When American Airlines announced they would be rolling out a premium lounge product last year, the initial images looked fantastic. While American Airlines has had Flagship lounges in a handful of airports, these were moderate upgrades from the Admirals Club experience. Not anymore. We’ve now seen how awesome the new Flagship Lounge at JFK is. How about Flagship First Dining?
Lucky from One Mile at a Time got access to the space a bit earlier. While he didn’t get to try the food, he got some great shots of what the dining room looks like.
Crisp Linen Napkin
I was greeted by a server at the door of Flagship First Dining and escorted to a table for one overlooking a row of airplanes. I was immediately impressed by the properly starched, crisp white linen napkin. The server lifted it off the plate and presented it to me. Each time I got up from the table, they folded it for me. It was clear the staff were being trained for a level of service you might expect in an expensive restaurant.
They cleared my silverware after each course, resetting with the appropriate pieces for the next plate. You might think they had been schooled to perform just for our private tasting. But, the warmth from the service staff was genuine. These folks were enjoying their job. They were trained to offer a high level service to guests and look like they’ll have a lot of fun doing so.
The menu will be a rotating, seasonal menu. Here’s a quick peek at what’s on the menu. We got to sample most of the items.
Let’s Get To The Food!
This was obviously my favorite part. Prior to the event, we were instructed to order one entree. That was a really tough decision. I was torn between the salmon and the burger. Ultimately, I chose the burger, in that I was curious if this would really be an “upscale” burger. I was excited when we arrived and were told that the chef had prepared samples for a variety of the menu items to sample.
We were seated individually and the staff started bringing plate after plate. When I realized I wouldn’t have enough room to finish everything, I started scaling back how much I ate on each plate. The first time I did this, the staff was quick to ask me if anything was wrong. I assured them I was pacing myself. I never thought I’d be individually reviewing courses in a US-based airline lounge. But, here goes:
Side note: Andy from Andy’s Travel Blog took some pretty awesome food pics that put mine to shame. You really need to give them a look.
This is a simple dish that’s easy to get wrong. A bit too long in the frying pan and you get something dry, unappealing. The arancini was piping hot, with just the right amount of crisp on the outside and moisture on the inside. The tomato sauce was a delightful accompaniment.
Smoked Duck Breast:
When my wife reads I was eating duck she’ll be annoyed at me. It’s one of her favorite foods, and she surely would have enjoyed the plate. Served with a “hominy succotash”, the duck breast was chilled and resting against a medley of hominy, edamame and corn. It was finished with a slightly sweet sauce. I’d guess it was cherry, but didn’t ask. This was definitely in the running for my favorite small plate.
Spiced Lentil Cake:
If you’ve ever been to dinner with me, you’ll know this really isn’t in my wheelhouse. My wife would have loved this dish. Surprisingly, I really liked it. The tikka masala had just the right amount of spice. The cake itself wasn’t dry or grainy. The fried baby corn was a nice texture to go with the rest of the dish.
Braised Short Ribs:
These were prepared exactly the way short ribs should be. No need for a knife, the short rib cut easily just with my fork. The romesco sauce married well with the short rib. I felt fortunate it was a small portion, as I surely would have eaten more and regretted it with the remaining courses still to come.
Loch Duart Salmon:
Funny story. I’m really not a big cauliflower fan. I ate the risotto along with the salmon and absolutely loved it. Then, Andy (he of the awesome food pics) noted it was cauliflower risotto. The flavor was so subtle and such a good accompaniment I hadn’t even noticed. The salmon was perfectly moist and tender. The mushrooms were flavorful, sliced small enough to work with the delicate piece of salmon. After finishing my small plate of salmon I was really starting to wonder if I’d picked the wrong entree. I could have easily eaten a full portion of the salmon.
It’s just a burger, right? That’s normally what I say when my fellow business travelers comment how much they love having a burger on a flight. I’ve had the in-flight burgers and they’re okay. I wouldn’t go out of my way to order one, saving my cholesterol consumption for tastier treats. My initial reasoning for ordering the burger is that those business travelers would really want to know how good the burger was. But, that salmon….
I wasn’t disappointed. This. Burger. Was. Incredible. The bacon marmalade was unbelievable. The cheddar cheese was sharp and flavorful. I ordered the burger medium rare and it came out perfectly to temperature. The bun was soft. The chef noted that they had considered buttering it but that it took away from the bacon marmalade.
Did I mention the bacon marmalade? This was one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. A few of the other media folks in attendance (no, I really don’t think of myself as media) had ordered the burger as well. I received it first and was fawning over it like I had just discovered a winning lottery ticket, a cuddly baby and a fuzzy bunny all in one. When I saw their faces after their first bite, I knew I wasn’t overselling it.
Holy moley, this was a great burger. The french fries were good, too. Crispy and hot, salted well. But, really just an afterthought once I bit into the burger. Did I mention the bacon marmalade?
The chef had prepared the chocolate trio for us. The winner on this plate was the volcanic salt on top of the dollop of freshly whipped cream. I was combining that with the chocolate bread pudding, much to my delight. I ranked the milk chocolate tart a not-too-distant 3rd on this plate, though Andy pointed out my critical error. The trick was to combine that salt-gilded cream with the tart. Opportunity missed, but it made the bread pudding outstanding. The strawberry soup was a nice way to finish off the plate.
Coming In For A Landing
You’ll recall I mentioned that the staff was very warm. They just “got” us, giggling when we’d all jump up to take pictures of the latest airplane that pulled up to a gate. I was walking around talking with a few folks, comparing notes. Andy and I were talking near the end of the meal when my server, Rhodina, came up to me with a small plate. I wasn’t seated at my table, so I thought it was odd she was approaching me with food when all the other courses had been set at my table.
With a big smile, Rhodina said, “Pardon me, sir. I need to bring your final course in for a landing.”
That’s service you just don’t find often nowadays. Warm, welcoming, a bit of humor. Unbelievable. If the service could make the food taste any better, Rhodina succeeded here as well.
Did I Mention The Plane Spotting?
Because of the way they’ve rearranged the lounge space, there’s some really good plane spotting. We were lucky enough to see some cool planes pull in while we were sampling all the different plates. I may or may not have had a glass of Champagne while that plane spotting was going on.
Now, The Bad News
The folks who get to access Flagship Dining is a very small list. Essentially, you need to be flying in AA First on an international flight on one of the flights AA deems as “Transcontinental” (currently JFK-LAX, JFK-SFO and MIA-LAX).
So, you and I might end up in there once in our lifetime if we’re really lucky. I don’t see that I’ll be lucky enough to be making monthly visits. That makes me a little sad.
The Final Two Pennies
I was really impressed with the Flagship Lounge. So much so, that I wasn’t expecting to be “wowed” by the Flagship Dining. I thought it would be a really cool lounge. Instead, what I found was a completely different way of thinking about how to accommodate top-tier travelers. As you can imagine, that was probably the biggest surprise for me. The Big 3 US airlines haven’t been outwardly focused on game-changing customer service elements. Sure, there are new seats and new plane interiors. But, I view those sorts of changes more in the evolutionary realm rather than revolutionary.
I’ve had plenty of good (even some great) food in airport lounges around the world. Frequently, though, the service element isn’t there. The staff to customer ratio never seems to be enough to have any critical service elements. This is where American Airlines sets themselves apart. Way apart, in my opinion.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Flagship Dining is a big step forward for American Airlines. It’s only for the top 1% of the top 1% of fliers. It also signals something of a commitment to First Class and/or premium passengers.
I can only hope I’ll end up in Flagship Dining sometime in the future…..
The post A First Look At American Airlines Flagship First Dining. What A Meal! was published first on Pizza in Motion