Whether in the main dining room (rather unimaginatively called The Restaurant), in the Terrace Cafe for breakfast, lunch or dinner, or in the intimate and decidedly upscale Le Champagne dinner room (reservations are required for this room and for the nightly theme dinners in the Terrace Cafe), the cuisine is of the highest quality -- the kind of fare you wouldn't mind paying top dollar for ashore.
The options are mind-boggling. Consider, for instance, the following fairly typical dinner menu in The Restaurant. (Since our cruise was to Alaska, there were a lot of Pacific Northwest dishes on tap most days.) The appetizer list comprised an Alaskan king crab cocktail, mozzarella mousse, a fruit cup, and pan-fried veal liver with poached apple and sauteed onions. There were two soups -- prawn and tarragon consomme and mushroom and oyster bouillabaisse -- followed by an arugula and endive salad. A watermelon sorbet was up next and half a dozen main courses after that: monkfish and mussel casserole, grilled filet of beef, roasted kosher chicken, British Columbia wild boar, tomato risotto and the daily vegetarian special of summer lasagna, which consisted of oven roasted pumpkin, sauteed spinach, and parmesan and ricotta cheese.
And the menu was just as exciting at lunch. Here's another selection taken at random from our 10-day cruise: four appetizers (cream cheese and artichoke tart, a tower of marinated crabmeat with sliced avocado, a poached quail egg and caviar, and warm duck confit) and two soups (Maryland corn chowder and chilled pumpkin soup) with a garden salad to follow. There were two sandwiches (a Monte Cristo and a tuna triple decker). And Silversea doesn't even call those items main courses. Under that heading were a Cobb salad, a fisherman's platter, linguini with broccoli, anchovies and peppers, a wok-fried chicken and rice dish, and a slab of roast beef with a baked potato. Desserts were not always as imaginative as they might have been. There was a lot of summer fruit tart, bread pudding, vanilla and rhubarb tart and so on. But they were equally delicious -- and the cheese plate, our particular favorite after dinner, provided an opportunity to sample some truly exotic tastes.
Had the Silver Shadow nothing but a lot of food choices, that would be impressive enough. But that's not all. Not only is there more than ample variety, each dish is superbly prepared by a galley staff headed by South African-born executive chef, Richard Weichbold and professionally served by an attentive international wait staff, heavily European.
If there was a criticism of the ship's food service -- and a small one at that -- it was in the Terrace Cafe's breakfast service procedures. There, passengers could choose from the usual fairly extensive array of dishes: sausages, grilled mushrooms, hash brown potatoes, scrambled eggs and so on. Ordering eggs other than scrambled sometimes involved something of a wait and caused holdups in the food line. That problem could have been greatly minimized by the addition of an eggs/omelet station set apart from the main buffet line. At lunchtime in that same room, a separate pasta station away from the traffic stream worked very well. Why, I wondered, would it not work just as efficiently for egg lovers in the morning? But that was truly a tiny annoyance, an aberration in an otherwise smooth-functioning food operation.
There are a few things to remember about the food and beverage service on Silversea Cruises' four vessels (its original two smaller ships, Silver Cloud and Silver Wind, and its two later-model, bigger creations, Silver Whisper and Silver Shadow). First and foremost, there is no additional charge for any of the alternative dining rooms. Reservations are a must for dinner in the Terrace Cafe and Le Champagne. The Terrance Cafe is included in the cruise fare; it's $30 per passenger to dine in Le Champagne ($25 per person for under 18's).
Secondly, it should be noted, is that open seating is the order of the day. Guests in the main dining room may enter any time between 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. and may request -- as in any restaurant ashore -- a table for two or, if they are accompanied by new (or old) friends, a larger table. It's all very flexible and the staff seldom fails to provide the appropriate seating. The third thing to keep in mind is that alcohol, including wine with meals, is also folded into the cruise price. There are no bar charges to reproach you at the end of the voyage. At least, there need not be. The complimentary wines served in the bars and The Restaurant, all thoughtfully chosen by the ship's head sommelier, Benoit Trey d'Ousteau, were absolutely acceptable to us -- and, it seemed, to most others. Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, a great favorite of many, was available one evening. An excellent Spanish chardonnay (confession: I didn't even know they made chardonnay in Spain) was a pleasant offering on another. An Italian Gavi de Gavi, many U.S. reds and whites, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, rich French reds, and German Piesporter -- all of these and more were liberally served up over the course of the 10 days at lunch and dinner and, presumably, would have been available at the breakfast table had we asked. (We didn't!)
Caveat: You may be required to pay for wine on Silver Shadow if you wish to deviate from the tipple being served on any given evening, or if you wish to upgrade. If, for instance, your palate will tolerate nothing but a deep red, fruit and spice-scented 1994 Napa Valley Dominus Estate, it will cost you $230 a bottle. A French Richebourg Grand Cru Cote de Nuits, 1999 vintage, goes for $600 a bottle and a 1998 Opus One by Robert Mondavi will show up as a $120 charge on your cruise bill. All of these wines, and dozens of others, were to found on what Silversea calls -- for obvious reasons -- its Epicurean Wine List. But, for most people, the wines served from the complimentary list were more than adequate.
Room service is available 24 hours a day. Whenever possible (the hour of the day clearly has a bearing on this) the ship's staff tries to provide food choices as close as possible to those on the menu of the main dining room.