As is the case with Oceania's other ships, all of the dining options onboard Riviera are overseen by Jacques Pepin, the line's executive culinary director. One fun twist: Pepin, who made his name with the book "La Technique" (on the fundamentals of French cuisine) and a series of acclaimed PBS TV shows, created his own idea of the perfect restaurant onboard. His namesake dining venue, Jacques, is an energetic, decadent must-see (and eat) restaurant -- and it lacks any of the fussiness you may expect. You can choose from bistro fare like escargot, foie gras, steak frites, cassoulet and Pepin's signature rotisserie meats with a European flair (herb crusted “black foot” roast chicken, garlic marinated veal rack, cider brined pork loin, and prime rib aux poivre). The legendary cheese trolley is a stand-out here and if you have any room for desert, Jacques' apple tart is superb (though every sweet we tried was amazing).
Red Ginger is an Asian fusion restaurant that's another newcomer for Oceania. The ambience is exotic -- with a racy red and black color scheme. The menu is terrific, a something-for-everyone array of selections. To start, there's sushi and tuna tataki, spring rolls and calamari. There are courses for soup (Tom Kha Gai was a favorite -- chicken, coconut milk and lemongrass -- as well as miso), salad (spicy duck and watermelon and Thai beef) before moving on to mains. The lobster pad Thai is a definite hit as are the spiced lamb tenderloin and the miso-glazed seabass.
At the Italian-influenced Toscana, the voluptuous menu is divided into seven categories (not including dessert). They include hot and cold antipasti, soup, pasta, risotto, salad and "secondi" (the Italian word for entree). Particular specialties include lobster risotto, pan-seared sea bass with lemon and capers, and a decadent lasagna. The wine list focuses, naturally, on Italian bottles. One fun feature of Toscana is its olive oil menu (almost as detailed as the wine menu). Ask your waiter to help pair your bread of choice with the right olive oil.
Polo Grill is the ship's steakhouse with classic fare that includes Oysters Rockefeller, whole Maine lobster, lobster bisque, Cobb Salad, and, of course, a wide variety of steaks and chops. Try the King's Cut 32-ounce prime rib (if you dare), New York strip, rib eye, filet mignon and porterhouse. For variety there are other meats -- among them is a grilled rack of lamb, veal chop and pork t-bone. On one visit we created a menu around appetizers (including the foie gras, Maryland crab cakes and escargot), and it was fantastic and filling.
The Kobe burger is also out of this world, and is prepared as follows: "6 oz. Wagyu beef burger with truffle demi-glace and skinny fries with parmesan foam." If, by dessert, you're looking for something "light," try the house-made marshmallows, served in sauces like caramel and chocolate.
All four of Oceania's alternative restaurants are fee-free and are open from 6:30 to 9 p.m. On our Mediterranean voyage, Red Ginger was easily the most in-demand restaurant onboard so make reservations early. In fact, we found it tough to get last-minute reservations at any of the quartet of boutique eateries so plan ahead.
Another specialty option is La Reserve's tasting menu. This seven-course meal, held in the La Reserve by Wine Spectator wine bar, comes in two varieties: Discovery and Exploration. This restaurant levies a fee -- it's $95 plus an 18 percent gratuity -- for seven courses, each paired with a different wine. The offerings are definitely dynamic and unusual; for example, the "Discovery Menu" begins with an amuse bouche of a lobster and mascarpone pancake, accompanied by Champagne Pommery Brut rose, an appetizer of sautéed duck foie gras with a glass of Cervaro Castello della Sala Chardonnay, to the pasta course, a pumpkin ravioli with Novelty Hill Viognier. While the meal was divine, what we really loved about our La Reserve experience is that the restaurant seats only 24 passengers. On Marina, this dinner was one of the few times when we weren't able to choose our tablemates, and it actually proved to be a great opportunity to meet new people and bond with them during the long, multicourse meal.
Perhaps unfairly, the enthusiastic buzz over Oceania's boutique venues obscures its main venue, but we loved every breakfast, lunch and dinner that we had at the Grand Restaurant. With a nice range of table sizes, from two-tops to 10-tops, lining the wall of windows around three sides of the restaurant and with a gorgeous white on white (with touches of earth tones) ambience, it's warm and welcoming. And often it's nearly empty! The Grand's opening hours are 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. for breakfast, 12:30 to 2 p.m. for lunch, and 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. for dinner.
There's always a daily special or two at each meal. Plus, if you're trying to balance your caloric intake, know that the cruise line partners with the famed American spa, Canyon Ranch, and at each meal, there's a Canyon Ranch “balanced section” that makes some prudent suggestions for healthier dining. Plus, at all meals, passengers can request healthy-oriented dishes, from plain and low fat to low sodium and poached.
Consistent with Oceania's passion for food, its breakfast menu will not send you away hungry. We can't think of anything we could want that its menu didn't offer from fresh fruit, stewed fruits and cereals (hot and cold) to eggs, lamb chops and breakfast steak. Also on offer: steamed haddock and broiled kippers, smoked salmon and prosciutto, pancakes (banana to pecan nut), waffles, and French toast.
At lunch, an ever-changing main menu includes starters, soups, a sandwich of the day, and salads, both hearty and light. Hot entrees generally include pasta, fish and meat offerings. There's also a vegetarian menu offering an appetizer, soup and salad, and an “always available” list of choices that range from crudites to chicken consomme to burgers and even hot dogs.
At dinner, a handful of Jacques Pepin's specialties, such as steak frites, roast chicken and poached salmon, are also available. Otherwise the menus, which change daily, offer the same categories as lunch -- with more choices in each and a particularly tempting dessert menu.
Not all the meals onboard Riviera are elaborate ones, but even casual venues, like the Waves Grill, ramp up the concept of pool food. There's a small salad bar, but the real draw at the Waves Grill are the burgers -- six varieties include some interesting choices, like the "romano" (provolone, roasted peppers and pesto), the "packy" (braised short beef with blue cheese) and the "New Yorker" (cheddar cheese and chili). Also available are grilled panini sandwiches and Reubens. If you're looking for the infamous “surf and turf” sandwich -- consisting of lobster medallions, filet mignon and parmesan-dusted truffle fries -- it no longer appears on the Waves Grill menu. The opening hours, from 11:30 to 4 p.m., are particularly convenient to those wanting a late lunch.
Waves does serve breakfast, between 6:30 to 9:30 a.m.
Easily the busiest restaurant, especially at breakfast and lunch, is the Terrace Grill. It's one of the most well-stocked, varied and beautifully arranged buffet venues we've ever seen on a cruise ship, and is set up in stations so there's not too much congestion. At breakfast, there were offerings of cooked-to-order eggs and fruits, yogurts and cereal, and mounds of fresh-baked pastries. Breakfast is served 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.
At lunch, offered noon to 2 p.m. (sometimes it stays open later if a tour is returning just after closing hours), there were areas for hot food, a carving station, a bountiful salad buffet with, fresh fish (such as mussels and shrimp), sushi and desserts. The housemade ice cream, flavors changing each day, was a bit too tempting.
Dinner, reflecting the menu being served at The Grand on Deck 5, is offered between 6:30 to 9 p.m.
If all these options don't please, know that in-cabin service is available around-the-clock. And not to be missed, afternoon tea is served graciously at the Horizons Lounge between 4 to 5 p.m., complete with white linen-clothed tables and classical music.