The Many Tastes of Seabourn Ovation, a Ship Studded with Dining Options

Wallace Immen
The Cruisington Times – October 29, 2018

So what should we sample: Smoked reindeer (tastes like beef)? Sushi-grade whale? Or a slice off a 300-pound tuna?

I’m on a Shopping with the Chef shore excursion at the dockside markets in Bergen, Norway to get a tasting of local delicacies and see how the new Seabourn Ovation sources the freshest ingredients for its restaurants. We skip the counter that sells fresh minke whale–and the lye-cured dried cod that hearkens back to Viking days–to go for some more tasty and politically correct treats.

Freshly smoked salmon, peppered mackerel, oysters, spiced Norwegian cheeses and other local goodies are loaded into a big shopping cart for a special Norwegian deck party on board. For executive chef, Joseph Kalynuik, it’s just part of a busy day on Seabourn Ovation, where food is an obsession.

Every night brings choices for dining that constantly offer new experiences, even on a two-week cruise. Here’s a sampling:

The Grill by Thomas Keller

This is one of the most gorgeously appointed alternative restaurants at sea with its banquettes and leather backed chairs and walls lined with rare vintages. It’s so popular on Ovation that it’s limited to one visit per guest, per cruise. Thomas Keller is an American chef, restaurateur, and cookbook writer. He gained fame with a landmark Napa Valley restaurant, The French Laundry in Yountville, California and has created four more highly rated restaurants and half a dozen cookbooks featuring his cuisine that’s inspired by France, but rooted in Americana and steak house classics.

The Keller grill menu is the only one on the ship whose menu remains the same every night and it features many steakhouse regulars re-invented with Keller’s signature touches. The literature heralds that the steaks and chops come from sustainable farms and orchards in California and Pennsylvania and the lobster hails from Bedford, Nova Scotia.

For starters, there are deft interpretations of steak house favorites like Caesar salad, prawn cocktail and New England clam chowder. Then it’s a choice of his re-interpretations of standards like Dover sole meunière, lobster thermidor, veal T-bone, chops and a “true” Snake River Farms beef rib eye.

The dishes my table mates and I had were all perfectly prepared, well-presented and flavorful. I just wish I could have come back and experienced more than one of Keller’s meals. Fortunately, a range of Keller’s entree creations appear many evenings on the menus of the superb main Restaurant and the Colonnade.

The décor and friendly ambience of the Grill kept me coming back to its chic piano lounge for before-dinner drinks, even if we weren’t dining there.

Elegance and choice in The Restaurant

Every evening is an occasion in the main dining room that’s the culinary heart of the ship. It’s comfortable not only for its sunny staff but also the decorative interior designed by Adam D. Tihany. Elegant columns arch into the ceiling, where colorful hand-blown art glass chandeliers hang in dome-like coves.

The design creates some of the best acoustics I’ve encountered in a restaurant at sea–or on land. Even when the restaurant was packed, it was easy to hear what fellow guests were saying across the table but not overhear neighboring tables. There were plenty of tables for two if you prefer to dine a deux, and with open seating dining you can arrive any time without a reservation, although you might have to wait a few minutes at a bar to have your table of choice available.

The chef’s daily choices might include such specialties as baked Arctic char, fresh crab, roast duck or lamb chops. Many evenings there’s a separate menu of inventive Thomas Keller dishes, such as Pacific yellowtail with artichoke and avocado, Sonoma duck breast or “Poulet Grand Mere.” Vegetarians will find joy here as well. A remarkable Keller-created vegetarian option one evening was buckwheat dumplings with beets, Napa cabbage and tamari-glazed shiitake mushrooms.

Seek and you’ll find authentic Sushi

That’s its name:  Sushi. They do tend to favor obvious restaurant names on this ship. This intimate Japanese restaurant is so tucked away beside a turn in the grand staircase that you might spend several days on the ship before you discover it’s there. Only a sign that’s lighted at meal times advertises its presence.

The menu includes a whole lot more than its namesake sushi and the tastes are authentic. It’s open for lunch and there’s nothing more pleasant after a morning’s outing than to sit at a window table with a bento box of specialties. At dinner, the menu includes a selection of small plates such as tuna, bonito or scallop, salads and choices of sashimi or a menu of signature rolls, served with your choice of beverages.

Chef Joseph is extremely proud of being able to land the restaurant’s master Japanese chef for Seabourn. The space has only got a half dozen tables in addition to the sushi counter, so you always have a ringside seat for the preparation.

Dual personalities of the Colonnade

Tihany’s design for the Colonnade shows he understands that guests want a view. The long, narrow room maximizes the number of window tables with sea views. There’s also a massive outdoor seating area that spans the rear deck. Because it has a heating system in the ceiling, the outdoor zone is comfortable even on a chilly day in Norway’s far north and the waiters accommodatingly drape soft deck blankets on the chairs for extra warmth if there’s a breeze.

The Colonnade is Ovation’s breakfast and lunch buffet zone and it transforms in the evening into a casual restaurant with a different theme every night. The themes range from Scandinavian to Australian to Indian Market and a couple of evenings each cruise are also devoted to celebrity chef Thomas Keller’s creations based on memories of American childhood country dining.

Keller’s dishes are served family style on big platters and feature such things as back ribs or grilled ranch chops with all the trimmings and what Keller calls his “A4” sauce. Meals are accompanied by bread and honey and topped off with a chocolate pie. You don’t get homier than that.

Another shape shifter: Earth & Ocean at The Patio

Another dual personality restaurant is brand new on Ovation. The outdoor area around the pool features a buffet at lunch, with a menu of burgers, pizza and sandwiches. It becomes a festive casual dining option in the evening, with table settings designed by New York-based ceramic artist Wynne Noble and a menu that changes every evening.

Menus are divided into six categories: Chilled & Refreshing (light starters such as  tuna ceviche and Belgium endive); Quick Fired (cooked small plates ranging from a Croatian pasta and Japanese-style pork belly); Smoked & Braised (main courses like Tandoori rotisserie chicken and Peruvian-style roasted salmon); Tagine (shareable dishes served in Moroccan-style serving pots, including vegetable paella and grilled cauliflower); Cheese (a variety from around the world that changes nightly); and Sweet (desserts such as chocolate brownies in a bowl of strawberry soup and a mango and passion fruit pavlova).

The new concept is popular and the meals were wonderful. The pool does get breezy and cool in the evening and on our Norwegian fjord cruise, the waiters offered cozy deck blankets. It’s destined to be a by-reservation venue in warmer weather cruises. Earth & Ocean will be rolled out to the rest of the Seabourn fleet by spring 2019.

It’s hip to be in Seabourn Square

There’s no better way to being the day than with a cappuccino and fresh croissants at the coffee bar in this Deck 6 area that’s the combination lobby, lounge library and social hub at the heart of the ship.  They’re serious about the coffee here and they have specialized bins that age the coffee beans for a few weeks to bring out their flavor before they’re ground. By 10, the breakfast pastries, fruit and cereals in the coolers are switched out with sandwiches, snacks and ice creams of the day to enjoy while you read a book or newspaper.

Bonus: Caviar with a view

There’s a rare treat that can almost substitute for an evening meal in the Observation Lounge.  An elegant plate of sustainable caviar served with all the trimmings is a hors d’oeuvre option.  It’s so rich and satisfying that it makes a brilliant sunset even more memorable.

Gelato: Gotta try them all

Chocolate, of course, and how about blood orange, extra virgin olive oil or kumquat gelato? There are dozens of flavors of this frozen Italian treat that rotate through the cruise and you may have to try more than one a day to sample them all. Fresh gelato is handcrafted by a team of chefs who learned the skill at Carpigiani University in Bologna. The gelato is available at an authentic Italian ice cream cart in the Colonnade, as well as in Seabourn Square and the Patio and it’s on the dessert menus of the restaurants. The gelato program is scheduled to be expanded from Ovation to sister ship Seabourn Encore by the spring of 2019.

And you’ll discover the gelato goes very well with the ship’s freshly baked cookies. I’ve become so addicted to the ship’s thick and rich pecan and caramel cookies that I’m already planning a repeat cruise on Ovation.