DL246 07/06/10 JFK-FCO
I haven't been reviewing lately since there's lately there's been no in-flight service to speak of. On our recent flight to Rome however, a hot meal was served "with your choice of main course: chicken with mashed potatoes or pasta in white cheese sauce". Knowing the air industry's inimitable way with pasta, I went to for the fowl -chunks of chicken in a rather dopey barbecue sauce served with a cheesy herbed mash -unusual, even for the ever-surprising repertoire of airline food, accompanied by vegetable medley (corn kernels, diced red peppers and green beans). On the side was a small tomato-romaine salad with crumbled cheese, a plastic wrapped diner roll with a pat of Land O' Lakes 'Fresh Buttery Taste Spread' C, 3/4 oz. of Tillamook brand Monterey Jack Cheese with Keebler 'Club' Crackers (21 gr) and a Love And Quiches brand 'Cookies And Cream Brownie' (36 gr). Soft drinks (and more importantly) beer and wine, were complimentary. Liquor was a steep (but now standard on US carriers) $7USD a blast, but there are ways of dealing with that. Wine: red -merlot 'Bandit'; white -chardonney 'Bandit '. This was the first time I've noticed wine served from a box on a flight. I had the 'white' -hey, no 'corked' wine taste (reason #3 out of the 10 reasons to drink 'Bandit' listed on the side of the box) with an usual hint of pistachio of all things. Well, I am crazy about pistachios, isn't everybody?
The 'light breakfast' served before landing in Rome consisted of a hot 'English' mini-muffin with egg, a small banana, orange juice and hot and cold beverages. What is it with the invariably 'weedy' taste of tea on American carriers?
Overview -oddly satisfying presentation of traditional (but evolving) airline fare. And after all, they didn't have to give us anything at all-as airlines are increasingly proving. What better way to prepare for the culinary riches of Italy?
two and a half Zaremstars
AIR FRANCE ft#23!
I've been wanting to do this for a long time. It's a given that in-flight dining (and service in general) has declined markedly since the almost forgotten days when air travel was considered 'glamorous'. I might as well be talking about the service on the 'Hindenburg'. I remember the privileged feeling of my first jet trip from New York to Jacksonville, FL in 1964 and the marvel of the in-flight meal -maybe it was 'salisbury steak' -or even a real steak. Etched with the smiling sun logo (of, was it National Airlines?) I kept my small, globe-like (real) glass as a memento of the flight for years afterwards. Of course I considered TV diners a marvel then too. Some of what's been ungraciously served up since then has been laughably bad. Still, after years of grousing, I've come to once again admit how much I look forward to my in-flight meal and how much it adds to the reality-suspending experience of air-travel. You've got to have realistic expectations. After all, a jet going 600 miles per hour at an altitude of almost 40,000 feet is not your cozy bistro. There have been many bright spots: like Air Jamaica's festive 'champagne service' in economy class and when Air France served actual three-course meals, coming down the aisle with separate trays for your appetizers -an assiette of charcuterie, fish mousse and smoked salmon. The days when the French taxpayer would tolerate subsidizing such extravagant midair bolstering of the national image, however, are long gone. After years of being a source of complaints and object of derision, in-flight meals might be disappearing altogether. The American carriers would certainly love that. A sad thought. I want a stewardess to do more than instruct me on how to fasten my safety belt. As Connie Francis prophetically sang 'Who's Sorry Now?'.
we shall proceed on a five 'Zarembstar' system, disregarding that rule in the rare instances that call for awarding a bonus 'sixth' Zarembstar for any reason what-so-ever.
Air Europa in-flight meal flight UX09 MAD -JFK 11/23/09
We had been warned not to expect anything on a no-frills carrier like Air Europa and after two weeks straight of la cucina espanol full-strength, I was ready to lighten it up a bit anyway. To our surprise, they did provide a pretty decent in-flight service. Main dish: baked radiatore puttanesca (spicy red sauce with olives) with chunks of white-meat chicken and cheese -airlines have a way with pasta, don't they? This was served with a marinated vegetable salad and whole wheat bolillo (crusty dinner roll). The exact type of wine I had with my meal escapes me, but it was Spanish, white, very dry and free -ah, the second 'spilt' was Rucio Blanco by Felix Solis -my notes say 'apple-y'. They also came around offering extra rolls. Dessert: 2 1/2" square of moist, marble sponge.
My notes recommend three out of five Zarembstars for this meal service.
Air France AF0023 JFK -CDG 03/04/10
Air France seems uncomfortable adjusting to being an ordinary airline. The little comfort packs they distribute soon after take-off no longer contains those little ankle socks, but you still get blinders and ear-plugs -if you think you can doze off in your narrow seat. They also still go through the motion of handing out a menu. Flight 23 offered: Couscous a la provençale au saumon fumé; then choice of hot main course: Fricassée de poulet printanéire accompagée d'une purée de pommes de terre a la ciboulette -or- Pates fusilli sauce marinara aux légumes grillés;
Frommage (a 3/4 oz. rectangle of 'Tillamook' Oregon Monteray Jack); Entermets (is this the pat of 'Grassland' unsalted butter, or the crisp diner rolls, or the 'Kozy Shack' rice pudding? -I love rice pudding); Gateau (1 7/8" sq. X 5/8") a l-orange et aux canneberges; Apertifs upon request; Champagne -served as an aperitif -Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top; as well as red and white wines from the Pays d'Oc and Cotes du Luberon. I figured I'd go for the fricassee -knowing France's road and club food these days, it might be the only 'French' meal of my entire trip. Besides, I'm looking at the passengers in front of me happily enjoying their fricassee. It looks like fun -sort of a chicken pot pie -'sans' the pie. Some white 'Cotes du Luberon' would go just right with it, and some champagne for an aperitif. Our stewardess handed a fricassée to the woman sitting at the window one seat away from me, but replied to both to me and the passenger next to me that she would have to go and 'search' for some more chicken, promising that she'd be right back. Forgetting us, she then proceeded to serve up the remaining portions of fricasse to the rows behind us, returning several times to offer those passengers extra rolls and wine. We had yet to receive our initial aperitif. Graciously offering those passengers extra wine and rolls, it seemed as if they were avoiding us, perhaps out of embarrassment. I finally asked a steward, who was busy offering the passenger across the isle from me a third helping of dinner rolls, if we could perhaps have at least just one piece of bread. This sent him scurrying to find our stewardess, who (much) later returned with copious 'desolés' -and eventually -two servings of the pasta. Seemingly astonished when we asked if we could have our requested fricassee as promised, she replied that of course there were no more. The pasta? It certainly wasn't the luxuriant fusilli of my childhood, but tricolor rotelli, with (at this late point) slices of vegetable seared to the tops of the dish's metallic lids. I've said that airlines do have a way with pasta. And I've also said that a jet is not a restaurant and that flight crews have a tough job. I grew up, however, reading Antoine de St. Exupery's tales of France's heroic age of aerial pioneering and will always have a place in my heart for Air France (as with the cinema, most nomenclature for the parts of an airplane remain French).
I was going to award this meal service two Zarembstars, partially as a mark of how far Air France has fallen, but you've got to keep things in perspective. AF still serves champagne, even it it was 'Chanoine Grand Reserve' instead of the Heidseick. And after all it's just a mode of transport, and AF did get me to Paris. Three and a half Zarembstars - for trying, for old times sake -and for the champagne.
Air New Zealand flight NZ019 LAX -RAR 03/15/09
Comparison-wise, this is a bit of a cheat since I was bumped up to business class courtesy of Air New Zealand and Cook Islands Tourism for my 9 1/2 hour flight from Los Angeles to Rarotonga. I did fly 'coach' on my return however, and it wasn't bad. Anyway, Air New Zealand pride themselves on their in-flight service and I'll say that their business class easily beats out a lot of other carriers 1st class. Pre-meal cocktail: I tried a 'Manuka Mule' - NZ's 42 Below Honey Vodka with lime juice and ginger beer. Govind Armstrong of Table 8 consulted on the dinner menu (with Air NZ, not me), which consisted of an oak-leaf lettuce salad with beets, maui onions and crumbled feta with black olive oil, then a main course of beef short rib braised in red wine with potato au gratin, cabbage with bacon and creamed Swiss chard -although I could have had grilled NZ slamon with pea tendrils, pureed parsnip, red onion confit and roasted carrot -or the wood-roasted chicken breast with 'Tuscan greens' , mushroom 'bolognaise' and chicken/Madeira reduction. Economy got 'Hot Pockets' -just joking. I tried a variety of NZ wines. Dessert: strawberry cheesecake with coconut-pineapple ice cream. Breakfast was nice as well, I dug the little jars of boysenberry jam everyone got for their rolls, 'coach' included.
five Zarembstars, even in economy.
KLM meal service flight 0643 AMS -JFK 03/18/10
Our flight from Schiphol Airport (Amsterdam) to New York was booked as a Delta flight and I've got to admit I was perversely anticipating what outlandish variation on low-cost grub they might throw at us, if anything. Still, it was with some relief that we learned the flight would be operated by Delta's code-share partner Royal Dutch Airlines. I'll always take my chances with a foreign carrier these days. Pre-meal apertifs were offered: I made the sensible choice -a 8.5 oz can of Heineken in honor of KLM and because i felt like having a beer. Instead of peanuts or pretzels, the drink was served with a packet (12g) of smoked almonds. Something smelled good. The chef suggests 'Flavours Of The World' (a delicious meal for you) -main course: 5 Spice Beef, in a rich, dark sauce (a bit salty, but quite tasty) with basmati rice (that's what I smelled) mixed with chopped green bean and slivers of hard-boiled egg; a cold dish of oriental-flavored cabbage, julienne carrot, sauteed onion and raisins; small dinner roll and pat of Romi-Havarline 'low fat spread'. Dessert: ginger mousse with crumb topping. There was no charge for the wine, Terra Andina 2009, sauvignon blanc -chardonnay, D.O. Valle Central (good in that Chilean way) or the digestif afterwards -I had South African 'Amarula Cream', sort of a second dessert. Later in the flight, Belgian ice cream (chocolate) was served, then quiche or hot pecan-honey cake.
KLM should be commended for trying to present something interesting and not falling into the pasta default mode.
Enjoyable, probably as good as anything you can get on the ground in Holland -Four Zarembstars ****!
SAS flight SK910 ERK to CPH 02/02/10
When I reconfirmed my flight on line with SAS's code-share partner United Airline, the website said 'no meal service' -unusual for a transAtlantic crossing. United must have been thinking of themselves -within a hour of takeoff the beverage cart was trundling down the aisle, with the offer of two complimentary adult beverages: a pre-dinner aperitif, then a drink of your choice with your meal. After that, it was pay as you go, $7.50 for wine/beer/cocktails. The Paul Mas Chateau de Conas, 2008 syrah -grenache, from Pézanas was a typical product of the southwestern 'wine-lake' of France -deep color and flavor, somewhat velvety -in other words, pretty good. It came with a small bag of tiny pretzels. Main course: fish or loin of pork in mustard-seed sauce with roast new potatoes and broccoli, accompanied by green salad topped with a cherry tomato and crumbled feta with packet of 'Naturally Fresh' pepper-cream dressing; 2 whole grain rolls topped with oats; pat of Land O' Lakes butter: and Pepperidge Farm toasted sesame crackers with a wedge of President brand 'Wee Brie'. Dessert: 2 1/2" square of chocolate frosted cake. After my lavishly praising the 'chef' the in-flight crew tossed me an extra bottle of wine 'on the house'.
This meal garners 4 out of 5 Zarembstars (they get one for bothering to serve anything).
SAS flight SK903 ARD to ERK 02/14/10
They must have been reading our minds because we've been in the mood for meatballs the entire time we've been in Scandinavia. Since the flight originated at Arlanda, Stockholm, I'd say these are Swedish meatballs -modest-sized and slightly spongy -like you get by the bag, frozen at IKEA. They came four -bathed in a creamy rose-brown sauce (no, I don't know) served with herbed mashed potatoes. Accompaniments: a small mesclun salad (hadn't seen one of those in a while) with (a) cherry tomato and packet of vinaigrette and Dorlano 'Salad' crackers; a wedge of 'President' brand chamenbert and two interesting 4" rounds of soft leavened flat-bread in plastic wrap by 'Polarbrod'. Dessert: vanilla mousse with apricot. A welcome hot lunch that would be pretty hard to ruin (although it has been done). Only one more thing was needed to make the meal complete: Trivento 'Tribu' 2004 malbec, Mendoza Argentina -and I quote "medium body displaying round tannins" At 38,000 feet over the seething north Atlantic, I am in no position to argue, nor am I inclined to. There go the Faroe Islands -isolated, desolate and frozen.
Four Zarembstars, for clairvoyance and setting.