Vista has four specialty restaurants. Unlike most cruise lines, you get to eat there for free. No charge! But you have to make a reservation—in advance. Everyone gets four guaranteed—one in each restaurant. Unlike Viking, where you could get into one of their two specialty restaurants almost any night you tried. We tried to get another reservation for Toscana, but we couldn’t. We really wanted it, but all they could offer us was 8:30 p.m. on the last night of the cruise. We were not doing that one. So the message here is: if you want to eat in a particular restaurant on a particular night, be online on the day you can make reservations at midnight EST and make them. I was lucky enough to get ones that worked well for us.
Before telling you about the four of them, I want to reiterate the Steve Test from yesterday’s post.
The Steve Test
After our disastrous Celebrity Millenium cruise in May of 2022, my brother Steve came up with a way to rate food and restaurants on a cruise better than I have ever been able to do it myself. From then on, I have called this the Steve Test. Here it is: If you eat in a food venue on a ship, be it the main dining room, buffet, grille or a specialty restaurant, and that restaurant were near you once you got home, would you go there again?
That’s pretty simple. I think it is the best way I have ever heard of to rate food on cruise ships, and I will rate each venue (and, in the case of some of them, by the dish or meal) using the Steve Test.
Ember (I keep wanting to put an S on the end of it and name it EmberS) is a new restaurant that is only onboard Vista. On Marina and Riviera, you get the French Bistro, Jacques, named after Oceania’s menu-planning chef, Jacques Pepin. So we didn’t get high-end French food; we got slightly higher-end Applebees food. Check out the sample menu on the Oceania website , which will give you an idea of what we ate that night. I had the lobster roll appetizer (mostly bread, very little lobster), salt-crusted beetroot salad (it was “fine”), the pork chop (Mine was OK but the sauce was watery, Mike’s was tough), a side of “potato dippers” with no dip??? Not sure what that was about. I finished up with the fried Beignets (dry as a bone with very little sauce underneath them). All-in-all, it was a very unimpressive meal.
Even though it wasn’t my favorite meal on board, I do want to thank the maitre’d Raja (also the head of house in the Aquamar Cafe during the day) for taking such good care of us. When I made the reservation, I could only get a table for five and another for two. When I saw Raja in the Aquamar in the afternoon, he came up to me and addressed me by name and told me he would have a table for seven ready for us that night—that is service!
My Steve Test Rating: Not a chance. Worst of the four specialty restaurants. Just not impressed at all. Would I go again—nope, I don’t eat at Applebees. Never have, never will. How bad was it? I didn’t even take a photo. Go down and eat at almost any American restaurant. You will see just what the food looks like. I can’t wait to try Jacque’s on Riviera. They should replace Ember with it as soon as possible.
The Polo Grille
This is Vista’s steak house. I need to say upfront that I am not a steakhouse person. If I want a steak, I will grille my own. We don’t eat that much beef—balsalmic ribs on Christmas Eve, etc. But I can count on one hand the number of times I have ever ordered a steak in a land-based restaurant…in my life.
I thought this was the most impressive restaurant, ambience-wise. High on deck 14, with wrap-around windows and low lighting, it is beautiful if you come in pre-sunset. We barely got here in time to see the sun disappear. We didn’t appreciate that this was the only restaurant where they didn’t have a table for seven for us. They basically just pulled up another chair to a table for six. This made eating a little painful. The number of dishes they brought to the table would not fit on the table. Sides had to be quickly scooped onto entrée plates. And don’t stick your elbows out, whatever you do. Here’s a link to the menu on Oceania’s website. I had the escargot, no soup or salad (None of the selections appealed to me), the rack of lamb (they were “fine” as rack of lamb goes), the truffle parmesan fries and the roasted asparagus spears. For dessert, I had the Polo Quartet. This is a small sample of all their best desserts. It included their chocolate fudge brownie, key lime pie, Bailey’s cheesecake and Granny Smith Apple Crumb Pie—the best part of the meal.
Here are some quick pics of some of what we ate.
My Steve Test Rating: Since I don’t eat at steakhouses, I am not the one to ask about the Polo Grille. My brother loves steakhouses and often orders a good steak. I will let him give the rating on this one—I just texted him. He said he would go back, but it would depend on how much it cost. So I asked him if he had to choose between the Capital Grille and Polo, which would he choose if the prices were close. He said Captial Grille—hands down. Maybe compared to Sizzler 🤪?
Red Ginger is Vista’s Asian restaurant. Before we went, if I told someone we were going on Oceania, they would tell me that I would LOVE Red Ginger. That it was the best Asian restaurant they had ever eaten in. Having eaten there, I wouldn’t say it was the best Asian restaurant I have eaten in, but it was very good.
The ambiance in Red Ginger and Ember (located on Deck 5) is nowhere near as good as in Polo Grille and Toscana. Mainly because you can’t see the ocean. But that’s OK. The food made up for it. If you have been to Red Ginger, you know that their most loved dish is a watermelon and duck salad. I am sure it is wonderful but I despise watermelon, and Kathleen is highly allergic to duck, so we didn’t even try the dish everyone raves about. And I am not a big soup fan, either. So that meant I got to try three appetizers instead of a soup and salad course. Yummy! Here’s a link to the Red Ginger menu. So you can see what I didn’t eat.
I started with a special appetizer that isn’t on the sample menu featuring my favorite food—octopus. I followed that with the spring roll and then the crisp ginger calamari. I think the pic of the ahi was Steve’s, but I am not sure. My entrée was an easy choice as they had soft-shell crab on the menu, a dish I have loved since I had it in Bangkok. Theirs was excellent. I finished it all up with a steamed ginger cake. All-in-all, a wonderful and tasty meal. Here are a few photos from around the table.
My Steve Test Rating: I would eat there on a monthly basis if this place were nearby. Just about every dish was better than what we get when we go out for Asian food. The local place has much the same type of menu, but Red Ginger just seemed to up the game on every dish. For example, instead of calamari, they gave it a slight twist and added a bunch of ginger. Nice touch.
Way up on Deck 14 aft, on the opposite side of the ship from the Polo Grille, sits one of the best Italian restaurants I have ever been to. Usually, we don’t go out for Italian food. That’s because I make a lot of Italian food. So I went to Toscana expecting another great Oceania meal. What I got was a wonderful Italian dining experience. One that I would put up against any place we have eaten in our four trips to Italy.
It wasn’t just the food (which was amazing) but also the service and the bread and the olive oil and balsamic pairings (by the wonderful Massimo from Milano) and so much more. This was more than a meal; it was the way I want to be treated at every restaurant I ever go to. Viking Ocean has an Italian restaurant called Manfredis. Toscana and Manfredis should never be mentioned in the same sentence (shame on me for doing it here).
They will blow you away from the moment you arrive. You sit down; they bring you one of the most amazing bread services I have ever seen. Then they put bowls of superb parmesan cheese (big hunks of it) on the table for you to share. Massimo comes by to pair any of seven or eight incredible olive oils with any of five or six balsamic vinegars to dip your bread in. Then, the wonderful sommelier comes over and recommends some great Italian wine. While you are sipping that, your server takes your order. When you tell him that you would really love to try the lasagne, but you don’t want to eat an entire order of it, and a few others around the table say the same thing, he says he will take care of it. Later in the meal, four entire orders of lasagne show up for the seven people. We all say we will try a bite, but when we finish dinner, there is very little left.
Let’s get on with the rest of the food, though. Click here to see the Toscana menu. I started with the stuffed artichoke. It was just fine, but it was the only thing I had that night that I wouldn’t order again. Then I sampled (devoured) the lasagne and topped it off with my entrée—the best dish I had on the entire cruise on Vista, the Agnello Arrosto.
Seriously it was that good. Here’s the description from the menu: “roasted stuffed lamb loin, spicy soppressata sausage, spinach, aubergine stiletto, tomato jam.” That sounded amazing to me when I read it, but to be honest, it was all about the sauce. I would give my right arm for the recipe for that sauce. But everything just came together for that dish. I can’t say more great things about it.
How good was it? I didn’t even have dessert. I didn’t even think about dessert. What I really wanted for dessert was another serving of roasted lamb, which was beyond amazing. When you do another Oceania cruise, forget the other specialty restaurants. I will book Toscana for four nights and order the lamb. Maybe the photos will make you even hungrier.
My Steve Test Rating: If this restaurant were within 100 miles of here, it would be our “celebration restaurant.” It is the kind of place you go for your birthday or anniversary. If it was within 30 miles, I might go once every other week if I could afford it. I have to try and find out how they make that sauce. But it was more than just than just that one dish. It was the entire experience. I would sail on Vista again to have that Toscana experience one more time.
I think that about covers food on Vista. If you have any questions about the food or the restaurants, please ask away.
Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.