conditioning, but since it’s open to the boardwalk, it can get a little mild in there at times. 

The dress code is casual, as this is a fun alternate specialty dining option.

Eats

To me, the most important part of any Mexican meal is the guacamole, and at Sabor’s they make it table-side! That’s right, they actually role a cart over to the table, full of ingredients to make fresh guacamole. 

Before they start preparing the side, they will ask you if you like it mild, a little spicy, or spicy.  We always went with the mild option so everyone could enjoy. 

For the main course, they offer a dinner tasting menu, which is a great value if you are really hungry.  This includes the guacamole, small plate, main course, and desert for $19 per person.  We always order everything a la carte, and shared everything between the group. 

Okay I should probably shift gears now and talk about the good stuff, the margaritas. They have five signature margaritas at Sabor’s on the Oasis, and unlike the Navigator’s Sabor, they are all included in the unlimited alcohol package $12 threshold. 

The two I would recommend is Sweet and Spicy and The Grand, both are made fresh with Patron tequila.  I preferred The Grand Margarita, as it was their classic cocktail.  They don’t make the cocktails tableside like on Navigator, but that’s okay it’s a casual meal.  

Moving back to the food, the menu does not have a lot of options, almost like a preview menu.  They had a few taco options, small plates, and quesadilla’s.  They did have a three main course options, but no one ever ordered, as we preferred to order more smaller option’s and share. 

Starting out with the chicken quesadilla, to me this was a great option, but nothing that really wow me.  You could definitely tell how fresh it was made, but I’d recommend the tacos for more flavor.

The Barbacoa and Pork Carnita were amazing taco’s that came out with a trio of sides to prepare the taco’s.  The amount of food you get here for $5, is worth the visit, even if it’s for lunch. 

Overall

Sabor on Oasis of the Seas is a fun and casual dining option. If you are seeking something a little more romantic or dressy, I’d recommend something in Central Park. 

I should probably tell you now that I actually ate at Sabor three times during my cruise - day 1 for dinner, day 2 for lunch, and day 7 dinner.  I really enjoyed the quality of the food here, the service was always outstanding and for the price, why not! 

Our average bill was around $7-$10 per person when we ate here, since our drinks were included the premium alcohol package. 

I certainly hope they roll Sabor across more of ships during their future dry docks.  Most recently Allure of the Seas and Freedom of The Seas have added Sabor and Harmony of The Seas should be getting one too.

Restaurant Review: Chops Grille on Quantum of the Seas

In:
18May2015

Royal Caribbean has filled its Quantum-class cruise ships with a slew of specialty restaurant choices and among them is Royal Caribbean's flagship specialty restaurant, Chops Grille. 

Chops Grille has been a fan favorite choice for years and on Quantum of the Seas, we took the opportunity to see if this Royal Caribbean classic holds up on its newest class of ships.

On Quantum of the Seas, the restaurant features an updated menu that offers what you would likely find at any great American steakhouse on land.  There's a mix of choices that have been staples of the restaurant along with some new choices, most notably dry-aged steaks.  Dry-aged steaks are aged for nearly four weeks to enhance the flavor, tenderness and aroma.  Royal Caribbean is particularly proud to be offering dry-aged steaks first at sea and it's a tremendous addition.

Atmosphere

Chops Grille is located in the aft section of deck 5, near the Schooner Bar.  Despite being onboard the ship for a few days at the time we dined here, I still found myself wondering where exactly it was located.  Odds are you will not be passing it by often as you walk around the ship (unlike Jamie's Italian or Wonderland) but once you look it up on a map, it's simple enough to find.

If you've been to any other Chops Grille on other Royal Caribbean ships, you will likely feel right at home at Chops Grille on Quantum of the Seas.  The restaurant's familiar use of browns, reds and yellows give the restaurant an "earth tone" decor.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the Chops Grille on Quantum of the Seas to be more well-lit than other restaurants I've been to.

Chops Grille has never had much of a real theme other than looking like a nice steakhouse.  You will find a large room with tables in the center and booths on the edges.  There's some good use of steel or aluminum lighting that seem like they were borrowed from American Icon Grill that give Chops Grille on Quantum of the Seas a little different touch.

For Royal Caribbean fans that been dining at Chops Grille for years, this restaurant will feel a lot like others you have been to.

Eats

Once you are seated, you will be served pretzel bread and butter, which is pretty darn tasty.  It's the kind of bread that you will eat more of it than you probably like because pretzel bread, when done well, is a tasty treat.

The menu at Chops Grille offers a wide selection of appetizers and for your entrees, there's plenty to choose from too.  

To start with, I opted for a Chops Grille classic: French onion soup. A microcosm of the difference between a specialty restaurant and the complimentary restaurant can be found in this soup.  At the Grande, there's a French onion soup served but the one at Chops Grille is far superior because of the ingredients used.  At Chops Grille, there's more cheese, thicker cut of onion and in general it just tastes better.

French onion soup at Chops Grille

French onion soup at The Grande

We also ordered a few appetizers to share at the table, such as the charred beef carpaccio and crab and shrimp cake.  Both were tasty and light choices that we enjoyed.

I mentioned earlier there are a lot of entrees to choose from but considering Chops Grille is a steakhouse, I feel obligated to choose a steak. Since updating Chops Grille's menu, Royal Caribbean offers a number of dry-aged steaks that have an extra cost in addition to other steaks that are included with the price of the restaurant.

I tried the dry-aged steak when I was on Navigator of the Seas and I'll be honest and say I really could not tell much of a difference between the dry-aged steaks and a less expensive steak.  Personally, my palette can appreciate a steak up to a certain level and after that, they all taste the same.  Clearly, I am not a connoisseur of steaks by any means.

We both decided to order from the regular steak menu.  I went with the "petite" New York Strip Steak (6oz) and my table mate opted for the "petite" filet mignon (6oz).

Both steaks tasted great and my only regret is I ordered too little steak.  I went with the petite cut because I always left the restaurant feeling stuffed but not the case this time!

I think we both agreed the steaks were great and by far it's the best cut of beef we had onboard the ship.  

The hidden gem of any Chops Grille visit are the sides. There side dishes are designed to be shared among the people at your table and they are generally really, really good.  So good that I leave some room for them because at my first few visits years ago, I would stuff myself before realizing the sides are so darn good.

We ordered gruyere cheese tater tots, roasted mushrooms, mashed potatoes and grilled jumbo asparagus.  All were quite good except for the tater tots.  The cheese gave it a very odd texture and next time I will go with the french fries instead.  

For dessert, I always order the same thing at Chops Grille and for good reason.  The red velvet cake is something I always pick and I've never been disappointed with it.   On this visit, the cake was as good as I remembered and I can continue to recommend it as a great choice.

Overall

The reason I go to Chops Grille on almost every Royal Caribbean cruise I go on is because of how consistently good it is.  Some restaurants are a bit of a gamble in the sense that they can be hit or miss but Chops Grille has been always a good experience and on Quantum of the Seas, it's more of the same.

If you have dined at Chops Grille many times as well, you will find Chops Grille to be a familiar choice and very similar to other Chops Grille restaurants across the fleet.  If you're new to Royal Caribbean, Chops Grille is a solid choice for anyone that wants a really good specialty restaurant experience.  Great food, good service and a moderate cost are what you will find at Chops Grille.

There's many online that will debate the merits of the dry-aged steaks on the menu and if they are worth it.  If you want to sample the very best steaks out there, there's no question dry-aged are in style and perfect for you.  But if you just want a good steak without the additional cost, the steaks included on the menu will do you just fine.

I think on my next trip to Chops Grille, I will sample some non-steak choices just to mix things up.  

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