Norwegian Jade Dining
Grand Pacific and Alizar are Norwegian Jade's two main dining rooms. Open seating breakfast and lunch are offered in one of the two, and both are open for dinner; walk-ins are welcome every evening. Grand Pacific tends to fill up before Alizar; our sense is it's because the former is a larger, more traditional space that may feel familiar to cruisers not used to the Freestyle concept. To avoid disappointment, make reservations if you're looking to eat at a specific time or with a large (or small) party.
Though traditional items like lobster and beef Wellington appear throughout the cruise, the chefs get creative with other items. One night, appetizer choices included eggplant dip and spring rolls, with sweet potato cakes atop a Moroccan chick pea stew as a vegetarian main course. Portions are fairly small (for an American cruise line), so if you are looking for a filling "cruise" meal, definitely order all of the components that interest you -- salad, soup, appetizer and entree, or any combination of those.
There are special menus for kids, as well selections for health-conscious travelers, and a few vegetarian choices. On the "always available" menu, you'll find broiled chicken, sirloin steak and salmon.
Where Jade stands out dining-wise is in its impressive number of specialty venues.
Papa's Italian Kitchen levies a cost of $15. The menu consists of appetizer favorites like caprese salad, soups, fried calamari and Caesar salad. Then, you can create your own pizza and pasta dishes with a variety of toppings and sauces. The Pesto a la Genovese sauce, with basil, parmesan, pecorino, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil is a favorite. Papa's long dark wood bench seating lend to a communal dining vibe.
Dinner at Cagney's Steakhouse costs $25 per person. The meal begins with an appetizer or salad like a crab cake with spicy avocado sauce or a chop salad with about a dozen ingredients including eggs, bacon, onions, avocado and mushrooms. The main courses consist of steaks, veal, pork, seafood and chicken, with a variety of sides (try the Cagney's Fries, with white truffle oil and Parmesan cheese). And save room for dessert; both the Chocolate Obsession and bananas foster are quite titillating.
Moderno Churrascaria ($20) is a Brazilian-style steakhouse that offers about 10 different meats, including lamb chops, filet mignon, sausage and two different types of chicken drumsticks. In addition, diners can choose from options that include international cheeses and dried meats, olives, and pickled and marinated veggies from the restaurant's all-you-can-eat salad bar. They will be served a standard four sides of mashed potatoes, fried bananas, rice and beans.
Jasmine Garden is the ship's Asian fusion complex ($15); you could try a different component every day for three nights. The "main" menu here is nouvelle Chinese, with spring rolls and crispy crab wontons with plum sauce as appetizers, and Szechuan Stir-Fried Lobster Tail (the specialty dish), Lo Mein and Vegetable Chow Fun as mains.
Sushi is sold a la carte, including standard rolls (California, spicy tuna) and specialty rolls (the Dynamite Roll included yellowtail, salmon and green onions); sake is available for purchase.
Teppanyaki is NCL's answer to landside Japanese hibachi restaurants like Benihana. Though it carries a $25 per person surcharge, the food -- and the show -- is worth the splurge (and you can always order double portions). Everyone automatically gets seaweed salad with ginger, garlic fried rice, a shrimp appetizer, vegetables, miso soup, and ginger and mustard dipping sauces. Then you choose from a variety of steak, vegetable, chicken and seafood combinations as a main course. Chefs are happy to honor substitutions; I ordered filet, chicken and shrimp. Mochi Ice Cream (sticky rice with an ice cream center) or Fresh Fruit Sashimi are offered for dessert. Four tables seat up to eight people each in four sittings (5, 6:30, 8 and 9:30 p.m.). You'd think that in a restaurant with 32 seats reservations would be crucial, but come the final seating, following long days in port (and an older demographic that preferred to dine earlier), the place was generally empty.
The French Le Bistro ($25) is the cruise line's signature eatery, predating even the Freestyle Cruising concept. Expect first courses like foie gras, steamed mussels and escargot; and heavy entrees feature lobster, swordfish, steak and lamb. Desserts include creme brulee and chocolate fondue, among other decadent options.
On the other side of the coin are several casual dining options. Blue Lagoon (fee-free), a 24-hour sit-down "diner" overlooking the atrium, offers breakfast similar to what's found in the main dining room (omelets and such), and an all-day menu of "comfort food" including burgers, dogs, chicken nuggets, fish 'n' chips and brownies a la mode.
By the pool, The Grill has breakfast from 7:30 until 10:30 a.m. and serves up hamburgers and hot dogs as a late lunch or anytime snack from noon until 5:30 p.m.
The Garden Cafe, Jade's lido eatery, is open for breakfast from 7 until 11 a.m., and offers hot and cold items, such as pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausages, hash browns, fruit and pastries, as well as an omelet station for made-to-order egg dishes, and a crepe station with your choice of fillings. The morning fresh juice bar is also a nice touch. Mix and match grapefruit, carrot, apple, orange, melon, etc. (additional fee applies). Also great was the multi-faceted cafe latte/cappuccino/espresso maker, available fee-free. For late risers, a breakfast buffet minus the omelet station stays open in Great Outdoors, the Garden Cafe's open-air extension, until 11:30 a.m.
Lunch and dinner are available here as well, all served at staggered stations as opposed to a long line. If it seems confusing or overwhelming, do a walk-through before grabbing your plate, taking stock of what you want to try. Then you'll navigate the stations like a pro. At lunch, expect a sandwich station with deli meats and cheeses, a salad bar, a selection of hot items (pastas, stir fries, Indian food etc.), a carving station, a pizza counter and desserts. Dinner adds tablecloths, some mood lighting, and more hot selections akin to what you'd find on the main dining room menu.
And as on previous NCL ships, we like the line's signature buffet station for tykes. The Kid's Cafe is located in a corner of the Garden Cafe with miniaturized tables and chairs, and kid-friendly foods like chicken nuggets in animal shapes. Confused looking adults were found sitting there on the first few days of the cruise, looking uncomfortably hunched, frowning as they tried to dine.
Finally, room service is available around the clock, including a Continental breakfast and all-day sandwiches and snacks like Buffalo wings. The menu features sandwich, soup and salad options. At dinnertime, you can order off the main dining room menu, and if you are booked in accommodations with a butler, he or she can hook you up with items from Papa's, too, since its galley is close enough for the food to stay warm en route to your cabin.
An electronic system cuts down on lines and wait times in restaurants. Monitors throughout the ship's corridors reveal how busy each eatery is with a bar that ranges from green (come on in) to red (crowded, and you might have to wait). This screen also acts as an electronic hostess, letting cruisers know how long the wait is for a table for two, for example, and where large parties are being accepted.
Our advice, though, is to make all or most of your reservations at the beginning of your voyage -- even for the main dining rooms in which reservations are not required. You can always take your name off the list if you change your mind (note that at for-fee restaurants, a penalty of $5 applies for cancellations made within 24 hours of a reservation). If you truly want to cruise spontaneously and make no concrete plans, you may have better luck getting walk-in seating at your first-choice venue closer to opening or closing time -- those screens get pretty red during the peak dinner hours, generally between 7 and 9 p.m.
Editor's note: With cover charges in all venues, price savvy passengers who want to partake in all the options might consider a dining package, which represent a small savings over the cover prices.