Specialty Restaurants

Rita's Cantina becomes Rita's Crabshack on Radiance of the Seas

In:
31May2014

Royal Caribbean is testing coverting Mexican specialty restaurant Rita's Cantina into a new seafood restaurant called Rita's Crabshack on Radiance of the Seas during her Alaska cruise season.

Photo by robbalvey

The newly converted Rita's Crabshack is located in the Windjammer area where Rita's Cantina used to be and offers guests fresh seafood such as Alaskan King crab, chowder, fish & chips and crab cakes.  

There's also Alaskan craft beer from Alaskan Brewery Company.

Photo by robbalvey

RIta's Crabshack is open for dinner and priced a la carte.

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: 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.

Restaurant Review: Chops Grille on Navigator of the Seas

In:
24Feb2014

Chops Grille on Navigator of the Seas isn't new to the ship but since the ship emerged from drydock in February 2014, they were the first ship to debut a brand new menu that if successful will be rolled out to the entire fleet.  We took it upon ourselves to try out the new menu to evaluate it for all of you (it's a tough job, but someone has to do it!).

A little background first, Chops Grille has been renamed, "Chops Grille: The New American Steakhouse" and is decribed as marrying "contemporary flair to traditional steakhouse offerings".  What this means is Royal Caribbean wanted to match what land based steak restaurants are doing with adding dry-aged steaks to the menu.

Like Sabor Modern Mexican, this new change is part of a larger effort by Royal Caribbean's new head of food operations to bring more contemporary food choices to the cruise line.   And also like Sabor, Royal Caribbean is using Navigator of the Seas as a test for how guests react and if positive enough, will roll the changes out to other ships in the fleet.

Atmosphere

The location and general decor of Chops Grille remains the typical dark wood with reds and gold you may be used to seeing at Chops.  

The restaurant on Navigator of the Seas has two distinct rooms that are connected, the first room is rectangular in shape and is what you see when you walk in, with a circular room attached to the end of the first room.

There was not much, if anything, noticeable that changed here since the refurbishment.  I can only assume the chairs or tables have been updated but it looked like the typical Chops Grille experience.

There is one wall of Chops Grille that is made up of glass that overlooks the ocean, but because it's night, the glare of the lights inside the restaurants makes seeing outside virtually impossible.  

Eats

The menu at Chops Grille is where the changes have really occurred and aside from the dry-aged steaks, there have been minor menu changes.  

We noticed some entrees and appetizers have been removed or changed.  As an example, there used to be two options for the filet mignon (6oz and 8oz) and now there is just one.  Most of the signature favorites remain on the menu.

There are some new options to the menu such as the Veal Chop Parmesan, slow broiled with caramelized shallots and topped with parmesan herb butter, a Slow-braised Short Rib of Beef with Bordelaise sauce, and a Dry-aged Steak Burger served on a brioche bun and topped with melted gruyere and pancetta.

The big change is the addition of the dry-aged steaks. There are two new premium selections, a 16 Oz. dry-aged NY Strip Steak and a 20 Oz. dry-aged Porterhouse Steak (an additional $18 and $19 respectively), each USDA prime beef, dry-aged for four weeks to achieve the pinnacle of flavor, tenderness and aroma.

Royal Caribbean is touting the fact it is the first cruise line to offer dry-aged steaks to its guests.

There are also new sides added to the menu, Truffled French Fries and Gruyere Cheese Tater Tots

Also new is the bread you are served when you are first seated.  Now you get a pretzel bread roll with spread (the salted butter spread appears gone).  Being a fan of pretzel bread, I liked the change and as far as I know, it's the only place onboard the ship to get pretzel bread.

For appetizers, I started out with two favorites from previous trips to Chops Grille: the charred beef carpaccio and french onion soup.

The beef carpaccio is very delicately sliced beef that you literally have to scrape off the plate to eat.  You certainly won't fill up eating this but it's mighty tasty and it's something I seem to always try.

The french onion soup is always a good choice at Chops Grille too, especially when you compare it to the french onion soup offered one of the nights in the main dining room.  It doesn't taste like soup that came from a vat, and the baked cheese that sticks to the side of the bowl is just perfect.  

My wife opted for the crispy goat cheese salad, something new to her, and found it good as well.  I prefer my goat cheese au natural (not fried) but I sampled a few bites and found it a good salad choice overall.

For the entrees, I felt obligated to try the dry-aged steak to see what the big deal was all about. For those unaware, dry-aged steaks is the process of hanging the meats and letting time and microbes do their magic to enhance the flavor of the beef.  

Dry-aging beef takes time, usually 21-28 days, and as a result costs more money because the restaurant ties up cash in inventory that’s just sitting around, losing water weight and literally shrinking.  The benefit is the flavors get concentrated, similar to how a reducing sauce becomes richer.  It's become a big fad among steakhouses these days and Royal Caribbean wanted in on the action.

It will cost you extra to try the dry-aged steaks, about another $20 to be exact.  So your $35 meal jumps to $55 for just one person, but you are getting an opportunity to sample arguably one of the best cuts of steak at sea and when you factor in the appetizers and desserts you also get for the price, it's still not a bad deal overall.

I chose the dry-aged NY strip steak and as you might imagine it tasted really good.  Sometimes when I order steak I get halfway through and start to feel "steak fatigue", but this cut was quite good and I really enjoyed the whole thing.  

I'm by no means a steak expert or someone who knows steak well enough to really know if the extra cost was worth it but I figure if you are going to order steak, go with their best choice.  It certainly among the better steaks I've ever eaten.

My wife, far less adventurous than me, stuck with her tried and true filet mignon.  She reported it tasting as good as ever and that's one thing I really enjoy about Chops.  It's a very consistent experience and one place you can count on for an excellent meal.

As I mentioned earlier, there were two new sides and we ordered both the tater tots and fries, along with mushrooms.  The tater tots weren't as good as they sounded but the truffle fries made up for the difference.  The mushrooms were great as always and remains one of my favorite sides at Chops Grille to have with my steak.


 

Dessert was next and of course I felt so full by this point, like I do every time I eat at Chops.  Nonetheless, we ordered some dessert to try.  

My wife wanted to order just the fresh baked cookies but our waiter actually warned her to order something else too.  He didn't say the cookies were bad by any means, but that they were not nearly as good as some of the other dessert options.

The cookies were better than what you could get anywhere else on the ship but the waiter was correct in that they were not overly special.

I went with my tried-and-true red velvet cake.  There had been rumors it was removed from the menu but it was available, although it did seem smaller and with less frosting than other red velvet cakes I've had at Chops.  Nonetheless, it's hard to go wrong with red velvet cake and I enjoyed it.

My wife ultimately chose the huckleberry cheesecake, which the waiter reported was not only new to the menu but also quite popular.  What I liked about it was the huckleberries were not baked into the cake, but just adorned on top.  Once again, the waiter was right that this is a great choice for dessert.

Overall

This visit to Chops Grille was about evaluating the new menu and seeing if this is something we think Royal Caribbean should expand to other ships and I think the answer is a definite yes.  I think the new menu offers quite a bit of choices that do not cost extra but for steak lovers, the dry-aged steaks are a real treat.

For me it came down to the cost of paying extra to eat at Chops Grille to begin with and then adding more cost for the dry-aged steaks.  Considering a very good steak on land would likely cost around $50 alone, it's still a good value overall considering you get your other food with it.  

For Royal Caribbean, it will come down to how many people opt for the dry-aged steaks versus do not and if there are enough people ordering them, then perhaps we will see this option on other ships soon.

Otherwise, eating at Chops Grille was a treat and as good as any other Chops Grille I've dined at.  

Restaurant Review: Sabor Modern Mexican on Navigator of the Seas

In:
18Feb2014

The newest specialty restaurant to be added to Royal Caribbean's fleet is Sabor Modern Mexican, described as a contemporary twist on traditional Mexican food. 

Sabor first debuted on Navigator of the Seas in February 2014 and we had a chance to try her our to see what exactly "modern Mexican food" really is.  The short answer is it means amazing food.

Atmosphere

Located on deck 4 of Navigator of the Seas, Sabor is in the former Dungeon nightclub.  Unlike any of the other specialty restaurants on Navigator of the Seas, there are no windows to the sea so its a dark establishment with lots of red, yellow and brown colors around you.

It looks like the designers wanted a chic look, so the decor in Sabor is definitely not like your favorite Tex-Mex place down the street.  No maracas, sombreros or cactus' here.

When you walk into Sabor, you will see the restaurant is divided length wise by a divider, with the section farthest from you the longest.  It's not a giant restaurant but certainly not the smallest specialty restaurant either. 

The modern look is what Sabor emphasizes and we found the atmosphere eating in Sabor to be like that of a new restaurant that opened up that everyone is talking about.

Eats

Once you're seated in Sabor, you get the usual menu but one of the complimentary things you will receive is guacamole made right at your table.  

A waiter brings a cart of ingredients around the restaurant and stops eat each table to explain how guacamole is made and shows you as he/she does it right in front of you.

The output is some of the best guacamole I've ever eaten.  Combined with the chips that are also freshly made (I could see the oil on them from the creation process), it's really quite tasty.  

Part of what Sabor tries to do with modern Mexican food is to make sure everything you order is made fresh.  There's a large emphasis placed on how fresh the food is and any foodie will tell you fresh food always tastes the best.

There's also freshly made salsa available as well that is complimentary and it too was quite good.  I'm a salsa fanatic and for me, there is no such thing as too much salsa.  The salsa I sampled was terrific and like the guacamole, some of the best I've ever had perhaps.

Speaking of food made at your table, Sabor also features two margaritas that if ordered can be created at your table as well for $12 each. There's a margarita cart that will come around to create either the sweet and spice margarita or the Sabor Grand Margarita. 

There are a number of other margaritas available, although they are not made at your table.  Just like the guacamole cart, the margarita waiter explains how the drink is created and pours it for you on the spot. Once again, a very tasty margarita albeit an expensive one.

Sabor also features a number of tequilas and tequila flights to choose and if you enjoy a good tequila, there's no question this is the place onboard your Royal Caribbean ship to sample one.  Unfortunately there isn't a way to have a tequila or three without going to the restaurant and paying the cover charge.

Moving onto the food, there's a lot to choose from the menu.  Like most specialty restaurants on Royal Caribbean ships, you can choose as many dishes as you care to order.

The menu offers some traditional Mexican items like tacos and burritos as well as "platos fuertes", which are more authentic Mexican fare.

Assuming you did not fill up on the guacamole and salsa earlier, there are a number of appetizers to consider.  We tried the Queso Fundido, Oaxacan Ceviche of Red Snapper and Sopa de Tortilla.

The queso fundido is your typical cheese dip with a myriad of vegetables mixed into a block of Mexican cheese that is melted down.  Perfect for dipping chips in, the queso was above average what you may find at a Moe's or Chevy's.  

The ceviche was a small serving of fish and fruit and once again, you could taste the freshness of both.  It was light and quite tasty. I think it's a good sign when the reviewer finishes the entire dish alone, and this was the case with the ceviche.

Also unusual was the tortilla soup.  I've had a lot of tortilla soup in my day and this was by far not your typical tortilla soup.  

I felt it was more like Mexican minestrone soup to some degree but aside from its appearance, it was really quite tasty.  It was one of those dishes that is so different than what I'm used to that it's hard to compare but the bottom line is it was good.

By the time you get to your entrees, you might be getting full.  We had to force ourselves to stop eating the guacamole and salsa to save room for our main courses.

Our waiter recommended the chicken and roasted corn empanada and give that I wanted to try something other than a taco, this sounded great. 

The empanadas are fried chicken and corn in a green mole and peanut sauce.  The menu says spicy but I didn't find it spicy at all.  A little kick but nothing I'd warn anyone about.

The empanadas reminded me of a Spring roll that you might find at a Chinese or Thai restaurant.  It was a small dish and definitely something different than what I've ever had. Still, it was quite good and with a little leftover salsa that I put on top, I found this to be really good.

My wife ordered the tres quesos quesadilla, which came out just like she wanted.  I found them a little bland on their own but when dipped in the provided salsa (or dip it in the guacamole), it was a big hit.

Of course there are also side dishes that are really meant to be shared family style with everyone at the table.  

Yuca fries were interesting, reminding me a lot of plantains.  The calabacitas (zucchinim roasted poblano pepper corn, black beans) sounded better than they tasted.  I was trying to be adventurous but I think simple Mexican rice would have been a better choice.

Did we mention dessert yet? If you manage to save room, the good news is Sabor made the dessert ordering decision for you because each table gets an assortment of desserts to share.

I think the shared dessert idea is great because most often in my experience, desserts are something you want to share and something you rarely finish on your own.  Everyone raved about the chocolate banana empanadas, which I enjoyed too despite my aversion to cooked bananas.

Overall

Let me be blunt: Sabor was my best meal I've ever had on a Royal Caribbean cruise. Period.

The quality and taste of the food blew us away and I think it's going to be a massive hit.  In just the two cruises Sabor has been open, the staff at Sabor reported they've been busy every night with customers and I think it makes perfect sense.

The cost is $25 per person, and I've read plenty of people who think it's too high for Mexican.  I think you can easily get your moneys worth and if I had to pick a Royal Caribbean specialty restaurant to eat at tonight, it would be Sabor. The freshly made food really stands out and the quality of the food was impressive.

Sabor is one of the initiatives of Royal Caribbean's new head of food and it along with the new Chops menu is part of the new wave of restaurant choices coming to ships.  If Sabor does well, you can expect it to be added to other Royal Caribbean ships, most notably Quantum of the Seas.

I was quite impressed with my meal at Sabor and for the rest of the cruise, we wished there was an option to eat at Sabor for just the guacamole and chips or the drinks.  To me that says a lot when you want to go back again that quickly.

Sabor Modern Mexican is open for dinner between 6:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m. and we reviewed Sabor Modern Mexican aboard Navigator of the Seas.

Navigator of the Seas to get new Sabor Modern Mexican specialty restaurant

In:
28Dec2013

Royal Caribbean isn't done adding new things to Navigator of the Seas before she enters drydock next week for her refurbishment.  New Navigator of the Seas deck plans show she will get a new specialty restaurant called, "Sabor Modern Mexican".

The Mexican restaurant is a departure from Royal Caribbean's previous Mexican specialty restaurant that first debuted on Allure of the Seas, Rita's Cantina.  

The new restaurant will be located on deck 4, where The Dungeon night club used to be.

The new restaurant addition comes with this description about why the cruise line opted to develop a new offering, "Royal Caribbean International is furthering its commitment to total guest satisfaction by introducing a new specialty restaurant on Navigator of the Seas®.  Sabor Modern Mexican provides guests an opportunity to enjoy creative yet recognizable modern Mexican cuisine and beverages with polished casual service in a contemporary setting."

The cover charge for this new specialty restaurant is expected to be $25 per person.

The addition of Sabor Modern Mexican is another unique upgrade coming only to Navigator of the Seas first, including virtual balconies and a WiFi networking upgrade.

Navigator of the Seas will begin a month long refurbishment in January 2014 to receive upgrades and amenities that will breathe new life into the ship.  Her first cruise back will be on February 5, 2014.  Royal Caribbean Blog will provide live coverage of her first week long cruise after refurbishment on February 9, 2014.

Restaurant Review: Chops Grille on Jewel of the Seas

In:
03Oct2013

Chops Grille is an iconic Royal Caribbean specialty restaurant and is consistantly a restaurant Royal Caribbean fans flock to on every cruise they take.

So when our cruise on Jewel of the Seas came around and we had just one night to check out a specialty restaurant, everyone in our group picked Chops Grille and so we gave it a try (again).

Atmosphere

On Jewel of the Seas, Chops Grille is located on deck 6 near the Schooner Bar.  Walking in, you will find a restaurant that looks like the Chops Grille on other Royal Caribbean ships.  Dark woods complimented by lighter brown and beige colors in a large room of tables of various sizes.  Because of the restaurant's required dress code, you will find the restaurant with a more upscale look than other places on the ship.

Something we noticed immediately as we walked in was the noise.  Not from the restaurant, but from outside at the Schooner Bar.  Our reservation was at 8:30pm (the latest reservation possible) and the Schooner Bar was playing their music quite loudly.  So loud that it came right into the restaurant and since Chops Grille keeps its doors open when in operation, it was easy to hear the music inside the restaurant.  We asked for a table much further inside the restaurant and there was less noise but you could still hear the bass as well as cheers from the bar. 

I mentioned the noise factor to our waiter, who seemed to agree with me but kind of shrugged it off as just something that they can do about it.  She was sympathetic about it but mentioned that's just how it is.

Unlike our experience at Chops Grille on Freedom of the Seas, the entire restaurant was in one large room.  One wall is made up of glass that overlooks the ocean, but because it's night, the glare of the lights inside the restaurants makes seeing outside virtually impossible.  Perhaps someone sitting at the window might be able to see something if they peered against the glass directly but I can't comment on that.

Eats

The menu at Chops Grille is pretty simple and I think that's part of why it's so consistantly good.  Bread is served to you upon being seated with two spreads.  Starting with the appetizers, there's a lot to choose from.  Our group of 4 chose the Asian-Inspired Spicy Tuna, Not So Traditional Caesar Salar, Oyster Duet and Cheese N' Onion Soup. 

Three of us got the Spicy Tuna, which was more of a tartare than say thin slices of tuna.  From a consistancy basis, some might not love it but I found it very tasty (I have yet to find a tuna appetizer I have not loved).  The wasabi and chips that accompany the tuna were great compliments and as someone who loves sushi, this was right up my alley.

Next I had the Cheese N' Onion soup, which is essentially french onion soup.  I commented to my tablemates was certainly not something out of a can and or me, the first sign of a good soup is determining that it was infact made from scratch and this one certainly fit the bill.  I thought it was good at the time but I didn't get a real appreciation for it until later in the cruise when they had French Onion Soup on the menu in the main dining room and I could see (and taste) the difference.  

The oyster duet was also quite tasty and a nice choice for seafood fans.  It's also not a typical steakhouse appetizer, which was nice to see as a choice.  The oysters tasted fresh and since there were no side effects health wise later on, we deemed it a good appetizer as well.

Lastly, the Caesar salad is, well, massive and came across as good.  My wife had the Caesar salad at dinner every night in the main dining room and commented this Casear salad from Chops was definitely better.

Now was time for entrees and not surprisingly, we all opted for steaks.  If you recall from my Freedom of the Seas Chops Grille experience, the waitress talked me out of getting the New York Strip steak because of complaints from other guests. So this time I once again tried to order the New York Strip and succeeded.  I found the strip steak to be quite good, albeit not as flavorful as say the porterhouse.  That being said, I found the strip steak to be a much more manageable cut of meat and part of my reasoning for ordering the strip instead of the porterhouse was to not eat so much steak that I could not enjoy the sides.  Overall I liked the strip steak and found very little fat on it.

Our table ordered two filet mignon steaks, which were both cooked to perfect and as tender as steak gets.   The girls loved it and for anyone unsure of what to order at Chops, I'd recommend the filet because it's consistantly the best cut available and the safest bet.  I should mention my wife ordered her steak with bleu cheese on top, which is not standard.

The porterhouse was as big as expected and a really juicy cut of meat.  The porterhouse offers arguably the best flavor but does have a fair amount of fat to cut around.  Having had the porterhouse on Freedom, I was okay not having it this time but next time I might just order the porterhouse and only eat what I feel like (although I have yet to actually leave food on my plate in Chops Grille).

From our last trip to Chops Grille, we knew about how great the sides are here and so we made sure leave plenty of room for them.  We ordered the mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes with prioscutto and parmesan and the broccolini.  I really think the side dishes are the hidden gem of Chops Grille so leave plenty of room for them.  The roasted potatoes were probably the best of the sides, with the melted parmesan cheese on top mixing with the soft potatoes.  

As good as the entrees were, the desserts at Chops are also really good.  All over the restaurant we saw tables ordering the crème brûlée, which was noticable because the dish came out of the kitchen on fire.  From my last visit I remember the red velvet cake so I had to get that.  

The crème brûlée was good, but the red velvet cake was just as good as I remember.  Frankly, the cake part is just fine but it's the icing that is amazing.  I'm sure it's the pure sugar combined with some sort of animal fat that makes it so tasty, but if I ever need a food to eat before the apocolypse, this is a strong contender.

Overall

What I like about Chops Grille is the consistancy and on Jewel of the Seas, it was another solid meal.  The price per person is $30 is a bit pricey but if you need one night out for dinner, then it's hard to go wrong at Chops Grille.  And given the amount of food you get for the money, it's still a good value.

In terms of the food offered it's good steakhouse food and if you like a good steak, then this is the place to eat onboard.  Given the uninspiring steaks offered in the main dining room, there isn't much choice really for anyone looking for a good steak dinner.  The ambiance, despite the noise factor, also make it one of the better romantic places on Jewel of the Seas.

In short, Chops Grille is a great choice for a specialty restaurant meal on Jewel of the Seas, despite the price and noise outside the restaurant.  The food holds up and even across Royal Caribbean's fleet, Chops Grille is too consistant to worry about having an off night.

Pages