Thursday, October 11, 2007

United v. Lufthansa, Part II

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been on a road a couple of times in recent weeks. Shortly after my trip to Minnesota, work took me to Europe for another week-long journey away from home. On this trip, I flew United, so I had the opportunity to sample their Business Class cuisine. As you might recall, I wrote about my dining experience on Lufthansa earlier this year, so to be fair, I figured that I should share my thoughts about United's culinary offerings. This time, I remembered to bring my camera so that I could share my experience via pictures.

On its international flights, United offers exclusive menu selections created in partnership with Chicago restaurateur Charlie Trotter. Known for his highly regarded eponymous restaurant, Trotter worked with United to create several different dishes for First and Business class passengers on U.S. outbound flights.

For dinner, we started with citrus-cured smoked salmon with caramelized fennel citrus salad and organic yuzu-miso vinaigrette. This Trotter-designed dish was pretty good. The salmon was tasty, as was the fennel citrus salad. I didn't really see the need for the vinaigrette though; there was enough dressing in the salad and the salmon was fine without a sauce.

For the main dinner course, I chose another Trotter-inspired offering, a mustard-braised pork medallion with roasted banana fingerling potatoes and rosemary honey glazed carrots. This dish was not good. The pork was dry and lacking in flavor. It was overcooked as well; I prefer pork to be cooked to medium, with a just slightly pink center. On the other hand, the carrots were completely undercooked. It felt like I was eating warm, but raw carrots. In hindsight, I should have probably picked the Boursin lasagna instead.

For dessert, I had vanilla and strawberry ice cream. It was quite nice, especially with the glass of port that I enjoyed to help me fall asleep.

After a good six hours of sleep, it was time for breakfast. Once again, I had another Trotter-created dish: Florentine quiche with Hollandaise sauce, pork sausage, and crispy bacon. The quiche itself was decent, but the Hollandaise sauce was quite odd, having a consistency similar to crème brûlée. I had a taste, but it just didn't seem quite right. One of my colleagues got very sick the following day and he thinks that it might have been related to eating the sauce. The sausage and bacon were okay, about what I would expect from airplane breakfast meats. The highlight of this meal was the accompanying fruit platter, which was quite good, especially the cantaloupe.

On the return trip, there weren't any Trotter-inspired items, so I just went with what sounded good. I was flying back on the late flight, so dinner service started soon after takeoff. The starter was marinated prawns and salami with pineapple mango chutney, vegetable ratatouille, artichoke hearts, and stuffed green olives. This plate was good, though I didn't care so much for the chutney.

For the main course, I selected the pan-seared filet mignon with porcini mushroom sauce, roasted potato wedges with rosemary, and lemon brown buttered asparagus. I should have known better than to go with a beef entrée. The filet was way-overcooked, definitely well-done, quite tough, and totally dry, even with the mushroom sauce. I can't even vouch for the claim that it was a cut of filet. It could have been a hunk of round, for all I could tell. The out-of-season asparagus was stringy and overcooked. I should have gone with the herb and cheese stuffed gnocchi with spinach cream sauce.

Since I had ice cream on my previous flight, I decided on the cheese platter for dessert, which included grapes and crackers to go with the Bavarian Blue and Red Cheddar cheeses. The platter was excellent. The cheeses were very flavorful and paired well with the grapes. I would have definitely liked seconds on this dish.

Since I enjoyed the cheese platter so much, I selected the cheese plate for the snack just prior to landing. The plate had Cheddar, Brie, and Chaumes cheeses and a selection of fresh fruit. The fruit was excellent, surprisingly ripe and flavorful. The cheeses were excellent as well. It definitely hit the spot.

The final verdict? Eh, the food was okay, with a few hits and some misses, the Trotter effect notwithstanding. I guess that there's only so much you can do using those heating units in the airplane galley, so even though the concepts might have been good, the execution was lacking. (Of course, the contestants on Top Chef seemed to do reasonably well under those conditions.) One interesting side note is that United has actually gone back to using metal knives in their flatware in Business class. I always thought that it was a bit silly to offer plastic knives when the airlines were still using metal forks.


hjw said...

Nice summary of the current offerings on United. I found myself mostly picking at the Business Class food in the last couple of months - didn't think it was much of an upgrade over the regular food. And I never can bring myself to go for the filet. Those are always disappointing and sometimes gross. I did have the gnocchi though, and it was actually pretty decent.
Always go with the fruit plate for breakfast. It's impossible for them to screw up - no actual 'cooking' required (kind of like the tasty cheese platter)!

Loren said...

Yeah, I think that in the future, if I'm craving a filet, I'll head to a steakhouse instead of looking to United (or any other airline for that matter) to fill that need.