Some Like it Hot: NCL’s Asian Restaurant

When I sail on Norwegian Cruise Line, I’m all about the specialty restaurants.  I’ve sailed on other ships on other lines and I have to say, I really enjoy the variety that specialty restaurants provide.  On Norwegian, each specialty restaurant features a different cuisine–from French to Brazilian to a classic American steakhouse.  By the end of my last NCL cruise, I’d tried every option aside from the hibachi restaurant.  And while all were great in their own way–I had a fabulous coq au vin at Le Bistro that I’ll surely write about at some point–it was Ginza, the Asian specialty restaurant that stood out in my mind as the best at-sea meal of the trip.

Crab won tons

While you will surely never be hungry on board a  cruise ship, this is even more true when dining at a specialty restaurant.  We were encouraged to order from each section of the menu.  I hate dining out with my husband when traveling because our bill is always out of control; he loves appetizers and salads and main courses (and dessert).  But at Ginza, that was all covered by the $15 cover charge.  For a total of $30, we ate like kings–as you will see by the sheer number of dishes I am about to review.

Due to the set up of the menu–a section for soups and salads, a section for starters, a section for rice and noodles and section for main courses–we ended up with four dishes before our main course–a soup and a salad and two appetizers.  Because of my love for P.F. Chang’s lettuce wraps, I ordered the Tso’s Chicken Wraps.  The lettuce was crisp and cool, which was a nice contrast to the soft, warm chicken filling.  I was immediately surprised by the level of spice;  I’m a huge spicy food fan and I’m typically not even satisfied by dishes with little chili peppers next to the menu description.  This spicy surprise was to continue throughout the meal.

To cool the heat of the lettuce wraps, I stole a few of my husband’s crab won tons.  At first it appeared that they were under filled, but that’ll teach me to judge a won ton by its cover.  The crab filling was creamy, packed with crab (real crab, not ‘krab’), and generally enjoyable in every way. I ended up eating half of my husband’s serving, generously offering half of my lettuce wraps in exchange.

Up next was the soup and ‘salad’ course.  I have salad in quotes because really, the shrimp salad I ordered wasn’t really a salad–it was a pile of slaw next to several fried shrimp, served with a sweet and spicy sauce.  My husband loved it–as he loves all things fried–and I gladly traded it for his hot and sour soup, which was a highlight of the meal for me.

The hot and sour soup requires a bit of back story.  Two years ago, while spending two weeks living in a small apartment in Paris, I decided that I hated French food.  Well, at least I hated the food in most of the restaurants we visited.  But there was a little Chinese place attached to our apartment building that I visited more than twice after tasting the best hot and sour fish soup ever.  I still think about that soup from time to time, and while the hot and sour soup at Ginza wasn’t as good, it was darn close.  The broth was rich, salty, and spicy with a perfect depth of flavor.  Though less-than-adventurous eaters beware–hot and sour soup does, as a rule, have a rather odd texture.  See the photo (far below, right) for evidence of this.  It’s almost…slimy.  But  I like it because it is different.  And even if you don’t like it, I promise the flavor will more than make up for it.  I’d eat that soup every day if I could.

If at this point you are thinking gee, that seems like a lot of food already–you’d be correct.  But after all of those starters, we still had the main course to look forward to.

Unless it is part of sushi or risotto, I don’t particularly like rice.  So I ordered my entree–the lemon pepper shrimp–with a side of Singapore noodles rather than rice.  My husband chose the braised beef, which came with a side of fried rice.  When all of the food was placed on the table, the table looked like this:

It was an insane amount of food.  No–strike that.  It was an insane amount of really, really amazing food.   At this point in the evening, I typed the following words into my notes:  This meal has been consistently awesome.

The shrimp was actual shrimp–not tiny little overly-breaded morsels.  And–surprise surprise–it was spicy.  I’ve had overly acidic lemon pepper shrimp; this recipe clearly focused more on the ‘pepper’ portion of the dish.  It was served with steamed broccoli and covered with julienne green onions.  If all Chinese food was as good as this shrimp, I’d eat Chinese every day.

Hot and sour soup

The braised beef–which I stole from my husband for purely research purposes of course–was extremely tender; it fell apart in a very grandma’s-pot-roast sort of way.  That is, if grandma was Chinese and very heavy handed with the chili peppers.  (Though I have to admit, I kind of wish my own grandma was both of those things!)

Wow I can’t believe I’m still writing about this meal.  It was a lot of food.

At this point my notes get understandably brief.  On the subject of the Singapore rice noodles, I simply wrote: Possibly the best thing I’ve ever had.  Could use a squeeze of lime.  The noodles were perfectly cooked, the sauce was spicy, sweet, and savory (only lacking sour, which is why I needed the squeeze of lime) and the dish was loaded with grilled vegetables–even the green onions were wilted and charred.  I love rice noodles, and this was a great example of why.

Did we have dessert?  Yeah–no.  Would you have had dessert after all of that?  Yeah–I didn’t think so.  Though they encouraged us to take some to go.  We did not.  We were perfectly satisfied with the seven dishes we’d already had.  I dare you to find a better deal, on land or sea.

Clearly, Ginza was my favorite cruise line specialty restaurant.  Do you have a favorite?  If so, please share in the comments section below.  What’s your favorite restaurant?  On which cruise line?  Why?

Disclosure:  While NCL did provide a media rate for this sailing, as always, all opinions are my own.  Additionally, I paid for all specialty restaurant meals.  Finally, it is important to note that occasionally, while traveling, I get tired of carrying my DSLR camera around.  And so I end up taking photos of food with my iPhone.  All photos in this post are iPhone photos; please excuse the quality.  Thanks!




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