Cruise ships’ vast, multistoried main restaurants, lavish buffets, and casual grills by the pool are key dining staples, but almost every line also offers alternatives for those who want a more upscale meal. These venues usually feature an intimate atmosphere, elegant ambience, and sophisticated menus, not to mention cuisine that rivals the top restaurants on land. Here's my pick of five not to miss:
Crystal Cruises’ Silk Road
One of the best reasons to cruise on Crystal’s Serenity and Symphony, bar none, is the opportunity to dine at Nobu Matsuhisa’s Silk Road Restaurant and Sushi Bar, which offers a fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cooking. Matsuhisa trains the staff (and sometimes imports chefs from other restaurants in his culinary empire), designs the menus, and makes quality checks onboard. Sometimes he’ll actually cruise and host food- and sake-related activities.
Signature dishes: Black cod with miso, Wagyu beef rib eye, sashimi salad, lobster spring roll, and, for dessert, a trio of crème brûlées.
Worth noting: There’s no extra fee to dine at Silk Road (even some select wines and sakes are included in the price), but tables are highly coveted, and reservations are a must. Seats at the sushi bar are first-come, first-served (no reservations), and you can order off the Silk Road menu as well.
Celebrity Cruises’ Qsine
Qsine (pronounced cue-zeen), one of the newer restaurant concepts in cruising, is an odd blend of comfort food with a global and gourmet twist. Served tapas- or family-style, what makes Qsine unforgettable (and a blast besides) is its whimsical ambience: The menu, displayed on iPads, consists of small plates such as the Meatball Trilogy (Kobe with cheddar, veal with mushrooms, and turkey with cranberry); Crunchy Munchies, a mix of fried root vegetables (potato chips, sweet potato strings, crispy parsnips); and Chinese Martinis, or "Chinis," martini glasses filled with orange chicken, Kung Pao shrimp, and other takeout classics. Ordering for the table can take a while as the menu is massive, and the debates about what to choose are often spirited and playful.
Signature dishes: Sushi lollipops, tacos with Black Angus sirloin, grilled Kobe beef sliders, popcorn fish-and-chips, poached tiger shrimp, and beignets for dessert.
Worth noting: Qsine’s cover charge of $40 per person is one of cruising's highest (and it’s still tough to get a reservation). The restaurant is on Celebrity’s Infinity, Millennium, Summit, Eclipse, and Silhouette; it will also be on the line’s newest, Reflection, which debuts this fall.
Disney Cruise Line’s Remy
Ditch the children for the evening at the kids’ club, and dine at adults-only, French-inspired Remy. Elegant and hushed, the restaurant features Frette linens, Riedel stemware, and Christofle silverware — but what you’ll really remember is the food. Two chefs created the menus: Arnaud Lallement from l'Assiette Champenoise, a two-star Michelin restaurant just outside Reims, and Scott Hunnel from award-winning Victoria & Albert's at Walt Disney World Resort. You can opt for the basic menu, which specializes in both meats and seafood, or let the chef prepare a wine-paired dinner.
Signature dishes: Wagyu beef in barbecue sauce, Dover sole amandine, Kurobuta pork tenderloin, cod with chili, scallops Saint Jacques and, for dessert, chocolate fondant.
Worth noting: You can book your reservations before your cruise. On the day you’ll dine there, a sommelier will contact you to help pre-select wines for the meal. The cover charge is $75 per person for the regular menu, and $99 per person for the wine-paired option (neither charge includes the cost of wine or other drinks). The dress code is as formal as the restaurant. Only Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy have Remy onboard.
Holland America’s Tamarind
The pan-Asian Tamarind, which fuses Asian traditions from China to Indonesia, offers two menus. The first is the relatively straightforward sushi and sashimi selection, made fresh. Its main menu groups foods in the categories of water, wood, fire, and earth, reflecting five Chinese elements (the fifth, metal, is used in cooking).
Signature dishes: Glazed sea bass, an Asia-influenced bouillabaisse, five-spice seitan and tempeh, snapper baked in rice paper, Cantonese duck, and, for dessert, a mango soufflé.
Worth noting: The service charge for Tamarind, which is only available on Holland America’s Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam, is $15. This is one of the rare alternative restaurants that is open for lunch (no charge then for a slightly more simplified menu).
Oceania Cruises' Jacques
Jacques, a restaurant steeped in the classic French tradition as interpreted by legendary chef Jacques Pépin, both challenges and comforts your taste buds. The most successful dishes are the French staples; the galley, which Pépin helped design, has its own rotisserie (so steak frites and roast chicken are superb) and its own bakery, where ingredients are sourced solely from France. Other standouts include Escargots Bourguignon en Croute, foie gras, and mussels Marinières. There’s a decadent cheese trolley.
Signature dishes: Pumpkin soup (served in an actual gourd), Lyonnaise sausage and potato salad, sautéed Dover sole, duck confit, and, for dessert, the aforementioned cheese trolley (or Jacques’ apple tart).
Worth noting: Jacques’ restaurant is only onboard Oceania’s Marina and Riviera, its two newest ships, but the cruise line has incorporated many of the eponymous chef’s classics into main dining room menus throughout the four-ship fleet. There’s no service fee to dine here. Plus, Pépin occasionally travels on the ships, and hosts cooking classes onboard and shore excursions to food- and wine-related purveyors while in port.
By Carolyn Spencer Brown, CondeNastTraveler.com
Condé Nast Traveler, founded in 1987, is one of the most trusted names in travel. The magazine was established on a simple yet revolutionary principle: “Truth in Travel.” With the goal of experiencing the world exactly as their readers do, its correspondents travel anonymously and pay their own way — unlike many related publications, which often accept free fares and accommodations. This guiding principle allows for honest, fair reporting on all aspects of the industry — which is why there is no more respected or trusted source than Condé Nast Traveler.
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