Restaurant Review

Guest Review: Jamie's Italian on Quantum of the Seas

In:
05Mar2015

Check out this wonderful review by our good friends Don & Heidi from EatSleepCruise! They had the chance to check out Jamie's Italian on Quantum of the Seas and I can't wait to try it myself. Enjoy!

Quantum of the Seas has a variety of specialty restaurant options that cannot be found on other ships. On the last night of our 8 night sailing, we had pre-booked reservations to try one of these new establishments, Jamie’s Italian.

Created by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, this restaurant offers modern, Italian cuisine in a funky, casual atmosphere. The restaurant is a slight departure from other specialty Italian restaurants found on Royal Caribbean ships, including the family-style Giovanni’s Table and the slightly more upscale Portofino’s.

Still, Jamie’s Italian, which is open for lunch and dinner, served some amazingly fresh food that was worth the modest upcharge.

Atmosphere

Located on Deck 5, Jamie’s Italian restaurant is a very welcoming space, nestled in the Via next to the beautiful Waves of Light Sculpture. Jamie’s Italian offers an up close view of this artwork with some “al fresco” style seats that are open to the area. While we did not dine in this area, many cruisers who choose to eat at Jamie’s Italian do opt for these tables that offer amazing views of the Via and plenty of people watching.

Inside Jamie’s, you feel as though you have entered a very modern kitchen. Similar to something you would expect from a restaurant in a major metropolitan area, the décor in Jamie’s Italian is a mix-match of colors and textures. Doses of bright, vibrant colors and different shaped furniture give the restaurant a casual, yet contemporary feel.

Plenty of Jamie Oliver’s cook books are on display and televisions throughout the venue regularly show segments form the chef’s television appearances. Neither of these decorative elements are distractions as they blend well into the overall restaurant layout and theming.

Dining Experience

Ambiance aside, the main star of this restaurant is the food.

With a menu that features a mix of warm and cold starters including the signature planks, pasta dishes, and meat based entrees, there is certainly something for everyone here. Given that we were here on the last night of our 8 night cruise, we had already sampled a vast array of great dishes at the four complimentary restaurants as well as a few of the other specialty restaurants. Still, we made it a point to sample as much of the cuisine as we could reasonably fit into our already expanding waistlines.

Our waiter was from Northern Italy and was very friendly and knowledgeable about the menu. Many of his recommendations were right on point, and we were glad we listened to him. Overall, the service was excellent, and the staff was very attentive.

We started dinner off with a few of the signature cocktails on the menu. I tried the Gennaro’s Sidecar, as I am a fan of sidecars to begin with, and the wife opted for the Rossini, a bubbly and fruity cocktail that was sweet enough for her tastes.

Before we even had a chance to examine the dinner menu, the waiter brought over a basket of bread which offered a nice selection, including crusty Italian bread, focaccia, and bread-sticks, served with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dipping sauce.

We were debating whether we should order one of the planks, as many of the tables around us had them and they looked unbelievable, but instead we decided to try out some of the warm appetizers.

Growing up in Rhode Island, one of my favorite starters is fried calamari. Although, it is one dish I have never had on a cruise ship. I was pleasantly surprised when the waiter brought out a generous portion of light, crispy squid cooked to perfection, definitely fresh and made to order. Honestly, it was some of the best calamari I have ever had on land or sea.

The wife opted for a different starter as she is not much of a seafood fan. She tried the Arancini Margherita, which are deep fried risotto balls with mozzarella. They came covered in tomato sauce.

Even though the order only came with three, I was forced to eat one of them, with which I gladly complied. Similar to the calamari, this was a classic Italian-American starter that was made just right.

The appetizers were plenty filling, but there were still so many dishes left to try. On the recommendation from our waiter, we decided to order a pasta dish to split along with our entrees.

Our selection was the Penne Pomodoro, which came with a light sauce and was just the right amount for us to each have a taste of this homemade pasta as a side dish to our main course.

The wife, who is a picky eater, went with the only chicken dish on the menu, the Chicken Al Mattone, grilled chicken seasoned with garlic and rosemary.

It was not exactly what she was expecting as the cut of chicken was not all white meat, included a bone, and was topped with a glaze that was a bit greasy.

On the other hand, I ordered the Lamb Chops Scottadito, which was definitely the best lamb I had all cruise. It was a good serving size and had a nice grilled flavor. The dish was not necessarily what I think of when I think Italian food, but I am very glad I ordered it.

To add to the gluttony, our waiter also brought out some polenta chips. These were more like home fries, nicely textured and topped with rich Parmesan cheese. Not the healthiest side dish, but definitely a great addition to any dinner.

When I think about Italian food, besides pasta, dessert is the next thing that comes to mind. But, Jamie’s Italian actually does not have many traditional Italian desserts. 

So, we decided to order the tiramisu and the Epic Homemade Brownie. Of course, slightly melted vanilla ice cream paired perfectly with a warm brownie is always a good option.

On the other hand, we were warned by our waiter about the tiramisu, and he was right. It had a different texture than expected and an orange flavor. It was definitely a departure from the classic Italian treat.

Summary

Jamie’s Italian offers some great Italian classics with modern twists in a lively environment. The starters were authentic, and the homemade pasta was rich and delicious. The entrees were solid, and the side dish of polenta chips was an amazing accompaniment. While the dessert was a little disappointing, we should have listened to our waiter’s suggestion and tried something other than the tiramisu. The service at Jamie’s was among the best service we received all week on the ship. On our next sailing on Anthem of the Seas, we have reservations at Jamie’s Italian and will definitely make sure to sample more of the menu.

Jamie’s Italian can be found on the Quantum of the Seas and the Anthem of the Seas and offers Rustic, Italian food with a casual dress code. There is an upcharge of $15 for lunch and $25 for dinner. Reservations can be made prior to cruising on the Cruise Planner or while onboard.

Restaurant Review: Silk on Quantum of the Seas

In:
24Dec2014

On Royal Caribbean's brand new Quantum of the Seas, you will find the complimentary restaurant Silk that offers a variety of Asian dishes.

Silk offers Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese and Indian dishes in one restaurant.  Being a lover of Asian food, I had to try this on my recent Quantum of the Seas cruise.

Atmosphere

Located on deck 4 on Quantum of the Seas, Silk is located in the aft of the ship across from American Icon Grill.  Walking into Silk is a lot like walking into the other three complimentary restaurants where there is a large foyer that leads into a larger dining room.  

Silk's look encompasses a lot of yellows, oranges and browns in color in a restaurant that has touches of India and the Far East.  When you walk in, you'll definitely know it's an Asian restaurant but without being able to pin point which kind, and that's definitely what Royal Caribbean was going for.

The main dining area is a large room with smaller alcoves on the sides that offer mostly tables and a few booths as well.  Once you dine in any of the complimentary dining rooms, you will start noticing the similar layouts but the decorations and color scheme help keep each from feeling like a copy of the other.

Eats

Once you're seated in Silk, you will get the menu to choose from. There's food from India, China, Thailand and Vietnam but it felt like it greatly skewed towards Thai and Chinese moreso than others.

I was seated at a table with other passengers and we all decided to order one of each of the appetizers to try, which is a great option for the group.  In the middle of the table is a lazy susan that you can put dishes on and share them easily with others.

Each of the appetizers were just large enough to probably be able to share with another person.  For our group, it was great to be able to share these dishes and many of them lent themselves for sharing.  

The big winners were the Vietnamese Tacos, Hot Ramen Noodle soup and chicken wings.  I especially liked the green papaya salad, which was a surprise hit.  I just found myself getting more and more of it.  

When it comes to Asian food, some people are concerned about the food being too spicey.  Most of the food was pretty tame in terms of spice and the dishes are more Americanized versions of these dishes rather than authentic recreations.  You can also tell the wait staff to keep it mild when you order.

For dinner, I had to go with the only Indian dish on the menu, the chicken tikka masala.  I'm a self-described Indian food nut and I always sample a lot of Indian food in the Windjammer when I get the chance.

Sadly, the chicken tikka masala was the only Indian dish on the meny on the evening I was there so it was an easy choice for me.

I really liked my choice because it was a good curried chicken dish that had soft pieces of chicken in a great curry.  The coconut jasmine rice was wonderful with the curry (you have to mix the rice with the curry to really appreciate it) and I ate every single morsel of food off that plate.

The other passengers I was dining with had mixed reactions to their main dishes.  I don't think anyone hated their food, but they weren't favorites.  

Overall

I was a little disappointed in my meal at Silk, perhaps because I had such high expectations for it.  If it were up to me, I'd eat nothing but Asian food at home so hearing about a dedicated Asian restaurant on Quantum of the Seas got me excited.

There were definitely a few dishes that were quite good but I left Silk with the knowledge this wouldn't be my favorite restaurant onboard.

My issues aside, I still think I'd be fine eating here on another night, it just wasn't the home run I was hoping for.  Silk offers a mix of good and average dishes.  Since it's complimentary, I'd suggest over ordering so you can sample a little of everything and figure out what you really enjoy.

Restaurant Review: The Grande on Quantum of the Seas

In:
09Dec2014

Today we are taking a closer look at the restaurant on Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas where it's formal night, every night, The Grande.

The Grande is one of five complimentary sit down restaurants aboard Quantum of the Seas and it's a throwback to the classic days of cruising where everyone is dressed up and the food matches the elegance of the dress.

The Grande is open for dinner and I had a chance to check it out for myself to see what it's like to have formal night on a ship that did away with formal night.

Atmosphere

Walking into The Grande, the look and feel of the restaurant is exactly what you might expect to find in a restaurant where getting dressed up is a must.

There's lots of whites with simple, yet elegant designs on the furniture, walls and tables.  The restaurant evokes a sense of classiness that I think most people expect when they hear about a restaurant that is formal.

Unlike the other complimentary restaurants for dinner, The Grande requires its guests to be dressed up. Royal Caribbean does note that Smart Casual dress code is acceptable on embarkation day but other days, it's formal.

For fans of getting dressed up for dinner, the Grande is your restaurant and you can get dressed up as many nights as you want when you dine here.

Eats

Like the upscale dress, the menu at The Grande is about traditionally fancy foods.  You will find escargot, bisques, and cuts of meat that are typically found at upscale restaurants.

When you are seated, you are served small baguettes along with butter.  Whereas in the American Icon Grill there were rolls, at the Grande we are moving up to higher end bread.

For appetizers, I started with two choices I had come to really enjoy on Royal Caribbean ships: beef carpaaccio and escargots.

I found both dishes to be just as good as I rememberd on other ships.  The carpaaccio was so thinly sliced that you could not even pick it up with a fork, but had to scrape it off the plate.  

Royal Caribbeans fans will know that escargot was hard to find on many ships due to a worldwide shortage (who knew!) but it was readily available on Quantum of the Seas and with the bread an absolute delight.

Moving onto my entree, I opted for the eggplant Napoleon, which is a combination of Ratatouille and eggplant parmesan.  

This was the kind of entree I could have had another serving to enjoy.  The eggplant was not breaded and together with the goat cheese fondue, tomatoes and spinach created a very vibrant taste.  

Overall

I think of all the complimentary restaurants I ate at on Quantum of the Seas, The Grande was my favorite.  

The dishes served at The Grande are traditional and going with what's known to work I believe is a good angle.

It should be noted The Grande does serve Lobster Tail every night.  I do not eat lobster but I know there are those that always looked forward to "lobster night" on Royal Caribbean cruises and so this is the place for you.  In fact, this is the strength of Dynamic Dining.  Rather than lobster tail just once per cruise, you can now have it every night.

The dress code was not a problem for me because I always enjoyed dressing up for dinner to begin with.  It's not to say you must wear a tuxedo or formal ball gown to eat here.  Rather, a collared shirt and nice pants with appropriate shoes will get you in for men.  Women can opt for a cocktail dress or something equivalent and satisfy the requirements.

I came away impressed with The Grande because of the particularly tasty food, much of which will be familiar to fans of the main dining room on other Royal Caribbean ships.

Restaurant Review: Wonderland

In:
20Nov2014

I can't think of any restaurant openings on a Royal Caribbean ship I was looking forward to more than Wonderland.  Ever since I saw a preview of it at the Quantum of the Seas dining reveal earlier in the year, the concept fascinated me.

When the opportunity to check out this new restaurant on Quantum of the Seas came to me, I jumped at the chance with great enthusiasm.

Part of the Dynamic Dining endeavor, Wonderland is open for dinner and here's my first hand look through the looking glass at this new dining concept.

Atmosphere

Wonderland is a brand new specialty restaurant on Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas that hass loosely based its decor and atmosphere after the Alice in Wonderland tales.

Located on deck 5 on the upper deck of the Royal Esplanade, Wonderland is hard to miss given its location and over-the-top decor.

Outside you will find odd props and statues that look like they are fresh off a movie set.   Inside, you will find an intimate space filled with chairs that don't match any other chair at the table, chandeliers, candelabras and glasses and cups that are so bizzare if you saw it in a store, you'd wonder who would actually buy that.

The restaurant feels like it's straight out of the scene from the 1951 Disney film, where the Mad Hatter invites Alice to tea.  Essentially, the restaurant is purposefully designed to evoke a "I don't know what to expect" reaction from its guests.

The servers in the restaurant all dress the part too, with velvet jackets and multi-colored outfits.  

Eats

The slogan for Wonderland is, "imaginative cuisine" and you will quickly discover why when you dine here.

As you are seated, each person is given an easel with a blank menu and a paintbrush.  

The waiter instructs you to dip the paintbrush in water and then paint the canvas with your brush to reveal your menu.  As you paint, the menu appears magically and you can see what's offered.

The menu isn't conventional either.  You will find the menu divided up by elements (sun, ice, fire, sea and earth) and pretty much everything on the menu is not something you would ever have seen on a menu at home.  

Most of the menu items are what I'd consider appropriate for adventurous eaters.  As you will see later, the food served isn't crazy by any means but it's not burgers and pasta either.

We dined in a group of nine and the waiter suggested ordering for us and we agreed.  Looking at the menu, it was tough to really know what we were ordering so why not just try a little of everything?

Appetizers came out first and each appetizer was served with a different pizzazz than the last.  Buffalo chicken eggs, slow cooked baby beets, liquid manzanilla olives are just a few of what we ate and I can't say any are my favorite new dishes but seeing them and then trying them was an adventure in of itself.

The two appetizers that surprised me were the beets and hard boiled eggs. If asked, I'd say I don't care for either but at Wonderland they were impressive and tasty.  

The entrees did not disappoint either.  Most of the servings are on the small side, so you should order multiple entrees and appetizers per person to be safe.  

My favorite was the terroir beef, which I believe was one of the best slow-cooked beef dishes I've ever had (sorry mom)!  The halibut was quite good too and everyone else at the table really liked the Cuban pork shank.

Wonderland's desserts were truly wonderful and we all sampled a little of everything.  The yogurt pops and baked Alaska were the kind of desserts I'd have if the Earth was about to explode and I didn't care about gaining weight.

Overall

Eating at Wonderland was a great experience because of how odd the place is from a decor and presentation standpoint.  The food was good, maybe not the best I've ever eaten on a Royal Caribbean cruise, but definitely met my expectations.

I think Wonderland is the kind of restaurant you have to experience for yourself at least once.  I'm not sure it will become the kind of restaurant like Chops Grill or Izumi, where I'd want to dine there multiple times per sailing.  

I love the concept of Wonderland and I think it will resonate with cruisers who want to try something different.  If you are cruising in a group, this is definitely the place to go and I'd advise sharing everything to sample it all.  I can definitely say it's a one-of-a-kind experience.

Wonderland is open for dinner and we reviewed Wonderland aboard Quantum of the Seas.

Restaurant Review: American Icon Grill on Quantum of the Seas

In:
17Nov2014

Today, we are taking in breakfast and dinner at Royal Caribbean's brand new Dynamic Dining restaurant, American Icon Grill aboard Quantum of the Seas.

American Icon Grill is one of five complimentary sit down restaurants aboard Quantum of the Seas and as the name implies, it serves up American comfort food that were handpicked from a variety of local favorites across the country.

American Icon Grill is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and we had a chance to try it out for breakfast and dinner.  Let's see how this new restaurant concept stacks up.

Atmosphere

American Icon Grill is located on deck 4, in the rear of the ship.  In fact, four of the complimentary restaurants are stacked on top of each other between decks 3 and 4.

The entrance to American Icon Grill is a glitzy walkway that features a lot of lights, mirrors and glass.  It's bright and reminded me of a hip restaurant you might find in a large city.

Despite the fact the restaurant is just one of many onboard that replace the main dining room, it's rather large.  It can handle 430 guests and on my visit, it was perhaps half full.

With all the complimentary restaurants, you will be asked if being seated with other passengers is okay.  On my visit, I managed to get a table alone but I certainly would not have minded the company.

Eats

The menu at American Icon Grill is the same throughout your cruise and each meal has its own special menu.

We will start this review with breakfast and then move onto dinner.  

Eating breakfast in American Icon Grill reminded me very much of breakfast in the main dining room on every other Royal Caribbean ship.  In fact, the menu was nearly identical, with an assortment of eggs, pancakes, french toast and other basic breakfast foods.

I opted for the french toast, which was exactly like the french toast I was used to on other ships' main dining room.

I did enjoy the french toast and found it to be soft and tasty.  The truth about breakfast on Quantum of the Seas, and all Royal Caribbean ships, is the menu is pretty similar every morning.  You dine at American Icon Grill because you prefer to be seated and have your food brought to you, as opposed to dining in the Windjammer which has essentially the same offerings but you must serve yourself.

At dinner, the menu opens up considerably and there's more than just what you can find upstairs.

At dinner, you are served an assortment of bread rolls.  I asked about the sourdough rolls and savory bites you typically found in the old main dining room, but they do not seem to be available here.

I did not want to fill up on bread but I did try the cornbread muffins, which were really moist and tasty.

My waiter suggested the New England Clam Chowder, and I happily took him up on that suggestion.  I'm no soup expert but I think I can tell the difference between soup that is fresh made and soup that comes out of can and this soup was definitely not born in a metal container.

I also sampled another appetizer, the Reuben Turnovers.  I had tried these earlier this year at another Royal Caribbean media event when Dynamic Dining was announced and loved it so I had to have the real thing.  

I'm a big Reuben fan to begin with and these are pastries filled with pastrami and cheese on a bed of sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing.  This is what I hope heaven serves as appetizers because they were stupendous.  I am a Reuben fanboy but I do believe these little bad boys are quite good.

I also decided to try one of the signature cocktails American Icon Grill offers in what they call The New Southern.  It tasted quite good, but I'm not sure it's my new favorite drink.  But then again, what I love about cruises is trying new food and drinks!

Back to the food, it was time for my entree and I went with what any self-respecting American would choose: a burger.  This was the dry aged steak burger, which sounded perfect to me.

This burger hit the spot, as it was juicy and had a lot of flavor with a nice toasted bun on top.  I also liked the pickles they served with it, which made the perfect topping.  

Not to be overlooked, the french fries have a parmesan garnish on top that reminded me of the fries one would get at Chops Grill.  I really enjoyed this choice.

Overall

I was surprised by American Icon Grill because of all the complimentary restaurants on Quantum of the Seas, I was looking forward to the others so much more that I overlooked this one. 

American Icon Grill had great tasting food across its menu, especially for dinner.  

After eating at American Icon Grill, I came to the conclusion it's like the last heir of the main dining room.  Breakfast (and lunch) are similar experiences to the main dining room and the food at dinner while more varied than what the main dining room offered, still felt like a similar experience. 

When I return to Quantum of the Seas in March, I will definitely be re-evaluating my dining strategy to include more stops here because I really enjoyed what I had.  We haven't reviewed the other complimentary restaurants yet on this blog but when we do, you will see that American Icon Grill stands out as a winner.

Guest Review: Chef's Table on Oasis of the Seas

In:
19May2014

Please welcome back guest blogger Marc Schwartz as he shares with us his review of the Chef's Table on Oasis of the Seas.

Background

My wife, Dianna, and I were on the Oasis of the Seas for the second time in March of 2014. This was our seventh cruise on RCI and our third on the Oasis class.

As I noted in a prior review, we have come to enjoy specialty dining on board the ships, especially the Oasis class, given the flexibility and the variety of options. We now rarely eat in the main dining room as a result and did so only once on this most recent cruise. We also recently started to eat more casual and relaxing dinners in the Windjammer and were surprised to see just how many people do so. If you have not eaten dinner in the Windjammer, bring along a bottle of wine and give it a try! Presumably, the dining pattern that we have evolved to over the past few cruises is becoming sufficiently popular that it is the underlying motivation for RCI to implement the new Dynamic Dining program coming on the Quantum class ships. It will be interesting to see how that program evolves in time.

The Chef’s Table

As with 150 Central Park, the Chef’s Table provides for an upscale dining experience, along with an included wine pairing. This was our third dinner at the Chef’s Table and as with our prior experiences, was excellent. We also had a pleasant surprise…

The service charge for dinner at the Chef’s Table, as of this writing, is $85 per person, including gratuities. That may sound expensive, but consider that you are getting a unique and excellent five-course meal accompanied by multiple full glass pours of specially selected wines with each course. Don’t hesitate to ask for a refill if you find that you really like some of the wines. There was never any hesitancy by the staff to do this. You also get a staff signed copy of RCI’s 176 page, full color, hard cover, coffee table book, “Carte Du Jour, The Restaurants of Royal Caribbean International”, which provides pictures, recipes and other great information on RCI dining. The retail price of the book is normally $34.95.

The dinner atmosphere, as noted, is upscale and dress is recommended to be “smart casual” or better. We have observed a variety of dress during our meals, from business casual, to suits, to formal wear. I would also strongly urge that you make pre-cruise reservations unless you are doing a specialty dining package, where you may have to wait until you are onboard the ship to make some of the reservations. Given the limited, single seating each evening (up to 14 people), better to plan ahead, if you can.

The Evening Begins

Dining at the Chef’s Table, at least on the Oasis class ships, is a two-part experience. You begin the evening with a pre-dinner reception in the Library on Deck 11 at around 7:15 pm. Here your small group gathers and can enjoy a pre-dinner champagne or perhaps a white wine, if you prefer. The drink is included in the price of dinner. This lasts for about 20 minutes or so, after which you move next door to the Concierge Club, which is normally reserved for Diamond Plus level Crown and Anchor members and suite guests (except JS). The dinner is served on the upper level of the Club at a long table, with a podium type of position at the head of the table for the chef and sommelier, as they speak and present during the evening.

Now for the surprise. If you read my prior review on 150 Central Park from our April 2011 Oasis cruise, you will note that our server that evening was Mladen, from Serbia, who did an excellent job for us that night. Shortly after we arrived at the Library for the Chef’s Table pre-dinner reception, Mladen came in and introduced himself as our sommelier for the evening! It was great to see him again and we had the opportunity throughout the evening and after dinner, to talk to him, recall our prior dinner at 150, get some updates on him and life in general. Even though it had been almost exactly three years, it was as if no time had passed at all. It was wonderful!

Dinner

After we were seated at the table on the upper level of the Concierge Club, we proceeded to introduce ourselves to the additional table mates that we had not spoken with in the Library. It was a diverse group both in terms of age and demographics, including several people from outside the U.S.

Mladen introduced our Table Manager for the evening, Raul and then our Chef for the evening, Pastor. Pastor then provided an overview of the menu for the evening. In advance of each course, Mladen would introduce the wine that was paired with each dish and Pastor would present and describe the ingredients and the preparation processes, some of which are actually started the day before.

We then proceeded with each course, in order:

Confit of Atlantic Salmon with Lobster Tail - Paired with Voignier, Cline 2012

Duo of Soups (Celeriac Cream and Double Duck Consommé) - Paired with Pinot Noir, La Crema, 2012

Seared Diver’s Scallops - Paired with Scramsberg Cremant, Demi-Sec 2008

Slow Roasted Veal Tenderloin - Paired with Nimina Salentein Grande Carte 2011

And finally the dessert:

Caramelized Pear Over Nougat Montelimar Parfait - Paired with Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, Errazuriz 2011

As if the dessert was not enough already, we also got a selection of chocolates and other treats. We were stuffed!

As at 150 previously, the wines were poured using the Il Decantino decanting flask.

We slowly moved through each course and the paired wine, enjoying the conversation with our table mates and the staff. The presentation of each course was very colorful and esthetically pleasing, getting your senses prepared for each. The tastes and textures of the dishes provided a great variety and the wines flowed freely, enhancing the spectrum of flavors experienced.

As is typically the case with today’s upscale dining, the serving sizes were modest, but as I noted above, we were very full by the end of the evening.

As the dinner concluded, we said goodbye to our table mates, hoping that we might see them again during the remainder of the cruise (and we did). We also sang our praises to the staff for the wonderful evening.

Be aware that the Chef’s Table fixed starting time is early enough that you should be able to make late evening activities, such as the 10:30 pm stage shows. Although, you are sufficiently stuffed that you might want to just relax, take a walk and get some fresh air on deck. Based upon our own prior experience, we did not see a show or other scheduled entertainment that evening.

Conclusion

This was a wonderful evening, with terrific food and wine, made even better by great service and attention from the staff and the company of our table mates. Our experience has been consistent over the three cruises where we have done the Chef’s Table and I would have no hesitancy in recommending this specialty dining option at all. Consider the Chef’s Table on your next cruise, if you will be on the Oasis class and RCI is introducing the Chef’s Table experience on other classes as well.

If you want to get a taste for the Chef’s Table on the Oasis class, RCI has a brief YouTube video and interestingly enough, Mladen (in the blue vest) is the sommelier in the video!

Restaurant Review: Johnny Rockets on Navigator of the Seas

In:
13Mar2014

If you've been a reader of this blog for a while, you may know that my last trip to Johnny Rockets on Freedom of the Seas did not go so well.  So when my Navigator of the Seas cruise came around, I was quite content not stopping here if things didn't work out scheduling wise.

A few nights into the cruise, my wife and I were at the main dining room and I was enjoying my meal when I finished my entree and still felt a little hungry.  I then thought about what I wanted and for whatever reason, I started craving a burger.  

I mentioned this notion to my wife who also said she was in the mood for french fries.  So we decided to skip dessert (to the horror of our waiter) and took the elevator straight up to Johnny Rockets.  

I was hoping for a short wait and for the food here to finally redeem itself.

Atmosphere

Johnny Rockets across Royal Caribbean's fleet of cruise ships is pretty much the same look and feel.  Based on the restaurant chain on land, you'll find a vibe to the place, with lots of chrome and red leather.  

The seating is mostly booths, both inside the restaurant and outside.  It was still a little too breezy to eat outside so we opted to remain inside.  There are also stools at the bar that you can sit at, which if there is a wait, you can go right up to and seat yourself.

Johnny Rockets plays music from the 1950's and 1960's primarily and while there are jukeboxes at every booth to pick music from, none of the jukeboxes seemed to actually work.

As we walked into Johnny Rockets at around 9:30 or 10:00pm, there was no wait and just a few people eating.  We chose a booth inside and took a seat.

Eats

Everyone who eats at Johnny Rockets get a plate of french fries and onion rings along with dipping sauces.  You can get as much of this as you want.  Unlike other times, the fries and onion rings tasted freshly made.  No 99% breading, 1% onion in these rings.  And the fries did not taste like they had been under heat lamps all day.

For my wife, who was craving the fries, it hit the spot.  Even I enjoyed a few of these, especially the onion rings.

For our main courses, I wanted a burger but felt a little guilty having a burger after eating dinner so I decided I would order two items and just sample each.  That was the plan anyway.

I ordered the double burger and the chicken sandwich.  A couple of bites of both and I'd be satisfied.

To my delight, both sandwiches came out really, really good.  The burger meat was very moist and had a lot of flavor.  Without realizing it, I had polished off about three quarters of the burger before I decided my "sampling" was done.

The chicken sandwich was also really good and there was no tough, chewy parts of the chicken filet here.  Once more, I ate more of this than I had originally planned.

My wife went with the grilled cheese sandwich as she wanted something lighter than a burger to eat.

Grilled cheese is a pretty simple sandwich and my wife reported it tasted quite good.  The right amount of grilling without burning the bread and not too much cheese in the middle.

It was kind of a shock to me, but we walked away with a satisfying and really good meal at Johnny Rockets!

Overview

I was pleasantly surprised with my experience at Johnny Rockets on Navigator of the Seas.  Not only did it "hit the spot" for my craving, but it also restored my faith in Johnny Rockets on Royal Caribbean cruise ships being a good idea.

Perhaps the Johnny Rockets experience varies from ship to ship and maybe going in the evening improved our chances.  

I know what many of you are thinking, "Matt, how could you not have a milk shake?" and we were so full by the time we got our food that a milk shake was just too much.  And I never doubted the awesomeness of Johnny Rocket's milkshakes because even on my worst Johnny Rockets experiences, the milk shakes remained quite good.

I enjoyed my meal at Johnny Rockets and while I don't think it's somewhere I would go to have dinner, it is a great spot for lunch or late night snacking. Its hours of operation are much later than the main dining room or Windjammer.

Restaurant Review: Comidas Caseras Tonita

In:
10Mar2014

I'm a proponent of "getting out there" and trying local foods when exploring the ports of call Royal Caribbean ships take you to.  To me, eating at a Hard Rock Cafe, Margaritaville or McDonalds while in a foreign port is a wasted opportunity.  So when I went to Cozumel last month while on Navigator of the Seas, I got a chance to go back to my absolute favorite restaurant and see if it holds up.  

Atmosphere

Located a few blocks from the main street of Cozumel, Comidas Caseras Tonita is a family run restaurant that serves up freshly made, authentic Mexican dishes.  

Part of what makes Comidas Caseras Tonita so appealing is just the look of the place.  Walking in, I feel like someone took their dining room and opened it up for the public to come by.  

We had eaten here back in 2011 while on Freedom of the Seas and fell in love.  I think reviewing a restaurant after having such a good experience makes it tougher for the restaurant to do well because expectations are that much higher.

Just like our last trip, none of the people that work at Tonita speak any English.  It's pretty easy, nonetheless, to order but then again we ordered everything off the menu with no special requests.  I suppose if you wanted them to not add salt or put the cheese on the side, you should Google the translation and memorize it prior to eating here.

The cooking is done in the rear of the restaurant with a mother/daughter team (at least, I think they are mother daughter.  Two women and one looks older than the other) that make everything as the order comes in.

Where you are seated is pretty basic, with plastic tables and chairs adorned with a basic tablecloth.  Tonita didn't bother investing in better furnture because, well, it's Mexico and this is pretty good. All around the restaurant are old posters and advertisements for cruise ships and cruise lines (mostly Carnival), reflecting Cozumel's role as a tourist hub.

Eats

Your menu comes in both Spanish and English, which helps in the ordering process since you can look at what you want in English and then refer to what the name of it is in Spanish by looking at the other side of the menu.

Tonita serves up a number of Mexican dishes, including breakfast.  There aren't any descriptions, so it's really up to you to guess as to what exactly the dish will be but I find that kind of fun.  I think most people know they are in the mood for chicken, shrimp or fish so they can order appropriately.

To start off with, we ordered a couple of sodas, which came in glass bottles.  Note that Diet Coke is called Coke Light in Mexico.

For appetizers, we ordered chips, guacamole and salsa.  If you order nothing else, please do yourself a favor and order the guacamole and salsa because they are the best guacamole and sals I've ever eaten and the gold standard I compare everything else to.

Like all the food at Tonita, the guacamole and salsa is made fresh after the order is placed. Nothing out of a can and nothing out of a fridge.  I joked with my wife I should have asked the staff to allow my wife to observe them making it so that she can remember how to do it at home.

A word on the freshness, I think they were out of tomatoes because nothing happened for about 10 minutes until another girl came into the restaurant and delivered a bag of tomatoes (among other food) and only then were the appetizers made.  Wow!

Not to be forgotten, the chips are also freshly made there.  No bagged chips here!

For our entrees, I ordered the fish Mexican style while my wife ordered the grilled chicken.  Because I had so fallen in love with the appetizers on our last visit, my memory of the entrees became somewhat fuzzy so I barely remembered how good anything was.

First up was my Mexican style chicken, which is essentially a grilled white fish cut up into strips and covered in a tomato cilantro blend, served with rice and beans.  

I have no clue what fish they used but it was tender and tasted great.  It didn't taste like fish with tomatoes, but rather something unique on its own (tomato fish?).  I ate every bite.

Remember how I keep mentioning the freshness of the fish?  The table behind us ordered a whole fish and the waitress brought out three uncooked and I presume recently caught fish for the man to choose from. 

My wife's chicken was equally impressive and while it didn't rewrite the book on grilled chicken, I really believe the freshness of the ingredients and the mild spices they used to cook the chicken gave it a little something else.

We also had fresh tortillas to eat our entrees with, which is a great way to enjoy the sides with the food (and I had saved a little salsa and guacamole for it too).

Overall

After my second visit to Comidas Caseras Tonita, I stand by my assertion that it is my favorite Mexican restaurant I have ever been to and the gold standard I hold all other Mexican food against.

The combination of atmosphere, fresh ingredients and euphoria of being on a cruise vacation all made this yet another great meal.  

Also noteworthy was the price because, if memory serves me correctly, I spent $20 for the entire meal, including gratuity.  That is a great deal.

If you are going to Cozumel on a cruise (or for any other reason) and want to have real Mexican food, this is the place to go.  

Location: Calle Rosado Salas 265 between avenidas 10 and 15.

Walking directions: Walk south from the plaza on avenida 5 Sur for 1 block, then turn left on calle Salas and walk east 1 1/2 block and the restaurant will be on your left.

Restaurant Review: Izumi on Navigator of the Seas

In:
04Mar2014

Another brand new specialty restaurant to Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas is Izumi Japanese Cuisine.  For fans of having sushi at sea, this is the place for you to get your fix!

Atmosphere

Izmumi is located all the way up on deck 14 near the Viking Crown Lounge and offers a great view of the ocean and pool deck below.  

The restaurant itself is a blend of reds and blacks and feels like a modern sushi restaurant you may have been to back home.

The layout of the restaurant is somewhat crescent shaped, but it's mostly one large room with a small sushi bar in the back.  Most tables have a view out a window.

Izumi's decor is simple but has the feel of a classy Japanese restaurant. As you are seated, the waiter will bring you a warm towel to refresh yourself with and it helps sets the tone for your experience at Izumi.

Eats

On our Navigator fo the Seas cruise, we sampled the lunch menu, which is an all-sushi menu.  The dinner menu does offer non-sushi Japanese food, so keep that in mind when booking if you prefer more variety in your options.

To start with, Izumi currently offers complimentary edamame (a preparation of baby soybeans in the pod boiled in water together salt, and served whole)  and miso soup.  Both were good but I think the edmame was better.  I found the miso soup to be interesting given the color of the broth, which is usually clear but this was darker.  

The sushi menu at Izumi offers a number of choices to consider.  Another difference between lunch and dinner is at lunch there are no daily special rolls to also consider.  Lunch seems to be a strictly small menu with dinner greatly expanding the offerings.

The choices of sushi rolls range from pedestrian to more elaborate in nature.  Knowing that everyone has different tastes in sushi, I'll say I found the selection to be average.  I wasn't blown away by the variety but it was still on par with most sushi restaurants I've found on land.

I ordered a number of hand rolls during my visit to get a sense of the quality and size of the rolls.  For me, really good sushi will not only have fresh and good tasting fish, but it will also be large in size.  

The signature rolls definitely passed my test for what constitutes good sushi for the good size of each piece and the freshness of the fish. 

I believe there are two comparissons to make, how Izumi compares to land restaurants and how it compares to cruise ship sushi.  

Compared to sushi on land, I'd say Izumi is at least average if not slightly above average.  The traditional rolls were fairly tame (but then again, tuna rolls are hardly anything more than tame) and the signature rolls tasted as good as something I'd expect to find on land.

Compared to cruise line sushi, it blows any sushi I've ever had in the Jade section of the Windjammer out of the water by far.  It certainly held up to my memories of Izumi on Oasis of the Seas and I think Izumi is a great choice for sushi fans who are cruising.

The other good thing about Izumi was the rolls were not only large in size but ample in serving.  Each roll I ordered came with 8 pieces, which is a lot for any sushi roll.

In terms of value, the pricing of Izumi has changed from what you may remember.  Izumi on Navigator of the Seas has dropped the cover charge and simply charges a la carte.  This is good since a cover charge was silly but the price of the rolls were more than I remember on Oasis of the Seas.

Most signature rolls were $10 or more, which isn't cheap for sushi but the traditional rolls were all in the $6-7 range.  I've seen far worse in terms of pricing and the complimentary edamame and miso soup does add back a little bit of value.

Overall

Admittedly, I am a sushi fiend and can't get enough of the stuff so Izumi certainly made me happy while eating there.  I think it's a great place for lunch or even pre-dinner appetizer.  

While the variety of sushi isn't the best I've ever found, I did find what they did make tasted great.  Sushi is as much an art as it is a means of sustenance and Izumi balances this fine line quite well.  

In terms of value, it's about what you would pay for sushi at home from a decent sushi joint, so I think it fits the bill when you want a little Japanese flavor during your cruise. 

Izumi is open for dinner from 6:00pm to 9:30pm and for lunch at noon to 1:30pm.  We reviewed Izumi on Navigator of the Seas.

Restaurant Review: Giovanni's Table on Navigator of the Seas

In:
27Feb2014

Of all the specialty restaurants on Navigator of the Seas, the one that slides in "under the radar" has to be Giovanni's Table and I'm not exactly sure why.

Giovanni's Table serves family-style Italian food and replaced Portofino's as the Italian specialty restaurant onboard Navigator of the Seas in February 2014.  

This is our second time eating at Giovanni's Table, with our first back on Oasis of the Seas in 2010.  I rather enjoyed my meal last time so this time we wanted to try lunch and see how good (or bad) Giovanni's Table is on Navigator of the Seas.

Atmosphere

Giovanni's Table is located on deck 11 near the Windjammer and across from Chops Grille.   As I stated earlier, it was added as part of the ship's refurbishment and I made reservations online as soon as they became available.

When I showed up at 12:30pm for our lunch reservation, I found literally no one else in the restaurant. At the time this was our first specialty restaurant of the cruise so we thought maybe they just weren't popular but later found all the other specialty restaurants onboard packed. 

The space Giovanni's Table occupies is a large rectangular room, with lots of blues and whites. There's no checkerboard red and black stereotypical Italian restaurant decor here, it looks more like its upscale Portofino sister than Sorrento's Pizzeria.

The nice thing about eating lunch at Giovanni's Table is you can see the ocean quite easily.  We were seated at a window table and being able to watch the ocean during our meal was calming and quite beautiful.  

I often point out Chops Grille misses out on having a view since it's only open for dinner and glare from the lights prevents from seeing outside, so it's nice having a view with our meal at Giovanni's Table.

Eats

The menu at Giovanni's Table offers a number of choices, which are all supposed to be family style.  Family style usually means it's a large serving meant to be shared among two or more people.  

Frankly, I found most dishes to be small enough for just one person to enjoy, although I may be a victim of gluttonous American dining standards.  That's in contrast to my time on Oasis of the Seas a few years ago when our meal at Giovanni's Table had much larger serving sizes.  That isn't a bad thing necessarily, just pointing out the difference.

As with many Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants, you can order as much as you like from the menu so we started off with appetizers.

The Caprese salad is always a good choice and we were quite pleased with the freshness of the ingredients.  

I also ordered the baked eggplant parmigiana.   I'm a bit of a connoisseur of eggplant parmigiana, as it's become my go-to Italian dish in recent years.  It wasn't just fried eggplant in sauce with some cheese, rather the eggplant was more lightly fried and then baked in with a combination of a great sauce and light cheese.  I really enjoy it.

Last, but not least, my wife also wanted to sample their Caesar salad.  My wife's ideal Caesar salad is a salad where it's only made up of the dark green lettuce leaves, as opposed to the light green crunchy part.  This salad was about as close to perfection as she's seen in some time in that regard.

For our entrees, I decided to keep it traditional and try their lasagna and meatballs.  First came the lasagna, which is described by Royal Caribbean as a traditional meal lasagna. 

What I liked about the lasagna was that it was topped in meat sauce and a light use of cheese (not the shredded kind).  I feel like lasagna should be more about the meat and pasta and less about the cheese and this hit the nail on the head.

I ordered the meatballs because the waiter mentioned the meatballs as being what the restaurant was known for and I think I read a few other places about the meatballs too. 

Being someone who usually goes for a "When in Rome..." kind of attitude, I ordered the veal meatballs to give it a try.

I will be honest and say I did not love the meatballs, however, I feel that could be because I don't really like veal and not because the meatballs were of poor quality.  

Dessert at Giovanni's Table is offered from the dessert cart (there is no menu, per se).  The waiter brings the cart over and you pick out what you would like.

My wife decided to try the pappardelle pasta in a radicchio cream and pancetta.  It sounded good to her but it was something she had never tried before.

She found the pasta to be interesting and she ate it but different than what she was used to ordering at an Italian restaurant.  I think she liked it overall but noted it was a little more different than she thought it would be.

I was stuffed so I took the chocolate cake to try and it was tasted great, although I chose not to eat more than a bite or two.

My wife sampled the canoli because in her perfect world, after the Caesar salad with only dark green leaves are served, it will be followed by a parade of canolis.  She really enjoy their canoli and gave it a thumbs up.

Overall

Giovanni's Table stood out for us because of the freshness of the food we had.  My pet peeve is food that tastes like it just came out of a microwave but I really felt like what we ordered was prepared at the time and tasted wonderful.

It's also worth noting lunch is only $15 per person, which for what you get is a great value.  Given what you get for the money, it's one of the better deals on Navigator of the Seas and for lunch it was well worth it.

I also need to point out how good our waiter was because my daughter was in a foul mood that day (she needed a nap and was hungry).  Had the restaurant not been empty, I'm sure me or my wife would have brought her back to the stateroom as not to bother the other diners.

Our waiter really went above and beyond by trying to entertain her with tricks, tours of the galley and even letting her sit on the Vespa scooter that is near the entrance.  The little things he did to keep her happy really made our meal enjoyable and stood out as why specialty restaurant waiters are among the best Royal Caribbean has.

I think the food at Giovanni's Table is quite good and if you like Italian food at all, it's hard not to go wrong here.  I won't pretend that the food at Sabor and Chops Grille were tastier, but considering Giovanni's Table is open for lunch whereas the others are not, I think it makes for a perfect choice for lunch.

Giovanni's Table is open for lunch 12:00pm to 3:30pm and open for dinner 6:00pm to 10:00pm and we reviewed Giovanni's Table on Navigator of the Seas.

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