|In the center of The Food Republic are high-top communal tables; guests order on table iPads. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
If you love eclectic global dining with small plates to sample and share, then one new eatery to check out at sea is The Food Republic on Norwegian Cruise Line's new Norwegian Escape.
|Entrance to the Food Republic on Norwegian Escape. // Photo of Susan J. Young|
Created by Miami-based restaurateurs Jose Mendin, Andreas Schreiner and Sergio Navarro of The Pubbelly Restaurant Group, the specialty dining experience is modern and high-tech. It resembles a food hall and has fabulous sea views from many tables along the windows.
Randy Gonzalez, a CruiseOne franchise owner, Clearwater, FL, dined at the Food Republic in November. He loved the atmosphere. It was as “if being one with the ocean – meaning all the windows made the views breathtaking.”
Diners order from iPads on high-top tables. The screens not only list the dishes but also show photos of each and the price for each.
”Having the tablets on the table made everything at your fingertips and that’s what you want because the food is amazing,” Gonzalez emphasized. “My guest was raving about the sushi.”
If diners wish a fusion of flavors from around the world – from Peru to China, Europe to the U.S., this is a good spot.
Just pull up the "Noodles, Rice, Soups and Dumplings" menu to see small plates of Duck & Pumpkin at $4, Yaka Soba at $6, Kimchee Fried Rice at $4, Pastrami & Sauerkraut $4, and many more dishes.
|I would recommend the rock shrimp Pad Thai on the "Noodles, Rice, Soups & Dumplins" menu. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
On the "Sharing is Caring" menu page are Dates with Chorizo at $6, Ahi Tuna Tataki at $6, Baby Wedge Salad for $4.50, Broiled Bay Scallops for $6, Salt & Pepper Calamari at $5, Heirloom Tomato Salad for $5.50 and Buffalo Style Rock Shrimp for $10, among other choices.
To see more savory choices, check out the "Grill Republic" menu from the iPad screen shot below.
|From Japanese squid to chicken terikayki and Wagyu bone-in rib eye, The Food Republic offers an extensive menu of dishes from around the world. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
|Left to right: Michelle Fee, Lori Sheller, Andy Stuart and Vicky Garcia enjoy lunch at The Food Republic. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
During a brief preview cruise during the ship’s inaugural, I popped into this restaurant to see it and photograph it. Wandering in, I happened to encounter Michelle Fee, co-founder and CEO, and Vicky Garcia, COO, both of Cruise Planners; Lori Sheller, vice president of cruise development, Tourico Holidays; and Andy Stuart, the president and COO of Norwegian Cruise Line, who were dining there.
"We absolutely loved Food Republic on the Escape," says Garcia. "The creative menu of delicacies was amazing. We actually tried to go back that same night for dinner."
Her favorites? "The porkbelly sliders were delicious, as were the chorizo-stuffed dates, noodle bowl and crudo (like ceviche), but my absolute favorite was the Truffle Shortrib Dumplings, as they were like pillows of culinary heaven," Garcia says.
|The Food Republic offers a wide range of brews // Photo by Susan J. Young|
I dined during the following week's regular week-long cruise. I sauntered in during a sea day at lunchtime. The hostess greeted me promptly, was friendly and showed me to a table.
Upon being seated, my waiter welcomed me and explained how the ordering process worked. He offered assistance if I needed it.
He explained the eatery's “sharing concept” and said that most times, tables order two or three small plates per person for everyone to taste and share. Of course, that's up to the diner; if you find two or three things you want all to yourself, you can go for it.
But if you're there with a spouse or friend and in a sharing mood, you’ll have the chance to taste four to six dishes. I envisioned this as a wonderful place for a small group of couples traveling together or family members coming together for a meal.
Some restaurant tablet ordering systems can be a bit complicated, but not this one. The iPad was easy to use; I easily browsed the menu pages and "touched" for choices.
I’m a Thai food fanatic, so my first selection was the Rock Shrimp Pad Thai at $6. It wasn’t prepared the way I am accustomed to (from a Thai restaurant near my home), but it was very good.
|Sushi options include a tiger roll, eel roll and Philly roll, to name a few. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
To be honest, at first I didn’t think there were many shrimp, but they were “buried” and in consuming it, I felt there were an adequate number. Turns out, I also couldn't stay away from it. Presto, it was gone, even before I'd had time to photograph it.
|Pork bellies and scallions potstickers with dipping sauce. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
Next arrived skewers of nicely grilled and seasoned Chicken Teriyaki. They were tasty and tender.
My third choice was "potstickers," described on the menu as Pork Bellies & Scallions with a dipping sauce. A photograph is at right. This dish was also quite tasty and lightly fried with a slightly crispy outside, yet moist inside.
Overall, I felt the restaurant's prices per plate were reasonable for the portions. My final bill for three small plates was $17 plus the gratuity.
Of course, that didn’t include drinks nor dessert. Libations included white wine, beer, whiskey/bourbon and a selection of cocktails. You can check out the beer menu on one of the photos above.
Signature cocktails were priced in the $9.95 to $10.95 range. They included Ciao Venezuela, Toro Toro, Thai Rum Cocktail, Shaku-Shaku, Revolutionary Cure and more.
Sweets? How about a Banana Bun ($4), Coco Loco ($6) or a Green Tea Jar ($4.50). The artistically prepared Mochi was listed as "sold out" on my menu.
From my personal perspective, I loved this modern and spacious eatery, where tables didn't fill every space. I also liked the open-air kitchen, fragrant aromas that wafted to the tables, the sea views through a wall of glass, and the eatery's crisp-and-clean styling. Seating was diverse, with kitchen bar seating, high-top tables and regular tables. Millennials and traditionalists alike seemed to be enjoying it.
|Both high-top bar seating and tables of four provide stunning sea views for The Food Republic's diners. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
|High top tables at The Food Republic. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
Best of all, I felt the food was fabulous. I wasn't alone. Based on the positive comments I heard from others who dined here throughout the week, the Food Republic is likely going to be one of the Norwegian Escape's most popular venues.
I personally felt the small plates were worth the bucks -- tasty, eclectic and just the right size for sharing.
One man exiting the restaurant as I was entering to take photos said to his companion: "That was the best meal I've had on a ship in a long time."
Gonzalez tells us: “This specialty restaurant is a ‘must’ when sailing on this ship.”