Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Cuisine of the Friendly Skies

A couple of weeks ago, I took my last business trip of the year, a short (five day) jaunt to Sweden. The corporate travel agency booked me on an outbound flight on Lufthansa and had me returning on United, so I had an opportunity to compare their cuisine a few days apart, which is about as close to head-to-head as I would probably ever get to experience. I had flown in United Business just a few months earlier, but hadn't flown on Lufthansa since late last year, so I took the occasion to reacquaint myself with the fare on German flagship airline.

I took the Monday afternoon flight from SFO to Frankfurt. After my customary nap through take-off, I spent about a half an hour fiddling around with the settings on the new Business Class seat before a flight attendant came around with napkins in hand to kick off the dinner service.

To start my meal, I could have selected a pistachio crusted shrimp with mango salsa and cilantro aioli, but I instead went with the smoked duck breast with sweet corn flan and cherry vinaigrette. The duck breast was pretty decent, though I barely noticed the vinaigrette, but the flan was ice cold.

For the main course, I had a choice of three entrées: turkey escalopes, grilled salmon, or saffron fettucine. Though I normally don't order fish on flights, this time, I decided to try the salmon, which came with celeriac purée and sweet pea and fava bean jus. The salmon was surprisingly good, flavorful and cooked to almost a perfect doneness - the middle of the filet was about perfect and the ends were, if anything, just a touch overdone, but when you are 39,000 feet in the air, it's pretty close to being perfect. However, all of the sides were pretty forgettable. It would have been better if they had just put down some mashed taters next to the salmon.

The next course was a cheese plate consisting of (from the left) Cambozola, Sage Derby, and Gruyère. All the cheeses were quite good, though I would have enjoyed some more dried fruit on the plate.

After the cheese plate was cleared away, I was served with some apple raisin bread pudding with sweet cream and a box of chocolate truffles. Both the bread pudding and truffles were very good - a couple of small, but tasty treats to finish off the meal.

After a few hours of intermittent sleep, I woke myself up for breakfast as we cruised over England. I groggily ordered some coffee and selected a fruit plate with some cold cuts (turkey and salami) and cheese (Brie and pepperjack). The plate was tasty, especially the fruit, which was very ripe and surprisingly sweet.

After landing in Frankfurt and passing speedily through immigration, my colleagues and I had a few hours to kill before our connection to Stockholm, so we headed up to the United lounge to stretch our legs and rehydrate ourselves. While we were in the lounge, I showed one of my colleagues some pictures from our dinner at the French Laundry. Unfortunately, I forgot to turn off my camera. By the time that I noticed, we were just about to start the meal service on our short SAS flight from Frankfurt to Stockholm. It was too late to do much about a dead camera battery, so I was not able to capture the food on this flight. Oh well.

The next few days in Stockholm were quite packed, as I was busy conducting a design-led innovation workshop with several colleagues from Germany and the United States. One of my colleagues and I did have an opportunity to do some sightseeing around Stockholm on Friday, but that's another blog post...

Heading back home on Saturday, we boarded an early morning SAS flight to Frankfurt. Once again, I was not able to capture my meal, as my camera was stowed away in the overhead compartment, access to which was blocked by the slumbering passenger in the aisle seat next to me. I guess that photos of the food on the SAS flights were not meant to be, at least not on this trip.

After another short visit to the United Red Carpet lounge, we boarded our United flight to return home. After settling in my seat, I dozed off for a bit before being awakened for the main meal of the flight. We started off with a cold appetizer of Parma ham, tomatoes, and buffalo mozzarella with balsamic vinaigrette. Unfortunately, this was not a good starter. The plate apparently had been refrigerated, so the tomatoes were completely flavorless and had a mealy texture. The balsamic "vinaigrette" had the look and viscosity of used motor oil, so I didn't even try it. There was some spongy-looking orange and yellow thing on the plate. I had no idea what it was (and still don't), but it didn't taste very good at all, so I pushed it aside after a single bite. I guess that that mozzarella and Parma ham were okay though...

After the disastrous course was cleared away, I had a selection of one of three entrées: a pan-seared filet mignon with three peppercorn sauce, a mushroom stuffed chicken breast with shallot Madeira sauce, and a spinach and ricotta stuffed tortellini Antonio with creamy chive sauce. Despite my rather poor experience with the filet on my last flight, I decided (for whatever reason) to give it another try. I'm glad that I did. While it was far away from being a great steak, it was actually halfway decent. First of all, unlike the meat from the previous trip, the steak actually looked like it was a filet. While the steak was still overcooked, I was still able to detect a faint pink section in the middle, which was definitely a step in the right direction. Best of all, the steak was actually quite tender and tasted like steak. Not bad for hot box cooking six miles above the ground. Unfortunately, the accompanying Lyonnaise mashed potatoes with cheese were pretty disappointing, though the green beans were okay.

After the main course, I passed on the ice cream dessert and instead had the cheese platter, which included smoked chili and Sbrinz cheeses. I like these simple cheese plates, but I do wish that they would use seedless grapes.

After finishing dinner, I actually managed to get some decent sleep, which I generally have trouble getting when flying from Europe to the United States. We took a very northerly polar flight path which, at this time of the year, meant that the sun set (from our perspective) and rose again before we landed. I woke up relatively refreshed in time to catch a light snack before landing. The snack consisted of another cheese plate (apparently I can't get enough of them) with cheddar, Brie, and Edam cheeses and seasonal fruit. It was a light and tasty snack which would carry me over until I had a chance to enjoy a real dinner after we landed.

Well, now that the year is over, I'll have to endure a couple of flights in economy before I'll qualify for Business Class travel again. Stay tuned for my meal reports from back in the cattle section of United and Lufthansa.


Mochachocolata Rita said...

ohmigosh ohmigosh ohmigosh, never thought i'd come across airline food in any blogs heheh...sharing some of mine (i started too late):