Posts Tagged ‘American’

Dine High Club

It occurred to me, writing this as I hurtle across the Atlantic in a huge steel tube at some ridiculously fast speed, that I don’t think I’ve ever read a review of airline food. Well, not in the same breath as a review of a restaurant anyway. OK, this isn’t quite Gordon Ramsay despite the best efforts of most airlines to tout an “Executive Chef” (and possibly also a Sommelier), neither of whom you’ve heard of. Maybe Qantas and Neil Perry may be a slight exception to that, but you get my point. And so I find myself on that culinary barge, also known as an American airline. I’ve flown on many nation’s fleets over the years but it has to be the American ones that have more than their fair share of ubiquities when it comes to reflecting a nation that, frankly, only thinks the word “constraint’ relates to child seats.

Clearly, even before food is served, there is the catalogue (sorry, should be catalog for this piece) of guests / diners / passengers who struggle to get the tray table to line up in front of them. I suspect i may have seen a John Candy movie along these lines at some point. Maybe they should design tables such that, if you can’t actually get it in front of you, it loses stability to actually prevent food from being placed on it. Now that’s a constraint I think many would welcome.

The food itself tends to have the usual lexicon that most non-Amercians have tuned (not pronounced ‘tooed’ BTW – see below) into by now but still cause foodies to squirm before the soup arrives. American-only substitutions is one (arugula, cilantro), the unfathomable nod towards a vague sense of being healthy with the “salad course” (not sure the French would even know when to eat that one) and then there’s the eternal I-pronounce-it-differently-than-you-except-I-can-fully-understand-how-you-pronounce-it-and-what-you-mean-so-why-can’t-you-understand-me problem (tomato, water, tuna).

Anyway, on the plus side I have to admit that in the case of Delta, whose company I share today, their food is remarkably good. Onion soup that is hot, not tepid, and actually has onions in it; fillet steak that is properly medium rare and has some flavour and a cheese board that, trust me, was actually rather good. The other upside to flying on a US airline is that everything turns up while you’re still working out what movie to watch or why your seat massager came on during take-off and is now attracting glares from the old couple who think you’ve hidden a bomb in your pocket. I mean, the Yanks KNOW how do do service. Compared with BA that I flew with only a few weeks ago, it is the difference between Harvester (BA) and a reasonable, albeit low-end bistro (Slug and Lettuce but not in anywhere dodgy).

I am also, in case you hadn’t guessed, on my way to the US for the umpteenth time so I expect to have more to report back on of a culinary nature. In the meantime, sit back, relax, and enjoy the experience of Barbie’s mum serving you Claret (pronounced “cla-ray’).


A Culinary Cultural Difference

I don’t know what it is, but I seem to always revisit my blog around the time that I’ve been to the US. Part of me thinks it’s a reminder that the culture in the US has a huge food angle to it, and maybe it’s something to do with the check-in at BA asking if I was going to pay extra for being over the weight limit (for me). Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love eating out in the US, and especially in New York. I find the food vibrant, ever-changing and it clearly attracts some of the most talented chefs in the world.

I do, however, try wherever possible to try eating steak every night. Seems crazy for someone living in the UK where the average is benchmarked at Harvester. (Any American’s reading this – PLEASE do not go to Harvester. It represents the culinary equivalent of trailer-trash). I did have a superb evening again at Tao but found myself with a group of salesman at the New York Striphouse ( a couple of days later. It’s a weird place. Very dark and I mean VERY dark, apart from at the tables themselves. Not sure if this is intentional or if the credit crunch is forcing the dimmer-switches down a click.

As steakhouses go, this is one of the best. I would class myself as something of an aficionado of all things bovine and this ranks incredibly high. We bailed the starters and went for the special which was a bone-in ribeye for two, which was exquisitely cooked and carved off the table. Nice touch that they then brought the bones back in case there were any gnawers in the party. And if the steak wasn’t enough, the serving of creamed spinach with truffle was amazing. I mean, truly amazing. I’ll be stealing that one for future dinner parties.

And then the bill came, which I was carrying. The bill. The emotive bit. Don’t get me wrong, I will always give credit where credit is due in a restaurant. In fact, I think I’m quite good at getting the tip right, on both sides of the pond. Not here though. Through a mathematical miscalculation, I ended up adding on 6%. That’s the American equivalent of saying “your food was tasted like shit, and your waiters were trained by Pol Pot”. I was even more surprised when the waiter came chasing after me asking if everything was OK and pointing rather antagonistically at the bill (check). Only when I left did my sales brethren, who were clearly more on the mathematical ball than I that evening, point out my culinary faux pas (and Alex, who lives nearby, swearing profusely at me for ruining any chance of being able to go back to his favourite restaurant).

The thing is, if this was in Britain, nobody would have batted an eyelid. I’ve been in restaurants where we’ve spent well over £1000 for 4 people and tipped £20 (not by me, I hasten to add). Silence. But I’m fortunate enough to have read Waiter Rant so I know that US waiters get paid bugger all and therefore the only way they make ends meet is the tip. So how bad do i feel now ?

So, for the waiters and staff of the Striphouse, I am most sorry. I promise to buy the Chateau Ducru next time and donate a second bottle to you.

New York, without the anvil

I’m just about to head out to New York for a few days. New York is an amazing city for food, make no mistake, and some of the best meals I’ve eaten in my life have come from chefs in New York. It does have a few advantages after all:

  • It is on the coast, and can therefore benefit from some amazingly fresh seafood and fish.
  • It is a vibrant mix of cultures from all over the world
  • Americans love to eat
  • Americans REALLY love to eat

In fact, some of the best food I’ve eaten in my life has been prepared by chefs in New York. If you’ve never been, I heartily recommend it. Speaking of heartily brings me to the one thing that I really struggle with in my numerous trips to the city that never sleeps. I come back feeling like I’ve swallowed an anvil. I’m amazed that they don’t charge me extra when checking in at JFK. There’s just something about the way in which the food is so plentiful that you almost feel obliged to eat what’s on the plate. Not helped, of course, by the fact that I was brought up to actually finish everything on my plate. And, before you say it, I don’t want my leftovers bagged thanks. I ate cold leftovers as a student and, now that I can afford to eat in Michelin star restaurants, I’d rather not have a half-eaten steak festering in my fridge thanks.

I have therefore taken a pre-emptive step in anvil-avoidance. For the one business dinner I had the flexibility to arrange I’ve gone for something that you really would not want bagged up for tomorrow: Japanese. I will, of course, let you know whether my plan works, or whether they’ll be putting me in the hold with the oversized luggage…