One of the features Seabourn regulars said they liked best about Encore was the increased choice of restaurants. Quite simply, there was no bad meal. From the casual buffet in The Colonnade to the new Grill by Thomas Keller, the jewel in the ship's crown, the food is superb, in quality, presentation and the variety offered. Locally sourced fruit appears on the buffet; the Japanese dishes in Sushi had authenticity; and there's even a booklet in each cabin explaining the provenance of the dishes in The Grill by Thomas Keller, where the food is sourced from Keller's own suppliers. This is certainly a ship for food-lovers. The vegetarian offering is excellent, too.
Service is superb: attentive and intuitive. Crew will go out of their way to make something happen, for example, finding you an outside table for two on a warm night, or running down to Seabourn Square to collect a breakfast cappuccino (as the machine in The Colonnade is poor).
The influence of Thomas Keller, the only American chef with three Michelin stars, on Seabourn's dining scene extends way beyond his eponymous Grill. Every two days, Chef Keller creations appear on the menu in The Restaurant as specials, and there are three more casual nights per week where you can try his family-style dishes in The Colonnade, the ship's more informal restaurant. Seabourn's chefs are taken to Keller's test kitchen in Napa Valley, where they're trained in preparation and presentation. What's more, Keller's ingredients, even on the ship, come from a range of small, handpicked suppliers worldwide, from the Californian caviar to the Tuscan olive oil.
There are no supplemental charges for dining in any of Encore's restaurants.
The Restaurant (Deck 3): The Restaurant is absolutely beautiful. Adam D. Tihany's design resembles a geometric, creamy-white tree, with "branches" extending over the ceiling, interspersed with whimsical contemporary chrome chandeliers sporting bright blue, gold and mauve glass balls. There's more blue in the water glasses and an otherwise monochrome look of whites and pale golds. It's classy and genuinely feels like a grand restaurant as opposed to a cruise ship dining room. The acoustics are good, with evening tunes provided by a pianist on a baby grand.
The Restaurant can seat 400 people at a time. There are four big tables for 10, a couple of eights and a selection of sixes, fours and plenty of twos. We never had a problem getting a two-top and we never had to wait in line; there are entrances at the front and the back, which helps.
The Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast (a brief window from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.) is essentially the same dishes as those served in The Colonnade -- eggs Benedict, omelets made to order, bacon, hash browns and steaks, as well as assorted fruits, cereals, a wide range of pastries, and healthier items like smoked salmon.
Lunches (12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.) are reasonably light, with two starters, three mains and two desserts on a daily changing menu. Items like pan-sauteed salmon and a chipotle peppered beef wrap caught our eye. There's an always-available menu, too, with two starters, four mains and four desserts, the mains consisting of hot dogs, burgers and steaks. The only vegetarian item on the fixed menu is salad but it's easy enough to request something, whether you order off-menu (within reason, of course), combine two starters or ask for something from the menu to be adapted without the meat.
Dinners (6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.) are elegant affairs, with rich, sumptuous food, although it's easy enough to assemble something lighter if you choose carefully. Every day, there are three starters, two soups, five mains and four desserts on top of an "always available" menu of plainer fare like steaks and chicken breast. Typical dishes include a foie gras and morel terrine, miso-glazed salmon, goat cheese tart and, for dessert, chocolate chip lava cake and a hot fudge sundae.
Keep a lookout for the Thomas Keller specials every two days (a summary of what's on in every restaurant is helpfully provided in your suite the night before). Some of the dishes in The Restaurant included California white sturgeon caviar; a grilled "calotte" of prime beef; and one of the most sublime vegetarian dishes we've ever tried, cassoulet of Rancho Gordo heirloom beans with an eggplant confit. It's opportunities to try food like this, at three Michelin star level, that takes Seabourn Encore's dining to a whole new level.
Wines are poured generously and although there's a red and a white wine of the day featured on the menu, the sommeliers are flexible at bringing an alternative without nudging you toward the premium list.
Seabourn Square (Deck 7): The coffee bar in Seabourn Square (6:15 a.m. to 6 p.m.) is packed in the mornings and justifiably so -- finally, a cruise ship with decent coffee, a highly skilled and passionate barista and even a small roastery. There are no charges for coffees, and the assortment of dainty cakes -- from fruit tart to grandma cake, shortbread and little chocolate pots -- and finger sandwiches tempts many, even after a large breakfast.
Sushi (Deck 8): This new-to-Seabourn dining venue is popular and prettily done out in cream and gauze with big picture windows along one side. There are eight seats around a communal dining area, five two-tops, two tables for four and a more private booth. At lunchtime (11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.), you can order bento boxes, with a choice of teriyaki chicken, miso salmon or tamarind-glazed mushrooms, served with miso soup and a salad. Dinner (6 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.) is sushi and sashimi, as well as small plates and salads, and light desserts like a refreshing green tea sorbet. As you might expect, it's mainly fish, but the chef is obliging when it comes to making vegetarian rolls.
Drinks include Japanese beer, sake, wine and Sencha green tea.
Reservations are available for dinner (though we found they're not necessary), but lunch is first come, first served, and not that busy.
The Grill by Thomas Keller (Deck 8): This swanky grill is the piece de resistance of the new ship and has been a huge hit from the beginning. It's done out in dark browns and golds, with tables for two, four and six and a glass-and-chrome wine tower at the entrance. It has a real buzz, not least from the packed cocktail bar at the entrance, which is busy the whole evening and most definitely the place to be seen. The Grill is open for dinner only, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.; reservations are essential.
To be clear, though, this is a grill so don't go expecting a version of Keller's legendary French Laundry. There are six starters, nine mains and six desserts with a daily special of each. The food is as you'd expect from a grill, but a cut way above the average -- a delicious crabcake on top of a rich aioli; roast chicken so moist the knife glides through it; lobster thermidor so spectacular I heard people discussing it in an elevator. Starters include things like Caesar salad prepared tableside and New England clam chowder. Mains, lobster aside, are rib eye of Snake River Farms beef and Dover sole, with eggplant Parmesan for vegetarians. Sides are way more than an afterthought and include garlicky spinach, a rich mac 'n' cheese, steak fries and glazed carrots. Save room for dessert, which includes a seven-layer coconut cake, lemon meringue pie and a decadent ice cream sundae.
Wines of the day are poured as they are elsewhere on the ship. The premium wines, housed in a tower at the entrance to the restaurant and selected by Eric Johnson, the sommelier from The French Laundry, range from reasonably priced to seriously expensive; for example, $39 for a Napa Valley Sauvignon 2015 to a Colgin Ix Estate 2012 for $789. A 2012 Australian Shiraz from the Barossa Valley is $39. Wines by the glass start at $12.
The Colonnade (Deck 9): The Colonnade, the casual, indoor-outdoor dining venue, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner, is different on Encore from its incarnation on Seabourn's smaller ships. Tihany has opened it out, so on entry, you're greeted by fresh, colorful buffet displays, rather than tables. There's a big outside seating area with a permanent shade and one deck down, more outside seating, with a small buffet at breakfast and lunch to save diners trekking upstairs for their salads. (Waiters carry the plates in any case, so sitting here is no hardship.) There's plenty of seating inside, too, and there was never a problem finding a table.
We loved The Colonnade for many reasons, dining outside in the tropics being one of the main ones. The make-your-own salad area at the all-buffet lunch (noon to 2 p.m.) is stupendous, and some of the hot dishes were truly delicious, from chicken satay with Indonesian-style rice to a mushroom lasagna and a daily roast.
Dinner (6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.) is served, rather than a buffet, and followed loose themes, among them Mediterranean, Singaporean, Chinese and Indian. (The exception is Indian night, which features a buffet and menu selections; with seven different curries to try, this theme night was spectacular.) Theme nights generally include a choice of starters, mains and desserts. Every couple of nights, there's a Thomas Keller theme (for which you need to reserve), with main course dishes designed for sharing family-style as an echo of his restaurant, Ad Hoc, in Napa Valley. These are rich and heavy -- things like platters of ribs and fried chicken. In addition, there's an always-available menu of classics like shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, steak and salmon.
Breakfasts (8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.) were nicely presented with a buffet and a menu of specials but, we felt, the weakest spot. The fruit juices are sweet and most definitely not freshly squeezed, while the cappuccinos were pretty awful and we got into the habit of collecting coffee at Seabourn Square and taking it up. There were always plenty of excellent pastries and a decent array of fruits, though, and there's a menu of eggs to order, also featuring pancakes, waffles and dishes like eggs Benedict. (However, the omelets had a weird, gritty texture and generally lacked flavor; we opted for fresh poached or fried eggs instead.) One corner on the buffet alternates every other day between congee (a rice porridge with savory side dishes) and ciabatta sandwiches. We only discovered during a chance conversation with a waitress that you can place a special order for veggie juice, which we did so on our last day; we enjoyed an excellent carrot, apple and ginger concoction. We also wish breakfast began earlier because many of the excursions started at 8:30 a.m., and we felt time crunched to get a meal in before our day in port.
The Patio (Deck 9): The Patio is a casual dining spot by the pool. At lunchtime (12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.), it's the default dining spot for many with a colorful salad buffet, daily specials like fajitas, regulars including burgers and fries and a small a la carte menu featuring items like grilled sea bass. In the evenings, you can dine outside here from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., with three salads or cold starters, four mains and one pasta of the day on the menu, all served rather than buffet. Dishes include shrimp and crab claw cocktail, arugula and watermelon salad and for mains, grilled swordfish, steaks and brochettes. There's a vegetarian option but you do need to ask for it -- pastas generally can be adapted for vegetarians as well.
Room Service: A range of comfort food is available for in-suite dining, from shrimp cocktail and tomato soup to penne Pomodoro, sauteed salmon, roast chicken breast, club sandwiches and burgers. Ice cream, cookies and cheese are all on the dessert menu. Room service is available 24 hours, with a separate menu for breakfast, which includes hot dishes.