Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Anywhere, USA - Food on the Go

When you travel, it's always nice to take a little stroll and try some of the local food, even if it's not that different from what you normally eat. But let's face it: not all travel is so relaxing and fun. Sometimes you're stuck eating on the go, ordering room service, or just making do. And it might not always be pleasant. This entry is dedicated to travel food and will highlight some experiences from a recent flight and hotel stay.

It all started out one sunny morning, as I waited in a terminal in LAX waiting for the non-stop service to JFK on United Airlines. Throughout the terminal, you can buy snacks, sandwiches and other food to bring aboard. In light of recent financial woes, the airline industry has largely stopped giving free meals on domestic flights.

The flight left on-time, much to my delight, and then this foodie fought to stay awake in order to review the food. In the economy cabin, pre-packaged snacks and sandwiches were being sold for a modest fee (meaning, at a markup that makes your neighborhood convenience store look like a charity). I took the chance that the sandwiches were going to be mediocre and that a package of Doritos tastes roughly the same in the air as it does on land, so didn't bother ordering one to review. I don't know what they served in first class, but if you're flying first class, the food's likely not going to be up to par. I found myself settling into business class, where the seats made me think twice about staying awake for a food review. Menus were distributed shortly and looked liked this.

The service thirty thousand miles in air can put some brick-and-mortar restaurants to shame. If it weren't for the restraining seat belts and the silent roar of the jet engines, I might not have noticed I wasn't in a restaurant. The waitress/attendant would come by before each meal with a white tablecloth. Glassware and metalware was provided, along with a pathetic plastic fork (a post-9/11 security precaution which is completely ridiculous, but we won't go into policy since this is a food site, not a debate site).

It was time for breakfast. The ham was decent, not losing to your typical breakfast eatery. The quiche was surprisingly good. The omelette, however, left something to be desired. Aside from the fact that it was 99% egg and 1% other ingredients, it was very bland. And the fruit...fruit in the air tasted bad to me a decade ago and continues to taste bad! I've always found fruit to have a bit of a dried, rubbery and preserved taste when served on airplanes. At this point, it might have become a psychological imprint on my mind so if this is biased in any way, let me know!

They tell you not to order seafood, but I had some anyway. The salmon was rubbery but flavorful. It definitely wasn't outstanding, but considering my current location, it was pretty good. I have had countless experiences of not-so-great salmon while sitting on Earth. The shrimp was surprisingly good. Sure, they could have had slightly fresher shrimp, but given the circumstances, the shrimp was fresh enough and sure as heck prepared well. If airlines can serve up this sort of lunch, then my expectations for land restaurants certainly ought to be a bit higher.

And with that, we turn to room service. Now there are plenty of hotels in the world with outstanding restaurants. If you're stepping out of your room to one those restaurants, you're in for a treat. But, if you've got work to do and you're chained to your hotel room, room service it has to be. This encounter takes place in Ontario, California at the Sheraton. The room service was outsourced just like United's food is. I ordered a bowl of chicken noodle and some steak and shrimp. The food didn't come in a big cart with the works as some of you might be used to, since I ordered so little. But it came on a nice little tray complete with all the necessary gear. There's something nice about being able to enjoy a meal in the comfort of your own hotel room. There's no need to shine those shoes and don on that hip shirt. So who cares if there's a fax machine in the background; at least there's a bed and a television too.

Now, unlike the other foodie, I'm a big steak fan and have enjoyed more than my fair share of steak at steakhouses around the world, so let's start with the steak. It came out medium rare (instead of medium, like I ordered). I suppose if I was willing to take a chance on medium, I should have just gotten medium rare to begin with but when you prepare steak, you have got to cook it right. It doesn't matter how good the quality of the meat is or how tasty it is; if it's not cooked to the degree requested, you've messed up steak. Nevertheless, I'm quite happy with medium rare and delightedly report to you that I never contracted food poisoning of any sort. The steak was very tender but a bit on the bland side. I didn't bother using the A1 steak sauce that it came with, opting instead for the traditional salt. The shrimp could have been fresher and firmer but were otherwise prepared decently with a tasteful (read, not overpowering) coconut batter. The salsa was great, a fruit sauce with a slight kick.

The potatoes were a bit dry, but otherwise normal. The steamed vegetables were a bit oversteamed but very flavorful. I don't even want to know what sort of unhealthy concoction they put on the veggies to make them taste that way, but I wolfed them down. Perhaps the most disappointing part of the meal was the lukewarm chicken noodle. The veggies and the chicken were a bit tough but the noodles were good. The soup was sweet, overly so. I'm not sure if they overdosed on the carrots or just threw in sugar, but lukewarm chicken noodle soup with tough chicken and sweet broth just didn't fit well. All in all, though, the meals both in the air and in the hotel really weren't so bad.


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