In the Minstrel Dining Room -- the ship's main restaurant -- the food was mainly well prepared and nicely presented, and the elegant room, with tables on two levels and gorgeous views of the ship's wake, always had a pleasant buzz. The menus offer several choices of starters, salads and soups, main courses, desserts and cheese (pre-plated, of course). Quality was mixed, and salads seemed the most disappointing items. I only ate there twice, as I splurged on the specialty restaurants on several occasions. What I did try, though, was a decent onion soup, a very bland salad, a tasty piece of white fish with an herb crust and steamed vegetables, and a cheese plate (which, although generous, was over-chilled). Pasta, salmon, chicken breast and steak are on the "always available" list, and the chicken, which I tried, is succulent and tasty. There are also lighter dishes signposted for the health-conscious.
For dinner, passengers can choose between assigned early (6 p.m.) or late (8:30 p.m.) dining or opt for My Time Dining, in which you pick a preferred mealtime (anytime between 6 and 9:30 p.m.). Despite the scheduled times, you can change your reservations on a daily basis or simply walk in when you're hungry. (Note: Those opting for My Time Dining will need to prepay gratuities and may have to wait for tables.) The restaurant is open-seating for everyone at breakfast every day, from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Choose this option if you want waiter service and a wider range of hot dishes, such as waffles, pancakes and omelets. It was shut for lunch except on the sea day, funnelling everybody to the Windjammer buffet.
Romantics may need a little luck to snag a table for two in the evenings, as there weren't many; in fact, a couple of the tables for fixed-dining passengers are huge, accommodating 10, which, on a round table, makes it virtually impossible to talk to anybody except your neighbor. The My Time section upstairs had more tables for two. One of the disadvantages of My Time dining, though, was that we found it very hard to establish any kind of rapport with our waiters. They were polite and efficient, but the banter was missing; perhaps it's only offered by waiters who know they are in for a tip at the end of the cruise. They seemed to be in a hurry, too, which made us feel pressured to rush through the meal.
Another example of this invisible two-tier system is that, on the penultimate night of the cruise, aka tipping night, the waiters did a parade around the dining room while guests waved their napkins in time to the music. But they didn't come into the My Time section.
One complaint about the dining room (and this isn't unique to Brilliance) is that it has no sommelier, and getting advice on wine proved near impossible. We asked (as a test) which Chardonnays were oaky, and after much consultation, our waiter said, "All of them."
The Windjammer Cafe is the main buffet venue on the ship, mainly indoors but with some seating aft on deck. It is open for breakfast (6 a.m. to 11 a.m.), lunch (11:45 a.m. to 3 p.m.), afternoon snacks and informal dinners (from 6:30 p.m.), although if you haven't taken what you want from the buffet by 9 p.m., you miss out, as it's cleared away promptly. Numerous stations serve up burgers, pasta, sweets and salads. One interesting feature is an onsite bar for soda, wine and beer purchases, nice because diners didn't have to wait for waiters, although the wine comes in horrible little airline-style bottles at more than $6 each. Any other wine has to be fetched from the nearest bar and takes time. Freshly squeezed orange juice is on sale at breakfast for $2.50 plus 15 percent gratuity.
The food was generally good for buffet fare. There were some excellent curries in the evenings and a few extra touches, like dim sum on Chinese New Year. Windjammer also has basic 24-hour beverage stations with complimentary coffee, tea and water.
Upstairs from the Windjammer, the small Seaview Cafe also has some outdoor seating and is done up like a shabby-chic beach cafe. The menu is limited to paninis, pasta and pizza (pre-prepared and chewy), but if you want different things, you can always bag a table on deck and carry food up from Windjammer. Seaview is typically open for lunch when the ship is at sea; on port days it opens for late-afternoon snacking and post-dinner munchies. But, when we did an evening tour of Dubai that returned at 9 p.m., the Seaview was the only venue still serving food, and we had to deal with a lot of disgruntled passengers who hadn't really wanted pizza.
Beginning at midday, a counter at one end of the Solarium's bar serves salads and sandwiches, which are displayed under plastic film at the entrance. There are also cakes available in the afternoons.
Brilliance boasts two alternative restaurants, each with a service fee ($20 in Portofino, $30 in Chops Grille). We loved the six-course menus (and the food) at both. You definitely feel like you are in a small, upscale restaurant with really attentive service, and you won't feel rushed like you might in the main dining room.
At the elegant mahogany-styled Chops Grille, choices include a range of steaks (from New York Strip to filet mignon), lamb chops, prime rib, chicken and herb-crusted halibut -- all beautifully prepared. The sides are as good as the mains and include delicious creamed spinach and garlic mushrooms, as well as succotash, bok choy and roast potatoes. You can have as many of these little dishes as you'd like. Cozy twosomes may want to request one of the banquette tables. At Portofino, the Italian restaurant next door, the meal included antipasti, soup, salad, pasta, main course (try the seafood kebab) and dessert. Portofino is an attractive room, with windows all along one side and contemporary art depicting Italian scenes.
Room service is available around the clock. A standard menu features basic offerings like salads, sandwiches, pizza, burgers and a handful of desserts. For breakfast, the more wide-ranging menu includes hot egg dishes, as well as the usual continental fare. At dinner, passengers can order off the main dining room menu. There's a $3.95 service charge for room service between midnight and 5 a.m.