Scenic Emerald Dining
The main dining venue is the Emerald Dining Room, which has windows running down both sides, round and rectangular tables, and a permanent, rectangular buffet in the middle. It's got a modern look with blue, purple and gray chairs mirroring the blue and purple accents in the otherwise black and white carpeting. Four-tops and two-tops are pushed together to form tables of six, and it's pretty easy to sit two couples with no one in the middle. Perhaps because of the multiple dining options, the dining room often seemed partly empty; unusual for a river cruise.
Dining is always open seating, with breakfast served from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., lunch starting between 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. (depending on the day's itinerary and sailing schedule) and dinner at 7 p.m. While breakfast is a show-up-whenever affair, the cruise director on our sailing made a point in one of his daily lectures to remind us that dinner started promptly at 7 p.m., as many passengers had been wandering in after service had begun.
Breakfast and lunch are mainly buffets with a few hot items available for ordering specially off the menu (such as French toast, oatmeal and poached eggs). The breakfast buffet features fruit, cheeses, cereal, yogurt, bread and breakfast pastries, scrambled eggs, potatoes, baked beans, breakfast meats and fish. There's also a made-to-order omelet station and a different smoothie each day.
Lunch typically features a salad bar (with a small variety of veggies and a large assortment of nuts and seeds for toppings) and some premade salads (bean salad or egg salad, for example), sandwich fixings, two soups, a regional specialty (such as Dutch meatballs or fresh oysters), a pasta station, a carving station or other hot item cooked fresh, cheeses, and a selection of desserts (usually one type of cookie, ice cream, a mousse and a cake). Menu items are typically a fish dish and a vegetarian dish. The soups are consistently good (all vegetable soups are vegetarian), and the regional items give a standard buffet some flair and interest. The meats and seafood cooked at the buffet consistently got good reviews.
Dinner is entirely table service with no buffet. The menu offers two to three choices for an appetizer, soup, entree (often a meat, a seafood and a vegetarian option) and dessert. One recommended dish for each course is labeled as a Captain's Choice, and always-available options include a green or Caesar salad, hamburger or cheeseburger served with fries, chicken breast, salmon steak, fillet steak and a cheese plate for dessert. Special evenings include the Captain's Welcome and Farewell dinners.
At lunch and dinner, waiters come around to offer complimentary red and a white wine, but you can order other vintages, beer or soft drinks, as well.
Most dietary restrictions can be handled, but you must let Scenic know before your cruise. The maitre d' will speak to you at the beginning of the cruise to sort out what you can and can't eat. We met vegans and gluten-free eaters who were satisfied with their menu options. The ship can't provide kosher meals.
Portobellos is the Italian specialty restaurant, located behind the bar in the forward part of the main lounge. There's no surcharge, and every passenger can dine there at least once during a two-week cruise; your butler will arrange it for you. The venue seats 25. The first four courses are set (antipasti with prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella, sliced veal, minestrone soup and pasta), and cruisers have a choice of mains (fish, meat and veggie) and desserts (tiramisu or cheese plate). Be prepared for a long, slow meal; it was three hours on our cruise. The concept -- intimate, romantic, a step up from the dining room -- didn't quite pull together on our sailing. While the food is quite good and the presentation lovely, wait times between courses seemed too long, and at 9 p.m. (before we got our main course, mind you), the synthesizer in the lounge roared to life, and the Slovakian singer/pianist started belting out bad Elvis impersonations. Scenic is considering adding doors to the venue to keep the lounge sounds at bay.
Passengers on Deck 3 have the exclusive opportunity to dine at Table La Rive, a 10-person Chef's Table-esque experience. A special table is set up at the far end of the dining room by a window into the galley, and passengers are served a six-course degustation menu that features a different wine with each course. It's a three-hour meal, but the pacing is perfect, and you still have room for dessert when the beautiful molten chocolate cake and its dessert wine partner arrive. Still, the food was tasty but didn't particularly wow us, and the introductions of the wines and courses were often hard to hear and interrupted the flow of conversation. If you're on a long cruise, it's a fun way to do something different.
In a river cruise industry innovation, Scenic's coffee bar in the midst of the lounge is terrific. It is used for early- and late-riser breakfast, and a selection of sandwiches and pastries is always available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The double chocolate cupcake is not to be missed. (Ask for it with a scoop of ice cream.) It's also set up for light lunch daily, typically with pasta, burgers, fish and chips, soup and salad. Occasionally, when the weather is fine, a barbecue or afternoon tea service is presented on the Sun Deck.
There are plenty of dining height-sized tables in this area of the lounge so eating is comfortable.
A limited room service menu is available 24/7. Contact Reception or your butler to order. Choose from the air-dried pancetta appetizer, smoked salmon or pastrami sandwiches, a cheese platter, fruit salad or chocolate cake. Butlers can also provide an early-morning tea and coffee service, or they can serve breakfast in your cabin, depending on your stateroom level.