ABOARD the GRAND PRINCESS – Deciding on where to eat the next meal on a cruise ship is a bit like deciding which neighborhood restaurant to eat at back home. There are choices to be made, and onboard the Grand Princess the choices are numerous.
There are two main dining rooms for passengers who like the flexibility of eating anytime within the posted hours. They are on separate decks and appear identical, except for the paintings on the walls. Actually the paintings are reproductions of the respective master artist’s works. The Da Vinci Dining Room, or what I like to call “Lenny’s,” serves breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner. The Michelangelo Dining Room, or “Mick’s” for short, serves only dinner. Menus in both dining rooms, as well as in the Botticelli dining room, are the same.
The Botticelli Dining Room is reserved for traditional diners with seating for early dinner at 5 PM or late seating at 7:30 PM. The décor of this dining room mirrors the other two, but is decorated with reproductions by early Italian Renaissance master, Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, known as Sandro Botticelli.
For buffet aficionados who love food — and plenty of it — there is the Horizon Court with two identical sections on the Lido deck. Both are open during the busiest hours but normally are not overly crowded. Selections for all meals are somewhat limited, although the quality and variety offered is sufficient to satisfy most people’s tastes. Particularly tasty are the freshly baked breads and pastries. Several choices of delicious desserts make deciding on only one quite difficult, so choosing to taste a few at a time often wins out.
New dining venues on the Lido deck — all near the pools — are Slice Pizzeria (pizza by the slice), Coffee & Cones (soft-serve chocolate and vanilla cones are free, but specialty coffees are not), and The Salty Dog Grill.
In addition to regular burgers and fries at the Salty Dog, the “Ernesto Burger” draws serious acclaim. Created by burger expert Ernesto Uchimura, the special burger ($5 charge or $8 with a beer) is ground from prime rib-eye and short rib steak, plus some pork belly, gruyere cheese, caramelized kimchi, jalapeno, and aioli, served on a brioche bun.
Located at the lower level of The Piazza are the International Café and Alfredo’s Pizzeria.
The International Café is a very popular spot where service is usually quite efficient despite a busy location and popularity. The offerings are fresh and the options are changed daily, served by the friendly, enthusiastic staff. Pastries, sandwiches, soups and salads are all at no charge, although specialty coffees available are not.
At Alfredo’s Pizzeria, made-to-order 12-inch pizzas in seven types are hand-tossed, baked in ten minutes, and served at tables in a small alcove open to viewing activity in the Piazza. Wine by the glass is available for purchasing.
Lastly, there are two specialty restaurants requiring reservations, Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria ($25 cover charge) and Crown Grill ($29 cover charge). Another specialty venue, Crab Shack, only serves in a section of Horizon Court on a few sea days during the cruise.
Sabatini’s a la carte menu of the “highest quality Italian cuisine and premium seafood” more than fulfills the expectations of most diners. Cruisers on the Grand Princess — and another few select Princess ships — enjoy a new menu designed by Italian chef Angelo Auriana. Encompassing five courses, a meal at Sabatini’s invites lingering over each course highlighted by main course choices of baked striped bass in a zucchini crust; garlic shrimp with vegetables; lobster prepared three ways; chicken supreme stuffed with eggplant; a 10-ounce strip steak; or roasted veal rack with mushroom ragout.
Jialin and I had the pleasure of dining at the Crown Grill – Premium Seafood and Chop House — on a formal night.
She enjoys a good steak and I rarely eat beef. I maintain that the only beef worth eating is a nice filet mignon.
On a ship with plenty of satisfactory food options, a specialty restaurant that has an additional charge for a meal must go to extra efforts to differentiate itself and display added value. What differentiates the Crown Grill, we believe, is not the “premium aged beef” that is promoted to entice passengers to reserve a meal there. What they do best are the appetizers, soups and salads, and desserts.
There are eight cuts of chops and steaks on the menu, as well as Wisconsin veal, New Zealand lamb, and “Surf & Turf” featuring Maine lobster for an additional $10. On the seafood side are a “mussel and smoked sausage pot,” Chilean sea bass, prawns, and the lobster tail as a separate main course.
Jialin thought the New Zealand double lamb chop that she ordered was satisfactory, but no better than lamb served in the main dining rooms. My filet mignon turned out to be dry and over-cooked. I was offered another one by the waiter and it was only slightly more moist and tender. I had previously had a small filet mignon in the main dining room that I felt was delicious, with no added expense. The question it raised in my mind, consequently, is where is the added value in the Crown Grill?
First, the service in the Crown Grill is excellent. Personal attention is given to each guest that is not possible in the busy, often noisy, main dining rooms.
Second, the appetizers are creatively presented and provide a nice, light touch as a starter. Equally flavorsome were the soups, a shrimp and pancetta bisque for me, and an inventive Black and Blue Onion soup for Jialin (the black is for Jack Daniels whiskey in the broth and the blue is a Roquefort cheese crust melted on top). Mixed salads of greens with roasted bell peppers and avocado with a grape-balsamic dressing for Jialin and marinated goat cheese with baby spinach, beets and basil vinaigrette dressing for me, were perfect.
As the final touch to a leisurely meal lasting nearly two hours, four enticing desserts were offered. As I mentioned previously, the desserts are so good on the Grand Princess that two or more following a meal are nearly obligatory. The executive pastry chef ‘s solution is to provide a sampling of all four: molten Dutch chocolate fudge, lemon meringue pudding tart, seven-layer s’mores stack, and a milk chocolate peanut butter bar with honey roasted peanuts that is so mouthwateringly good that it’s almost a crime.
Yes, a special meal at Crown Grill is a welcome change-of-pace from the other dining venues. But next time I’ll order the sea bass.
Dennis Cox is All Things Cruise Writer and Official Photographer (©Dennis Cox/WorldViews)