When NCL added several alternative dining venues to their F2 (Free-style version 2) ships like Norwegian Gem and Pearl, I heard complaints about the standard dining rooms, suggesting a plot to drive cruisers to the cover charge restaurants. If that was ever true, it is no longer.
I have to say the overall quality of the food on Epic is surprisingly good - even the "no extra charge" dining rooms. The specialty restaurants are not all equal in quality, however, so I want to give a mini-review of each one.
Passengers can dine in any of 21 eateries on Epic. Many are open for breakfast, lunch and late night service. O'Sheehan's Pub serves delicious hot food and cold ale 24 hours a day at no extra cost at all - and this is some of the tastiest food on the ship. Here are reviews for most of the dining spots (prices are per person for all you can eat, except where noted as a la carte):
Cagney's Steak House; fois gras to filet mignon; $25. This most expensive restaurant on the ship is worth the extra cost. For an extra $10 you can get a full lobster in a succulent creamy sauce or a 32-ounce (!) porterhouse steak. The steak is perfect for sharing between two or even three people. They will carve it tableside and can give the end portions to those who like medium rare and the center to those who like rare.
Teppenyaki: This is a Japanese restaurant with a performing chef cooking your entire meal on a hot grill surrounded by counter seating for a dozen patrons. The food and the jokes keep coming. Does the chef's ability to flip a full bowl of rice into his hat without dropping a single grain make the food taste better? Go for the fun, it's worth the price, but not the food.
Le Bistro French restaurant; $20. Truffled scallops over risotto, lobster in a delicious beurre blanc and flourless chocolate cake This restaurant is a staple on all NCL ships and the food is delectable. In fact, the lobster and 32-ounce porterhouse are also available here (also an extra $10 - but you save $5 over Cagney's).
Moderno; traditional Brazilian Charascurria; freshly roasted chorizo, lamb chops or cataña; $18. This is the best restaurant on the ship at any price in my opinion. The meat is roasted on rotating spits under a hot broiler. Now, traditionally the fire is below the meat, but open-flames are dangerous on any ship so the heat is electrically generated. Still, the very slow roasting process allows the juices to steep the meat from the outside in - slowly and succulently. Cataña is a top sirloin where the best cut is the first one. The crispy on the outside and liquid on the inside layer of beefy fat melts in your mouth - a carnivore's delight.
Cagney's and Moderno share a salad bar with gourmet offerings.
Shanghai; traditional Chinese food; $15. I have not tried this one and it is not well attended. The food appears to be typical American-Chinese fare from Kung pow to honey chicken. The décor is more American than Chinese with bright lights and wooden chairs.
La Cucina; Italian fare from pizza to seafood fettuccine; $10. Italian restaurants are very popular alternative dining on most cruise ships, but this one seems more of an afterthought for Epic. As my fellow cruise ship "critic" Doug Ward said, "any Italian restaurant with spaghetti on the menu is not authentic." I have to agree. Now, it is only $10 and my risotto was cooked just right, but the mozzarella was too "cheesy" to be authentic. This restaurant is right priced, but does not compare to the Italian fare on most cruise ships. Also - be sure to leave for your reservation early or carry a ship's map. The only access is by walking down a staircase hidden in the forward section of the Garden Café (buffet area).
Wasabi; the Japanese sushi bar, a la carte pricing with sushi rolls starting at just $3 is a bargain. A complete sushi combination plate with three different rolls and an appetizer is just $8.00.
Noodles; Chinese fast food with noodle and rice bowls starting at $2.50 a la carte. Once again, a very popular spot for a fast and filling meal at a very reasonable price.
Restaurants with no cover include Tastes and The Manhattan Club, the latter also has live orchestra dancing and late night stage shows. The Garden Café is the traditional buffet area, open from 6:00 a.m. to midnight. The serving station design here is very efficient, although seating is in short supply.
Poolside, there's a very good hamburger, hot dog and pizza station. No charge.
Free room service is available 24 hours with the usual hamburgers, soup and cheesecake. You can have a fresh pizza delivered anytime, anywhere on the ship, for $5.
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