When boarding my cruises, I prefer to avoid the masses that tend to swarm to the buffets on board. For Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, that would be the Windjammer venue. While the ship can hold over 6,000 passengers, for the most part the crowds are minimal as the ship itself is huge, and people are always spread about doing different things during their days at sea. There are a few exceptions to this, and one is during boarding day. During this approximate five hour period, all 6,000+ people are doing virtually the same thing; boarding the ship and heading to lunch. With limited dining venues open during boarding, the majority take the easiest route which leads them to the buffet, and allows them to begin their week of included (seen as free to many) food by indulging on all-you-can-eat grab and go options.
There are many like myself, that prefer to avoid the masses, and enjoy a quieter, slower paced meal. In the past I have chosen Park Cafe, but on this trip I decided to try something new. I went with a for-fee dining venue, Giovanni’s Table, which was open for lunch during boarding at a reduced rate of $15 per person. As with all fee based restaurants, this would include all the appetizers and desserts I wanted, and my choice of entrée. I could still feast, but the small fee would keep the area a little quieter than others on the ship.
Before we begin, here a little introduction to Giovanni’s Table. It sits in Central Park, along with three of Allure’s other specialty restaurants that include Chops Grille, 150 Central Park, and Vintages.
Giovanni’s Table is an Italian eatery that focuses on family style dining. They are open every night during dinner for a $25 per person charge, and a couple days for lunch at a rate of $15 per person. The restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating, with the outdoor tables sitting right in the park amongst the trees and plants.
My family and I were the first ones to arrive at the restaurant for the day. The weather was warm and sunny this early May afternoon, so we decided to eat outside. The restaurant sits close to the middle of Central Park, and offers great views. On one side, the glass wall that separates the interior of the ship with the exterior park. Straight across the central walking path is Park Cafe, and on the other side has view of the park’s foliage and walking paths. It was definitely the place to begin a cruise with a solid meal, fantastic views in a peaceful setting, and some people watching as others came on board.
We were immediately brought to our table and took some time to get situated and set our bags down. The menus were on the table, so we began to browse them over. It was a nice touch that the menus were made out of cork, fitting nicely into the Italian theme (think wine corks).
One side of the menu had all the appetizers, salads, and soups. As with most specialty restaurants, you are free to order as many items off this page as you’d like.
The next page was split between pastas and other entrées. Officially you are only supposed to order one thing from this section, but there have been reports of people being able to order multiple entrées in the past. It’s best not to count on this, and if you’ve got the appetite, pick a few items off the other side.
The meal started with the bread basket, which contained a tasty olive bread. It came as a small, narrow loaf, pre-sliced into large pieces.
The bread was not warmed, but had plenty of flavor to compensate. It was ideally salty, with a slightly crunchy crust and soft interior.
There was no doubt this was olive bread. Besides the strong flavor, there were entire olive halves baked right into the loaf.
The bread was served with a mix of olive oil and balsamic vinegar which was freshly poured by our server right at the table. The start to this meal had Italian flavors aplenty.
My wife, who lives a gluten-free life, was brought a warmed bag of Udi’s® brand seeded, whole grain dinner rolls. As with all venues on board, free or specialty, allergies are taken seriously and passengers are always accommodated. Our server made sure that my wife chose the proper dishes that either already come gluten-free, or can be prepared that way. The menus themselves have little icons next to each item advising of which allergen it will be free from.
Those who remain gluten-free are very familiar with the Udi’s® brand, as it’s commonly found in grocery stores. It is very dense, as are most gluten-free breads. Regardless, my wife was still able to enjoy the opening bread service with me, along with the simple but delicious dipping plate.
For the appetizers, we decided to each order our own personal choice, plus one to share. My wife ordered the Insalata Di Rughetta E Bresaola, or Italian cured beef, arugula and Parmesan shavings. She really enjoyed it and commented how strong the arugula’s flavor was, and that the prosciutto was also really good.
I went with the Focaccie Alla Giovanni, which the menu states as “Italian flat breads Giovanni’s Table style for two with a choice of: Margherita; mushroom and prosciutto; and arugula and Parmesan shavings. I may have been confused in thinking that two flat breads would be served, and I got to choose from the three flavors listed. I asked for the Margherita and the arugula and Parmesan shavings. Only one flat bread came to the table, and it didn’t quite fit either description. I asked about the fact that only one showed up, and was told that only one comes with each order. At the moment, I hadn’t really thought about what I ordered, versus what actually showed up, versus what the menu stated.
The flat bread I received looked mostly like the arugula and Parmesan shavings, however, there didn’t appear to be any shavings on top, unless they were underneath and blended with the base cheese.
Regardless of what I thought I should have received, here is what I got. The flat bread was not your typically thin (i.e., flat), crispy bread. Instead it was thicker and fluffier.
On top of the bread was a layer of sauce and then cheese, just like any standard pizza. This part tasted exactly like a regular pizza that we’ve all had before. Above the basic pizza ingredients was a pile of arugula.
The arugula was slightly wilted, most likely due to the heat from the flat bread. It had a really strong taste that overpowered the rest of the appetizer. I found it to be too strong. I think the plate could have used a lighter layer of greens to just give a subtle taste, and not make it the primary flavor. Between the strong taste of arugula and the basic nature of the base ingredients, I wasn’t too impressed with this choice. It was somewhat plain for a flat bread coming from an Italian restaurant.
For our shared appetizer, we picked the Antipasti Per Due, which included “two kinds of Italian salami, prosciutto, marinated anchovies, grilled artichokes, roasted peppers, zucchini, olives, and Gambonzola” cheese. We found it also had arugula and mushrooms.
Right away my wife commented that she just had this same prosciutto in her other appetizer and reminded me that it was really good.
Much of this platter had the expected tastes from each type of food. Our favorites were the meats and cheese. I have never heard of Gambonzola before, and researching it has led me to realized it’s not a very common cheese. It tastes very similar to the cheese of an also similar name, Gorgonzola. I agree with my wife’s assessment that the prosciutto was great, especially when wrapped around the cheese, and eaten with an olive. It was fun finding different combinations of food to try with each bite, creating different flavors every time.
We each picked our one allowable entrée, and my wife went with the Filetti Di Sogliola Alla Mugnaia, or sole fillets in lemon butter sauce, sautéed garlic zucchini spaghetti and onion braised potatoes.
She immediately was wowed by the lemon butter sauce. I gave it a try and agreed that it was delicious. There probably isn’t a better sauce for fish than a lemon butter sauce. I found the sole to have a mushy texture, but in a positive way. Basically it was soft, moist, and melted in your mouth. At the same time, the edges were nice and crispy.
The zucchini spaghetti was once again something we’re familiar with at home, and we found the “noodles” to be cooked just past al dente, giving them a soft and easily breakable texture. The potatoes were sliced to medium thickness, and sat at the bottom of the plate in the pool of lemon and butter, allowing them to soak up the flavor.
My wife ate her meal quickly, probably one of the few times she’s finished a meal before I finished mine. She enjoyed every bit of it.
My choice was one that had been decided on many weeks before we left for our trip. There was lots of talk on the internet about Giovanni’s lasagna being their best meal. It’s only available during lunch, and since this was my first ever lunch in this venue, I was determined to try it. This is the Lasagna Tradizionale Al Sugo Di Carne, the traditional meat lasagna.
It looked like it had a bunch more sauce than what I find to be “traditional,” but I understand that variations of this dish can be extensive, depending on where the recipe began. The other side had what I initially thought was a full coating of melted cheese.
It instead happened to be a cream sauce. It was a slightly congealed liquid, and had a very close texture to melted cheese. It was a white sauce, which means it was probably a traditional combination of cream and white cheese, most likely Parmesan (as in Alfredo). It was garnished with a sprinkling of chopped parsley. This creamy sauce topping my lasagna certainly did not stop me from accepting the server’s offer to grate more cheese on top of the heaping plate. You never can have enough cheese.
The tomato sauce was interesting. It was, how can I say this… very tomatoey. It definitely had the feel of something that was made fresh on board. You can even see the chunks of tomatoes, giving it a real sauce taste, and not something canned.
The lasagna noodles were good, with a texture half way between al dente and fully cooked. Unfortunately, I found the lasagna lacking on the meat. I like a hearty, full meat sauce with my lasagnas and this one just didn’t hold up to my standards of excellence.
I didn’t find this to be as good as everyone raves about. The lack of meat was the biggest disappointment, and while the tomato sauce had a fresh taste, it was a tad too liquid for my tastes. I like my lasagnas meaty and creamy. Basically I want them to have some weight, so they really satisfy my hunger. This one was good, but I had higher expectations.
It was time for dessert. The menu was brought out, and as stated earlier, we could choose as much as we wanted from it.
My wife went with one of the only gluten-free options available, the Crema All’ Amarena. This was a cup of Amarena cherries layered in Tahitian vanilla custard.
The cherries were macerated and layered at the bottom and middle of the cup, with the custard layers filling the rest. It was garnished with a whole cherry and chocolate stick on top.
I picked out three different desserts. I started with the Mini Cannoli Alla Giovanni, which was a mini cannolo with one of two flavor choices: ricotta and Marsala or chocolate-rum and hazelnut. I picked the more traditional cheese version of ricotta and Marsala. It was served together with my second choice of Torta Di Cioccolato Alla Giovanni, the rich chocolate tart Giovanni’s style.
The cannolo had orange zest at the ends, adding a sweetness and flavor boost that I personally find is normally lacking from this type of dessert. The interior cream had the essence of ricotta and Marsala as advertised.
The flavor was nice, and the texture was really soft inside. This was possibly due to how warm it was outside on this mid May afternoon. I liked the cannolo, but these were never a favorite of mine in the dessert category.
The tart was also good. Having eaten enough flourless cakes at home, I knew right away from the grittier texture that the cake portion of this tart was also flourless.
The shortbread cookie base was the part that probably kept the tart from having the gluten-free designation. Above the base was an unknown ingredient that was too thin to get a good taste of, even when trying a sliver by itself.
Over all, the tart had just a mild chocolate taste. It wasn’t as rich as I generally like my chocolate desserts to be. Despite the name, for those that don’t want a rich dessert, but love chocolate, this is the one for you.
My third choice was Gelato Del Giorno, the ice cream of the day. Today it was a butter rum flavor.
For those that feel strongly about what Americans generally feel are the differences between ice cream and gelato (which is the Italian word for ice cream), you may have already noticed that both words are used on the menu. I found that this had much more of the texture of a typical American ice cream, and was not as thick or as creamy as what most of us consider gelato.
It was still creamy though, despite having what I thought were just a few ice crystals near the bottom, but my wife commented after trying a bite from the top that she noticed them right away. The butter rum was flavorful, and my worries of too much alcohol taste were put to rest. It had a very mild alcohol taste, and much more of a buttery aroma. It was definitely very sweet which made me happy. This is dessert after all, it’s supposed to end your meal with a bang. I don’t usually like nuts in my ice cream, or any dessert for that matter, but I was not upset with the superior amounts of pecan pieces that were contained within the scoops.
This was my one choice I was wary about whether I’d like it or not. As it turned out, it was my favorite of the three.
My first lunch at Giovanni’s had come to an end. I know a lot of people love this restaurant, and I enjoy it too, but I did find that this meal was lacking the “bite” that I look for in Royal’s specialty restaurants. I found most of the food to be just a slight bit better than average, with nothing standing out as exceptional. My wife’s sole entrée was probably the best thing I tried, and that’s all I did, was try only one bite.
As I had eventually booked additional restaurants on the ship during my stay, I got the maximum 30% reduction on all of them, bringing my lunch at Giovanni’s down to only $10.50 per person. I guess when looked at that way, $10.50 for the meal I just had was a pretty good deal. The food may not have been amazing, but there was certainly nothing I tried that I would have considered bad.
On another note, as we progressed through the meal, I noticed the crowds getting heavier and heavier. Park Cafe across the way had a line half way down central park by the time our entrées arrived. I was more than happy to pay less than $30 after additional tip for a nice quiet meal away from the crowds, enjoying an Italian meal with just my family at my side. Even if it wasn’t spectacular, it was a relaxing way to enjoy our first meal on board. At the very least, the ingredients seemed genuine and fresh, which is more than you can expect from many land based restaurants at home.